Galatians 4:14
And although my illness was a trial to you, you did not despise me or reject me. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.
Ministers and PeopleW. Perkins.Galatians 4:14
St. Paul's InfirmityCanon Waite.Galatians 4:14
The Superficiality of Galatian Religious LifeBp. Lightfoot.Galatians 4:14
Personal AppealR. Finlayson Galatians 4:12-20
The Appeal of the Suffering ApostleR.M. Edgar Galatians 4:12-20

To render Paul's appeal more emphatic, he proceeds next to remind them of the tender relations in which he had stood to them when he preached the gospel to them the first time. He had been suffering from the thorn in the flesh; he was consequently a very weak specimen when as a preacher he stood before them; but the message was so emancipating to their souls that they would have done anything for him in their gratitude. They would have even plucked out their own eyes and have given them to him. Why, then, should they turn against him when he seeks to tell them the truth? It is consequently the pathetic appeal of the apostle to those who had once been so interested in him.

I. PAUL'S EXAMPLE OF CHRISTIAN LIBERTY. (Ver. 12.) He wants the Galatians to be as he is, for he is as the Gentiles are so far as legalism is concerned. How did Paul act among the Gentiles? Not certainly as Peter had done at Antioch, in a vacillating spirit. He sat down deliberately at the tables of the heathen and carried no Jewish scruples into Gentile society. The ceremonial Law did not bind him to keep his converts at arm's length or to insist on their submission to Jewish scruples. He felt that Jesus had fulfilled for him all righteousness, and that he was consequently free from the ceremonial yoke. Hence with the greatest breadth of view and consistency, Paul acted the free and social part among the heathen.

II. PAUL'S APPEAL FOR SOMETHING LIKE THE OLD SYMPATHY. (Vers. 13-15.) He had appeared among them in a suffering condition. The "thorn in the flesh," which bad been sent to buffet him and keep him humble, had manifested itself in full force. There is every reason to believe that it consisted in weak eyes, which never recovered the shock on the way to Damascus. But the weak-eyed, despicable-looking preacher (2 Corinthians 10:10) had got an admirable reception in Galatia. His hearers so sympathized with his message as to forget his outward weakness, nay, rather to so sympathize with him in it as to be ready to pluck out their own eyes and give them to him, if it had been possible. The poor preacher was in their estimation an angel of God, and was received with the same consideration as they would have extended to Christ Jesus himself. This was admirable. And Paul wishes them to revive this sympathy for him and lead them along the path of liberty he himself is treading. How deep and pathetic the true sympathy between pastor and people ought to be I

III. THE UNREASONABLE CHARACTER OF THEIR PRESENT ANTIPATHY. (Ver. 16.) Because of Paul's faithfulness they are inclined to resent his interference with their legalism as a hostile act. But he would have them to analyze their antipathy fairly and to own how unreasonable it is. And yet this has been the fate of faithful men in all ages. They are hated because they tell the truth. The unreasonableness of antipathy to a man who tells us God's truth may be seen in at least three particulars.

1. Because the truth sanctifies (John 17:19).

2. Because the truth makes men free (John 8:32).

3. Because the truth saves (1 Timothy 2:4).

IV. ATTENTION MAY BE MISINTERPRETED, (Vers. 17, 18.) The false teachers were assiduous in their attentions to Paul's converts. They could not make enough of them. But Paul saw through their designs. Hence he declares, "They zealously seek you in no good way; nay, they desire to shut you out, that ye may seek them" (Revised Version). It was a zeal to get the Galatians under their power; it was to make them ritualists of the Jewish type, and so amenable to their Jewish authority and direction. Young converts require warning against the designs of zealots whose prerogative it is to curtail Christian liberty and put the simple under bondage. Now, Paul had paid all sorts of attention to the Galatians. He compares himself to a mother who had travailed with them and would consequently nurse them with the utmost tenderness. He courts comparison between his attentions and those of the false teachers. He more than insinuates that they are receiving different treatment at their hands than they did when he was present with them. It is only fair and right that attention should be weighed in the balances carefully, and a selfish fuss not be confounded with an unselfish and disinterested enthusiasm.

V. A PASTOR'S SPIRITUAL ANXIETIES ABOUT HIS PEOPLE. (Vers. 19, 20.) Paul had been in agony for their conversion when in Galatia. But their legalism has thrown him into perplexity about them. His agony, like a woman's travail, has to be repeated. He will not be content till Christ is formed within them as their true Hope of glory. He wishes he were present with them once again and were able by tender, maternal tones to convince them of the unselfish interest he has in them. The whole case is instructive as showing how painful is the interest of a true pastor in his flock and to what straits their waywardness may reduce him. A mother's anxieties should summon a pastor to an enthusiasm of affection for those committed to his charge. - R.M.E.

And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not.
Here we see —

I. THE GOODNESS OF GOD, who does not speak in His awful majesty, but sends ambassadors to beseech us to be reconciled to Him.

II. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PASTORS, because they stand in the stead of Christ Jesus, and must, therefore,

(1)only declare what they know to be His will; and

(2)have a special care to maintain that holiness of life which befits their position.


1. Not to despise their minister's weakness.

2. To treat him with reverence and love, because a messenger of God and of Christ.

IV. THE COMFORT OF BELIEVERS. Sure and certain, as though administered by an angel or by Christ Himself.

(W. Perkins.)

If we picture to ourselves the apostle as he appeared before the Galatians, a friendless outcast, writhing under the tortures of a painful malady, yet instant in season and out of season, by turns denouncing and entreating, appealing to the agonies of a crucified Saviour, perhaps, also, as at Lystra, enforcing this appeal by some striking miracle, we shall be at no loss to conceive how the fervid temperament of the Gaul might have been aroused, while yet only the surface of his spirit and consciousness was ruffled. For the time, indeed, all seemed to be going on well. "Ye were running bravely;" but the very eagerness with which they had embraced the gospel was in itself a dangerous symptom, A material so easily moulded soon loses the impression it has taken. The passionate current of their Celtic blood, which flowed in this direction now, might only too easily be diverted into a fresh channel by some new religious impulse. Their reception of the gospel was not built on a deeply-rooted conviction of its truth, or a genuine appreciation of its spiritual power.

(Bp. Lightfoot.)

The right reading and rendering is: "But ye know that by reason of an infirmity of my flesh I preached the gospel to you on the former visit; and your temptation in my flesh ye did not utterly despise (set at nought) nor loathe." The drift of the first of these clauses is that on the former of two visits, he had not purposed preaching in Galatia, but did so because he was detained there by his peculiar affliction. The drift of the second clause, which is rather irregularly expressed, is that the Galatians did not scorn his infirmity nor regard it with abhorrence, although it constituted a temptation to .them to repudiate the gospel, when preached by one so afflicted. This passage and 2 Corinthians 12:7 taken together point to the following results:

1. The affliction was bodily. "In my flesh." The effect of shocking and revolting those who witnessed it, which is pointed to in the word "loathe," could only be produced by visible symptoms. "Infirmity of my flesh" also suggests most naturally, although not necessarily, that the infirmity attached to the body. From its tendency to bring him into contempt, the apostle looked upon it as a grievous impediment to his ministry. The words "smite with the fist" (2 Corinthians 12:7) indicate the violence and the suddenness of its approaches; and his detention in Galatia, where he had not meant to stay, shows that he could not forecast its coming on, and apparently also that its after-effects were of some duration. The current impression that it was attended by agonizing pain is not positively justified by anything that is stated. It was probably humiliating rather than painful.

2. It was an adjunct of his visions and special revelations in two ways.

(1)It served a disciplinary purpose in connection with them.

(2)Its particular visits were the immediate antecedent, if not the conditional, accompaniments of the visions and revelations themselves.This last relation is not only indicated by the apostle's general statement, but appears more distinctly from the fact that the answer, "My grace is sufficient for thee" is exactly one of the special revelations in question, and it is reasonable to suppose that it was given in direct reply to the third prayer for deliverance, uttered at a moment when he was painfully sensible of the pressure of his bodily trial. It is to be borne in mind that he is speaking in 2 Corinthians 12. of visions and revelations experienced by him while in an ecstatic condition, i.e., when the connection between the inner spiritual man and the body was either in complete abeyance or actually for a while severed, and this strongly commends the supposition that the abnormal state of body was a transition-stage to the ecstasy. The three petitions would, in this case, be made when the apostle, under some painfully humbling physical conditions, felt his conscious union with his material organism dissolving, and the Lord's answer to the third petition would be heard by him when one of the ecstatic states had set in. The ecstasy, the visions and revelations, and the peculiar affection of the body, would thus be coincident in time, possibly of the same duration, and, in a certain sense, the complements of each other His conversion (Acts 26:11-18) furnishes a most striking illustration of the manner in which he may have received his supernatural communications at the precise time when he was under the actual application of the "stake for the flesh." Its close conjunction with the visions and revelations does not justify the conclusion that the suffering which it brought and the Divine communications alternated with one another during the ecstasy, so that the ecstatic, like the waking life of the apostle was a copy of the life of his Master in its contrary aspects of humiliation and suffering and of exaltation and glory. If the stake for the flesh was felt during the ecstasy, he could not have said that he did not know whether he was in the body or out of the body, for a sense of bodily suffering must imply the presence of the body One clear result of the intimate union of the stake with the visions and revelations is that the occasions of his suffering from it cannot be regarded and spoken of as if they came on like the attacks of a malady. They coincided with the times at which he stood in need of special disclosures of the Divine will. The date, "fourteen years ago" (2 Corinthians 12:2), points to directions given-him previously to quitting Arabia for a new province of ministerial work.

3. When St. Paul ascribes to the stake a twofold relation to the invisible world, and sees in it a concurrence of Divine and of Satanic agency, the latter controlled by the former, he is neither speaking figuratively, nor merely stating his own personal impressions in accordance with popular views, but affirming what he knew to be a truth, and his statement is amply supported by other representations in Scripture. This admixture of Satanic action makes the attempt precarious to identify the stake with any known malady or ailment, such as acute headache, earache, a complaint in the eyes, or epilepsy. The view which chiefly claims consideration under this head, although there is an ancient and sustained tradition in favour of headache, is that it was epilepsy. Both Jews and pagans deemed epilepsy a supernatural visitation, and hence its name morbus divinus, or sacer. Another designation of it, morbus comitialis, rested upon the same idea, for if any one was seized with it in the Roman Forum during an election it was supposed to be the intervention of a god, and business was suspended. The original for "loathe" in this verse means literally to "spit out," and it is curious that epilepsy was also called morbus que sputalur, because those present were "accustomed to spit upon the epileptic or into their own bosoms, either to express their abomination, or to avert the evil omen for themselves." Persons may become subject to epilepsy at middle age by a great shock, physical or moral, or both, such as St. Paul's conversion was. Almost all medical writers on epilepsy mention a patient who before a seizure imagined that he saw a figure approach and smite him a blow on the head, after which he lost consciousness. This has a resemblance to the expression "smite with the fist," which might well represent the suddenness of epileptic attacks. Those who happen to have seen a person seized with epilepsy while officiating in Divine service, will comprehend how natural it would be for St. Paul to regard any bodily liability at all resembling it as a terrible hindrance to his ministry. After epileptic convulsions have ended there often ensues an insensibility, and patients sometimes fall into a profound stupor or coma, which has been known to last as long as a week. This symptom would harmonize with the apostle's forced stay in Galatia. Still it is doubtful whether any of these points are more than superficial agreements. An epileptic remembers nothing of what passed during the fit, whereas St. Paul had the most vivid recollection of everything. Epilepsy, frequently suffered, generally impairs the intellect, and the cases. of Julius Caesar, Mahomet, and Buonaparte, who are quoted as instances of high intellectual power remaining in spite of epilepsy, are not deemed by medical authorities to be of much value.

4. An attempt has been made to find an analogy of nature for the apostle's cross from a different point of view, viz., by taking his visions and revelations for the starting-point. A large number of instances are upon record of religious visionaries, as they are called, and ecstatical persons, who have seemed to themselves to be translated into the invisible world, and to have seen and heard its inhabitants and transactions as sensibly as they could have seen and heard anything with their bodily organs. They have for the most part a strong conviction that they are under the immediate guidance and influence of spiritual beings during the disclosures made to them. The body is in many cases in a state resembling that of catalepsy, in which the will exercises no power over it; the expression of the eyes, though open, is extinguished; the limbs are like those of an automaton, and remain unaffected by the law of gravitation in any attitude in which they may be placed; and the face is like that of a dead person.

5. It may be questioned whether such inquiries and speculations as these, although interesting, can lead to any solid results, on account of the perfectly exceptional character of the apostle's case. There is reason to think that no malady or bodily disorder brought about by demoniacal agency is ever identical with ordinary disease. If similarities are traceable, they are rather symptomatic than essential affinities. There are not sufficient data for determining what peculiar ingredient characteristic of Satanic malignity there was in the apostle's affliction, but it would seem to have been something calculated to overwhelm him with ignominy rather than to excruciate him with pain. It is consolatory to know that, however hard it was to bear, the grace of Christ enabled him ultimately to rejoice and glory in it as a means whereby the power of the Lord more fully tabernacled upon him and invested him with the true strength for doing his Master's work.

(Canon Waite.)

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