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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Galatians 5

Verse 1

LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY

‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.’

Galatians 5:1

We are bound to assert for the Church of Jesus Christ her true and rightful place in the affairs of men.

I. The Church is the great witness to liberty in this world.—It was to set men free that her Master lived and died. He is the great emancipator of the spirit, and the conscience, and the intellect, and the heart of man. His Church exists to proclaim that truth which he declared should make men free. His Bible tells of human freedom from first to last; from God’s emancipation of Israel out of Egyptian bondage to the glory of that Jerusalem which is above, which is free. His service is described by our Prayer Book as ‘perfect freedom.’ Freedom is the very charter of the Church of Christ. She has often forgotten it; her highest princes have often worn the robes and rivetted the fetters of human tyranny, and allied themselves with crushing despotisms, to their own everlasting shame. But in spite of them, the Church is the witness to human liberty; and in England, at least, there has almost never been a great movement in the direction of the people’s freedom in which priests of the Church have not borne worthy part. But as there is a true and righteous liberty, so there is a false and degrading one. There is a liberty which claims that man shall be free to do what he likes, not what he ought; that he is independent of all law and above all self-restraint. Let us be careful, in our contest for the true, not to use the words and uphold the actions which lead to the false. Let us remember that no Church can be without law; no man, priest or layman, independent of rule. Just as every man has his own liberty of righteous conduct, but no right to do wrong, so neither Church nor community has any freedom to do that which is unlawful in God’s sight.

II. Is not baptism the most constant and ceaseless witness to equality?—Every child brought to the font, be it the child of prince or peasant, is treated exactly alike. The same words are spoken; the same water poured; the same dedication to the warfare of righteousness pronounced. And we, who as Churchmen maintain the baptism of infants, do not wait for conversion, or for years of discretion, before consecrating every human creature in the laver of the new birth. All alike, be they who they may, are claimed as equal members of Christ, admitted as equal soldiers in the army of the Most High. Every time the Baptismal Service is celebrated, the Gospel of Equality is preached, in action and in words. Yet is there a counterfeit equality, which loudly declares that a man has no ‘betters,’ refusing to recognise God’s hierarchy of goodness and genius, and reducing all characters to the same dead level. Take we heed that it find no place among us; that while we bless our Father for the equality to which our baptism bears witness, we give no place to that insolent self-assertion which has neither dignity nor reverence.

III. What witness to the brotherhood of men so expressive, so touching, as that other Sacrament, the Holy Communion, whose very name speaks of the uniting of men together in God? We rejoice to repeat St. Paul’s saying, which shows how keenly the great human-hearted Apostle felt that the Eucharist was the bond of brotherhood: ‘We being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one Bread.’ Beware of a brotherhood which assumes and mocks the sacred name. This is the spirit that makes much parade and show of fraternity, but chooses who shall be called its brothers, and who shall be treated as such. Take heed lest you grow unawares to think that only those within your own circle are brethren, and those who hold aloof are not; that those who do not think as you do, or that men like myself, who cannot always follow you, are outside the pale.

—Rev. Professor H. C. Shuttleworth.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

SPIRITUAL FREEDOM

Let us see how Christ gives ‘liberty,’ and what that ‘liberty’ is. We will look at it from three points of view.

I. Liberty from the past.—Every one has a past which fetters him. There are things in your life which you can scarcely dare to look back upon, and when you do they shackle you. You feel that so long as those things are there it is of little or no use to set about and try to live a better life. No future can undo them. Now, just to meet all this—the Cross of Christ having cancelled all the guilt and paid all the penalty—the moment a man really believes and accepts his pardon he is cut off from all his sinful past! It is placed ‘behind God’s back.’ It is ‘cast into the depths of the sea.’ It is as though it had never been. He may start quite afresh. No shadow, no fear, need come up from the years that are gone. He stands a liberated man! Now he can go—as Christ’s freedman—with a spring—to better things to come. The God of his fear has been turned into the God of his love! And that is ‘liberty’ from the past ‘wherewith Christ hath made us free’—the purchase of His cross, the gift of His throne.

II. Liberty from the present.—Now look to the ‘liberty’ from the present. If I have received Christ into my heart I am a pardoned man, I am a happy man, and I know and feel that I owe all my happiness to Him—therefore I love Him; I cannot choose but love Him; and my first desire is to please Him, to follow Him, to be like Him, to be with Him. And all the while there is a power working in me which is a great Liberator. He breaks chains for me. He open doors for me. He emancipates me from the thraldom of the world—its habits, its opinions, its sneers, its judgments. He gives me an independence and a manliness which is my strength. And I know no other bond but His, which is the dearest to me in all the world, and that is liberty! And then see to what I am admitted. I can go into the presence of God. I can consult Him in every difficulty and confess to Him every thought, and know it is forgiven then and there. I am free to His mercy-seat. I am free to His court. All the promises are mine. Oh, what a ‘liberty’ is this! What is all this earth can give by the side of that blessed feeling? This is the present liberty wherewith Christ has made His people free.

III. Liberty from the future.—And what of the future? A vista running up to glory! But are there no dark places? Chiefly in the anticipation. When they come they will bring their own escapes and their own balances. But my future—be it what it may—is all covenanted. Christ has told me not to be anxious about it. And I can never doubt Him. He has undertaken for me in everything. He will never leave me. He will be at my side all the way, and my path and my heart are both quite free! I am quite free from all my future. To die will be a very little thing. The grave cannot hold me. He has been through and opened the door the other side. It is only a very short passage! quite light! all safe!

What a ‘liberty’ is here! The past—gone; the present—safety, peace, love; the future—sure!

—Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘What is “liberty”? Obedience to oneself; obedience to a law which is written in a man’s own heart. If I obey myself, and myself is not a right self, it is, indeed, “liberty,” but, being a bad liberty, it becomes “licentiousness.” If I obey a law outside me and the law within me is opposed to that outer law which I obey, the act I do may be quite right, and the only right one, but my obedience is not “liberty,” it is compulsion; it is bondage. Liberty is when the outer law and the inner law are the same, and both are good. Christ made that agreement possible by His Cross. The Holy Ghost makes that agreement a fact by his operation in the heart. Self is never liberty, because self and God are two principles which must unite before a person can be free; and a sinful life never combines the two.’

Verse 16

POSITIVE CHRISTIANITY

‘Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.’

Galatians 5:16

These Galatians were a fierce, brave, generous, but untamed race of mountaineers, whose chief vices were unbridled fleshly self-indulgence. And here St. Paul urges them to struggle to be self-controlling men, and not self-indulgent brutes: ‘Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.’ It is hardly possible to conceive a greater contrast than that between those wild Galatians and ourselves in our higher civilisation and quiet homes. But the battle, with us, is the same as with them; the same ‘lusts of the flesh’ are with us, and they have to be met and conquered.

I. The chief feature of St. Paul’s teaching in reference to morality was its positiveness.—There are two ways to meet and deal with every vice: one is to set to work to destroy it; the other is to overwhelm and stifle it with its opposite virtue. The former is the negative, and the latter the positive method. There can be no doubt about St. Paul’s way. To the poor Galatian, fighting with his fleshly lusts, he does not set him on a course of stern repression, but rather points him to a life of positive endeavour, to do something opposite: ‘Walk in the Spirit, and—then——’ The Apostle laid hold on one of the noblest methods of the treatment of humanity—one that he had gained most directly from his Lord. These two methods of treatment, the negative and the positive, present themselves to us in all the other problems of life besides morality, and men choose between them.

II.—Throughout the New Testament there is nothing more beautiful than the perfectly clear way in which the positive culture of human character is adopted and employed.—The God of the New Testament, Whose express image and glory we behold in the face of Jesus Christ, is not a God of repression, but a God Whose Fatherhood is made so real that His holiness may be reproduced in His children; a God Whose symbols are everything that is stimulating, everything that encourages and helps; Who leads on His children into that new life where sin becomes impossible, on an ever-ascending pathway of growing Christliness. And this character of the New Testament, of Christianity, is not in contradiction with the best aspirations of the human heart. Man is willing to exercise repression and self-sacrifice for a certain temporary purpose, to do some certain work—the world is full of self-sacrifice, of the suppression of desires, the restraint of natural inclinations; yet all the time there is a great human sense that not suppression but expression is the true life.

III. And yet there arises much in the teachings of our Lord, and in the whole spirit of Christianity, which seems to contradict this conclusion.—Has not the religion of Jesus always been called the very religion of self-sacrifice? Is not self-surrender exalted into a virtue and crowned with glory, as it never was in any other faith? That certainly is true. But in Christ’s teaching self-sacrifice is always temporary and provisional, merely the clearing the way for the positive culture and manifestation of those great results of spiritual life which he loved: the right hand to be cut off, the right eye to be plucked out; mortification of the flesh, that the man may ‘enter into life.’ The self-sacrifice of the Christian is true in proportion as it copies the perfect pattern of the self-sacrifice of Christ. The Christian’s self-surrender is called a being ‘crucified to the world’; when, then, we turn to Christ’s crucifixion we find the key to that of the Christian man. See how the positive power shines through that, the most heroic of all sacrifices. It is not simply the giving up of something, it is the laying hold of something too. He Who suffers is conquering fear by the power of a confident hope, a triumphant certainty. The way to get out of self-love is to love God. ‘Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.’

Bishop Phillips Brooks.

Illustration

‘You cannot kill any one of the appetites of human nature by merely starving them. You must try to draw those appetites from the poison they covet, by supplying a true and good food; by providing rational amusements, a healthier and brighter tone to home and public life; in a word, by a positive, and not a negative method of treatment. It is not prohibition which keeps the well-to-do, as a class, from disgusting and degrading lives: it is the comfort of home and intellectual occupation—the positive forces: these, and not negative repression, must be our aim in dealing with the poor man in the squalor of his garret and the hopelessness of his life. The same holds good of religion.’

Verse 17

THE CONFLICT WITH SIN

‘For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.’

Galatians 5:17

Whoever knows anything of the nature of his own heart would expect that the presence and the claim of good would immediately stir up the opposition and the virulence of evil. The fact is, that until there is some good, there can be no conflict at all. The conflict is not an accident, but a necessity—not exceptional in your case, but an universal rule, that it is the very condition of a Christian’s calling, and a part of the Christian’s inheritance; it is the badge of discipleship, it is the fellowship of Jesus.

I. In this warfare, there is, at least for a long time, a singular balance. Look, for instance, at the exact intention of the text, ‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh’—i.e. the natural or carnal part of a renewed man puts forth strong desires against the spiritual part, and the spiritual part puts forth strong desires against the natural and carnal part—and ‘these are contrary’—lie, as the original Greek word is—‘lie over against the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.’ Which way? Cannot do the good things you would, because of the carnal part? Or, cannot do the evil things you would, because of the spiritual part? Which? Certainly both. Chiefly the latter. Do not extenuate the sin because of the grace, and do not disparage the grace because of the sin.

II. A double danger.—Here lies a double danger, and the path runs narrow between two precipices. A few say very presumptuously, and with awful speciousness, ‘Because of the grace that is in me, I am no longer a sinner; I must not pray as a sinner, I must not feel as a sinner.’ Very many more, with a most unfilial timidity, and a most unscriptural reason, say, ‘Because I have so much sin in me, there can be no grace; I cannot believe that, being what I find myself, I am a child of God.’ Admit both, confess to both, act upon both. There is a side—oh, how dark!—all blackness. That is earth’s side. Now turn the portrait, and see it under the falling of another light. ‘He that is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.’ Christ in me—and that Christ in me is my being, I own no other, ‘Christ in me the hope of glory.’ He stands very near, in Whom that warfare of yours is even now accomplished, and He says, ‘Be thou faithful unto the death, and I will give thee a crown of life!’

Rev. James Vaughan.

Verse 19

A GREAT CONTRAST

‘The works of the flesh … the fruit of the Spirit.’

Galatians 5:19; Galatians 5:22

What a contrast there is presented to us in these few lines! The works of the flesh against the fruit of the Spirit! From the one the higher nature of man turns in utter abhorrence, while the other commends itself to God and man.

I. Present-day sins.—I think we must be arrested by the solemn and awful fact that some of the sins of which the Apostle speaks are with us to-day. We must admit that there is amongst us much idolatry, many factions and divisions, hatred, heresies, and envyings. Now that is a consideration of the gravest importance. Why is it the Church in the course of its two thousand years of existence has not done more, for although we rejoice over the triumphs of the Gospel, as we look round there must be a note of sorrow. Look at the darkness of Africa! Look at the teeming millions of Asia still in the grip of heathenism! Nay, do not look so far. Look at Christendom itself, and one must admit that there is even in the Church of Christ much that makes the brain reel and the heart turn sick. How is this? To answer this aright we must remember that Christ never originated a party; He was not a Master of a system; yet He set in motion a force that has stood for two thousand years through a storm of persecution, and through all the great advancements and changes of passing ages, and still to-day is the greatest moral force of the world. What was the secret of it all? His life was His theology; He came bringing a higher conception of manhood and the Godhead; a new reverence of God—the God of Love.

II. Christianity in the world.—If this is truly the secret of the power of Christ, so must it be the power of Christianity in the world to-day. It is not in the customs of the Church; the power of the Church is in the lives of the men and women who are living as Christ did. The Church is the casket, the men and women are the jewels; the Church is the body, the individual lives of the members of the Church are the soul. That is the thing we need to be reminded of. We are overburdened with the idea of the desirability of great organisations, but it is the life that counts; and as the life of the Christian is the power of the Church, so the lives of men and women should be the ultimate desire of the Church. Christianity is not the knowledge of Church history, but a true development of the joy and peace of the Christian spirit.

—Rev. J. C. Banham.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

KNOWN BY THEIR FRUIT

The Apostle had his Master’s authority, not only for this teaching, but for the figurative language in which it is conveyed. ‘By their fruits,’ Christ had said, ‘shall ye know them.’

I. This fruit contrasts with the produce of the sinful nature.—The Apostle lays stress upon ‘the flesh,’ by which he evidently intends the corrupt, sinful nature of men. The flesh and the Spirit are contrary; so are the works of the flesh to the fruits of the Spirit. The catalogue of sins here introduced must have appeared most just to the observation of men lately delivered in some cases from the debasement of heathenism. The contrast is one as real, if not so striking, in our own days.

II. This fruit can only be accounted for by the new life and the new influences of the Spirit.—For the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Life and the Spirit of Holiness. It is a supernatural growth which yields these unaccustomed fruits. The sunshine ripens, the showers swell the fruit which God destines for His own glory. It has the flavour and the fragrance of heaven.

III. This fruit is sweet, serviceable, and acceptable, not only to God, but also to man.—The practical virtues here described are such as relate to a man’s intercourse with his fellow-men, and such as contribute to his own true development and well-being. Its abundance will enrich and bless this earth, and will promote the glory of the Divine Husbandman. ‘Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.’

Verse 22

CHRISTIAN JOY

‘The fruit of the Spirit is … joy.’

Galatians 5:22

The end of religion is not penitence, it is not contrition, it is not conviction of sin; it is something better than all that. The end of religion, to which it is all working, is joy. Jesus Christ Himself ‘for the joy which was set before Him endured the Cross.’ So, again, St. Paul, in prison chained to a soldier, with many disappointments and trials, yet he said, ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice.’

What does Christian joy consist in?

I. The first joy is the joy of being forgiven.—Are there some who do not know the joy of being forgiven? They certainly cannot know that joy until they have known the pain of penitence. Look into your consciences and see what is on your conscience. Only in this way can you work towards the joy of being forgiven.

II. There is the joy of companionship.—Part of the joy of Christ was that He was not alone, and the only moment when He was in real agony of spirit was when the Father’s face seemed to be blotted out from Him, and He cried, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ Christ bore that in order that no one might ever be forsaken.

III. There is the joy of service.—I am never tired of repeating those beautiful words of Bishop Phillips Brooks: ‘It is not when the ship is fretting her side against the wharf that she has found her true joy, but when she has cut the rope which binds her to the wharf and is out upon the ocean with the wind over her and the waters under her; it is then that she knows the true joy a ship is made for as she plunges across the sea.’ Can you not see what is meant? It is not when a man is fretting his sides against the wharf, as it were, of his own self; it is not when he is saying, ‘What will people think of me?’—that is not the full joy a man is made for; but when he has cut the rope that binds him to himself and is out upon the ocean of loving work for God and man, with the wind of the Spirit over him and the water of humanity under him—then he knows the true joy he is made for.

IV. There is the joy of growth.—How lovely it is to think of the Church as a beautiful garden, and the Holy Spirit coming down upon it like dew and making all the plants grow. It is a lovely thing, of course, to see flowers grow, but it is still lovelier to see boys and girls growing up in a family and all their character developing; they seem sometimes to get more loving, more unselfish, like the beautiful flowers, every day under the influence of the Holy Spirit. That is the joy of growth.

V. There is the joy of strength.—‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’ You know those beautiful pictures by Mr. Watts of Sir Galahad riding forth to battle with his armour on, full of the joy of strength; or that other picture of ‘Aspiration,’ where the young knight looks across the field of life with his spear and shining armour. That is the joy of strength. And there ought not to be a young man or woman present who has not got the joy of strength. We are not meant to be miserably weak people, driven about by every wind of doctrine and beaten down by temptation. We are meant to be young knights, going forth in all the glorious strength of the Holy Spirit, conquering and to conquer. We must ask for the joy of strength.

Bishop A. F. Winnington-Ingram.

Illustration

‘It was said by a great writer that the goodness of work was in proportion to the joy of the workman. I come across, for instance, some parish priest who has toiled in East London for thirty years unnoticed and unknown. Do I find him depressed? I find him tired, weary, old before his time, but find a joy upholding him. You will remember Matthew Arnold’s beautiful words:—

‘ ’Twas August, and the fierce sun overhead

Smote on the squalid streets of Bethnal Green,

And the pale weaver through his windows seen

In Spitalfields, looked thrice dispirited;

I met a preacher there I knew, and said:

“Ill and o’er-worked, how fare you in this scene?”

“Bravely,” said he, “for I of late have been

Much cheered with thoughts of Christ, the Living Bread.”

O human soul! so long as thou canst so

Set up a mark of everlasting light,

Above the howling senses’ ebb and flow,

To cheer thee and to right thee if thou roam,

Not with lost toil thou labourest through the night!

Thou mak’st the heaven thou hop’st indeed thy home.’

Verses 22-23

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.’

Galatians 5:22-23

No efforts of ours can cast off the unsightly works of the flesh; but as the blessed Spirit works in us, to will and to do of His good pleasure, they will fall off, overpowered by the new and increasing strength of the secret life within. There will be no sudden, violent transformation, after the one great momentous transplanting, when we were taken from the kingdom of darkness and placed in that of the Sun of His love ( Colossians 1:13), but a slow, silent, sure developing of the hidden life, till all the corruptions and leaves of self-righteousness drop off, not by any spasmodic efforts on our part, but by the irresistible force of the growing life within.

This fruit of the Spirit, which the Apostle so exultingly speaks of here, is to affect our whole being, inside and out, to harmonise, modify, and beautify every relationship of life.

Let us just study this fruit from various points of view, under various aspects, for it is a Divine picture of what God will effect in our hearts, and is intended for our encouragement and comfort.

I. We have the Christian mind as regards itself and God.—‘Love, joy, peace.’ What a wonderful contrast to the hatred, dissatisfaction, restlessness of the carnal mind! What a gleam of brightness for dull, everyday human life!

II. The Christian mind as regards neighbourly intercourse.—‘Longsuffering, kindness, goodness.’ These are the characteristics the child of God should present to a watchful world. Each of these words gives opportunity for careful thought and self-examination. Let us just take them in their primary meaning. ‘Long-suffering.’—That is the patient endurance of injuries and wrongs, being able to avenge or avoid them. ‘Kindness.’—Namely, a kindly disposition and temper, not necessarily showing itself in a practical philanthropy, even perhaps partly only sentimental, yet nevertheless genuine and true. ‘Goodness.’—A kindliness of heart and warmly sympathetic nature which does find its expression in a practical way, a loving compassion manifested in deed and in truth.

III. The Christian mind as regards personal conduct.—‘Faith [R. V. faithfulness], meekness, temperance.’ Oh, how important is this! With what eager curiosity does the world watch the Christian, to see if he really has a higher, nobler standard of work and worth than others have, or profess to have, and whether this loftier ideal is the fruit of a living, loving allegiance to a Divine Master!

And if there is the glorious evidence of trustworthiness, meekness, goodness—what a magnificent tribute it is to the exuberant power of the indwelling life!

—Rev. W. B. Russell Caley.

Illustration

‘We must remember always that the expression in Galatians is the singular “fruit”; the effect of the Spirit’s power is viewed as manifested in one perfect result, a unity comprising variety. That, as in the natural unregenerate heart the strength and power runs to waste, in luxuriant and unrestrained excess, so in the life controlled and moulded by the Holy Spirit there is a concentration of energy on one thing, and that one thing is “fruit”; just as we see now that in many gardens there are apple, pear, plum trees called “Cordon,” in which all extraneous leafage and sprouting is rigidly suppressed and curtailed in order that a few of the very best specimens of fruit may be obtained. Much even that is in itself only beautiful and harmless is sacrificed to this one object—fruitfulness. So the Holy Spirit’s work in the Christian’s heart is with one object, that he may bring forth much perfect fruit. The Divine Spirit is the One Who unites us to Jesus in a living, loving confidence and devotion; and being united to Him, we have “our fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” ( Romans 6:22). All fruitfulness comes from union with the same stem. The same vital power produces all and each. “He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without Me [or apart from Me] ye can do nothing,” says Jesus Himself ( John 15:5); and we reverently and unquestioningly accept the Divine axiom, with all its tremendous and blessed consequences.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Galatians 5". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/galatians-5.html. 1876.