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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 5

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Verse 1


Galatians 5:1. Stand fast in.—Stand up to, make your stand for. The liberty wherewith Christ has made as free.—As Christ has given you this liberty you are bound to stand fast in it. Be not entangled.—Implicated in a way which involves violence to true spontaneous life. The yoke of bondage.—Contrasted with the yoke of Christ, which is compatible with the fullest spiritual freedom.


Christian Liberty—

I. Should be valued considering how it was obtained.—“The liberty where, with Christ hath made us free.” It is a liberty purchased at a great cost. Christ, the Son of God, became incarnated, suffered in a degree unparalleled and incomprehensible, and died the shameful and ignoble death of the crucified to win back the liberty man had forfeited by voluntary sin. The redemption of man was hopeless from himself, and but for the intervention of a competent Redeemer he was involved in utter and irretrievable bondage. Civil liberty, though the inalienable right of every man, has been secured as the result of great struggle and suffering. “With a great sum,” said the Roman captain to Paul, “obtained I this freedom;” and many since his day have had to pay dearly for the common rights of citizenship. But Christian liberty should be valued as the choicest privilege, remembering it was purchased by the suffering Christ, and that it has been defended through the ages by a noble army of martyrs.

II. Should remind us of the oppression from which it delivers.—“And be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” The Galatians had been bondmen, enslaved by the worship of false and vile deities. If they rush into the snare of the legalists, they will be bondmen again, and their bondage will be the more oppressive now they have tasted the joys of freedom. Disobedience involves us in many entanglements. It is among the most potent of the energies of sin that it leads astray by blinding and blinds by leading astray; that the soul, like the strong champion of Israel, must have its eyes put out, when it would be bound with fetters of brass and condemned to grind in the prison-house (Judges 16:21). Redemption from the slavery of sin should fill the heart with gratitude. A wealthy and kind Englishman once bought a poor negro for twenty pieces of gold. He presented him with a sum of money that he might buy a piece of land and furnish himself a home. “Am I really free? May I go whither I will?” cried the negro in the joy of his heart. “Well, let me be your slave, massa; you have redeemed me, and I owe all to you.” The gentleman took him into his service, and he never had a more faithful servant. How much more eagerly should we do homage and service to the divine Master, who Himself has made us free!

III. Should be rigorously maintained.—“Stand fast therefore.” The price of freedom is incessant vigilance; once gained it is a prize never to be lost, and no effort or sacrifice should be grudged in its defence. “As far as I am a Christian,” said Channing, “I am free. My religion lays on me not one chain. It does not hem me round with a mechanical ritual, does not enjoin forms, attitudes, and hours of prayer, does not descend to details of dress and food, does not put on me one outward badge. It teaches us to do good, but leaves us to devise for ourselves the means by which we may best serve mankind.” The spirit of Christian liberty is eternal. Jerusalem and Rome may strive to imprison it. They might as well seek to bind the winds of heaven. Its seat is the throne of Christ. It lives by the breath of His Spirit. Not to be courageous and faithful in its defence is disloyalty to Christ and treachery to our fellow-men.


1. Christ is the true Emancipator of men.

2. Christian liberty does not violate but honours the law of love.

3. Liberty is best preserved by being consistently exercised.


Galatians 5:1. Freedom from Bondage.—

1. Every man by nature is a bondslave, being under the bondage of sin. The Jews were under bondage to the ceremonial law, involving great trouble, pain in the flesh, and great expense.
2. Jesus Christ by His obedience and death has purchased freedom and liberty to His Church—liberty not to do evil, nor from the yoke of new obedience, nor from the cross, nor from that obedience and reverence which inferiors owe to superiors; but from the dominion of sin, the tyranny of Satan, the curse and irritating power of the law, and from subjecting our consciences to the rites, doctrines, ceremonies, and laws of men in the matter of worship.
3. Though civil liberty be much desired, so ignorant are we of the worth of freedom from spiritual bondage that we can hardly be excited to seek after it, or made to stand to it when attained, but are in daily hazard of preferring our former bondage to our present liberty.—Fergusson.

Bondage and Liberty.

I. We are in bondage under sin.

II. We are subject to punishment.—Implying:

1. Bondage under Satan, who keeps unrepentant sinners in his snare.
2. Bondage under an evil conscience, which sits in the heart as accuser and judge, and lies like a wild beast at a man’s door ready to pluck out his throat.
3. Bondage under the wrath of God and fear of eternal death.

III. We are in bondage to the ceremonial law.—To feel this bondage is a step out of it; not to feel it is to be plunged into it.

IV. We have spiritual liberty by the grace of God.

1. Christian liberty is a deliverance from misery.
(1) From the curse of the law for the breach thereof.
(2) From the obligation of the law whereby it binds us to perfect righteousness in our own persons.
(3) From the observance of the ceremonial law of Moses.
(4) From the tyranny and dominion of sin.
2. Christian liberty is freedom in good things.
(1) In the voluntary service of God.
(2) In the free use of all the creatures of God.
(3) Liberty to come to God and in prayer to be heard.
(4) To enter heaven.

V. Christ is the great Liberator.—He procured this liberty:

1. By the merit of His death. The price paid—His precious blood—shows the excellence of the blessing, and that it should be esteemed.
2. By the efficacy of His Spirit—assuring us of our adoption, and abating the strength and power of sin.

VI. We are to hold fast our liberty in the day of trial.

1. We must labour that religion be not only in mind and memory, but rooted in the heart.
2. We must join with our religion the soundness of a good conscience.
3. We must pray for all things needful.—Perkins.

Verses 2-6


Galatians 5:2. If ye be circumcised.—Not simply as a national rite, but as a symbol of Judaism and legalism in general; as necessary to justification. Christ shall profit you nothing.—The gospel of grace is at an end. He who is circumcised is so fearing the law, and he who fears disbelieves the power of grace, and he who disbelieves can profit nothing by that grace which he disbelieves (Chrysostom).

Galatians 5:5. Wait for the hope of righteousness.—Righteousness, in the sense of justification, is already attained, but the consummation of it in future perfection is the object of hope to be waited for.

Galatians 5:6. Faith which worketh by love.—Effectually worketh, exhibits its energy by love, and love is the fulfilling of the law.


Christianity Superior to External Rites.

I. External rites demand universal obedience.—“Every man that is circumcised is a debtor to do the whole law” (Galatians 5:3). The Galatians were in a state of dangerous suspense. They were on the brink of a great peril. Another step and they would be down the precipice. That step was circumcision. Seeing the imminence of the danger the apostle becomes more earnest and emphatic in his remonstrance. He warns them that circumcision, though a matter of indifference as an external rite, would in their case involve an obligation to keep the whole law. This he has shown is an impossibility. They would submit themselves to a yoke they were unable to bear, and from whose galling tyranny they would be unable to extricate themselves. Knowing this, surely they would not be so foolish as, deliberately and with open eyes, to commit such an act of moral suicide. There must be a strange infatuation in ritualistic observances that tempts man to undertake obligations he is powerless to perform, utterly heedless of the most explicit and faithful warnings.

II. Dependence on external rites is an open rejection of Christ.—“Christ shall profit you nothing; … is become of no effect unto you; ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4). Here the result of a defection from the gospel is placed in the most alarming aspect, and should give pause to the wildest fanatic. It is the forfeiture of all Christian privileges, it is a complete rejection of Christ, it is a loss of all the blessings won by faith, it is a fall into the gulf of despair and ruin. It cannot be too plainly understood, nor too frequently iterated, that excessive devotion to external rights means the decline and extinction of true religion. Ritualism supplants Jesus Christ. “It is evident that the disciples of the Church of Rome wish to lead us from confession and absolution to the doctrine of transubstantiation, thence to the worship of images, and thence to all the abuses which at the end of the fifteenth century and at the beginning of the sixteenth excited the anger and scorn of Luther, Calvin, Zwinglius, and others. The primary faith of the Reformers is in the words of Christ. The primary faith of the ritualists is in Aristotle. If the British nation is wise, it will not allow the Roman Church with its infallible head, or the ritualists with their mimic ornaments, or those who are deaf to the teachings of Socrates and Cicero, of Bacon and Newton, to deprive them of the inestimable blessings of the gospel.”

III. Christianity as a spiritual force is superior to external rites.

1. It bases the hope of righteousness on faith. “For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” (Galatians 5:5). Look on this picture and on that. Yonder are the Galatians, all in tumult about the legalistic proposals, debating which of the Hebrew feasts they shall celebrate and with what rites, absorbed in the details of Mosaic ceremony, all but persuaded to be circumcised and to settle their scruples out of hand by a blind submission to the law. And here on the other side is Paul with the Church of the Spirit, walking in the righteousness of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit, joyfully awaiting the Saviour’s final coming and the hope that is laid up in heaven. How vexed, how burdened, how narrow and puerile is the one condition; how large, lofty, and secure the other! Faith has its great ventures; it has also its seasons of endurance, its moods of quiet expectancy, its unweariable patience. It can wait as well as work (Findlay).

2. Faith is a spiritual exercise revealing itself in active love.—“Faith worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6). In Galatians 5:5 we have the statics of the religion of Christ; in Galatians 5:6 its dynamics. Love is the working energy of faith. “Love gives faith hands and feet; hope lends it wings. Love is the fire at its heart, the life-blood coursing in its veins; hope the light that gleams and dances in its eyes.” In the presence of an active spiritual Christianity, animated by love to Christ and to men, ritualism diminishes into insignificance. “In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision” (Galatians 5:6). The Jew is no better or worse a Christian because he is circumcised; the Gentile no worse or better because he is not. Love, which is the fulfilling of the law, is the essence of Christianity, and gives it the superiority over all external rites.


1. Externalism in religion imposes intolerable burdens.

2. To prefer external rites is an insult to Christ.

3. The superiority of Christianity is its spiritual character.


Galatians 5:2-4. Christianity nullified by Legalism.

I. To accept legalism is to reject Christ (Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4).

II. Legalism demands universal obedience to its enactments (Galatians 5:3).

III. Legalism is a disastrous abandonment of Christianity.—“Ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

Galatians 5:5-6. Righteousness attained by Active Faith.—

1. No personal righteousness entitles us to the blessed hope of the heavenly inheritance, but only the righteousness of Christ apprehended by faith. It is only the efficacious teaching of God’s Spirit which can sufficiently instruct us in the knowledge of this righteousness and make us with security and confidence venture our hope of heaven upon it.
2. To impose the tie of a command on anything as a necessary part of divine worship wherein the word has left us free, or to subject ourselves to such command, is a receding from and betrayal of Christian liberty.
3. The sum of a Christian’s task is faith; but it is always accompanied with the grace of love. Though faith and love are conjoined, faith, in the order of nature, has the precedency.—Fergusson.

Galatians 5:6. Religion is Faith working by Love.

I. External and bodily privileges are of no use and moment in the kingdom of Christ.

1. We are not to esteem men’s religion by their riches and external dignities.
2. We are to moderate our affections in respect of all outward things, neither sorrowing too much for them nor joying too much in them.

II. Faith is of great use and acceptance in the kingdom of Christ.

1. We must labour to conceive faith aright in our hearts, by the use of the right means—the word, prayer, and sacraments, and in and by the exercises of spiritual invocation and repentance.
2. Faith in Christ must reign and bear sway in our hearts and have command over reason, will, affection, lust.
3. It is to be bewailed that the common faith of our day is but a ceremonial faith.

III. True faith works by love.—Faith is the cause of love, and love is the fruit of faith.—Perkins.

Verses 7-12


Galatians 5:9. A little leaven.—Of false doctrine, a small amount of evil influence.

Galatians 5:10. He that troubleth you.—The leaven traced to personal agency; whoever plays the troubler. Shall bear his judgment.—Due and inevitable condemnation from God.

Galatians 5:11. Then is the offence of the cross ceased.—The offence, the stumbling-block, to the Jew which roused his anger was not the shame of Messiah crucified, but the proclamation of free salvation to all, exclusive of the righteousness of human works.

Galatians 5:12. I would they were cut off which trouble you.—Self-mutilated, an imprecation more strongly expressed in chap. Galatians 1:8-9. Christian teachers used language in addressing Christians in the then heathen world that would be regarded as intolerable in modern Christendom, purified and exalted by Christ through their teachings.


Disturber of the Faith—

I. Checks the prosperous career of the most ardent Christian.—“Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Galatians 5:7). The Galatians were charmed with the truth as it fell from the lips of the apostle; it was to them a new revelation; they eagerly embraced it, it changed their lives, and they strove to conform their conduct to its high moral teachings. The apostle was delighted with the result, and commended their Christian enthusiasm. They were running finely. But the intrusion of false teaching changed all this. Their progress was arrested, their faith was disturbed, they wavered in their allegiance, and were in danger of losing all the advantages they had gained. The influence of false doctrine is always baneful, especially so to new beginners, in whom the principles of truth have not become firmly rooted. The loss of truth, like inability to believe, may be traced back to an unhealthy corruption of the mind. The great danger of unsound doctrine lies in this, that, like a cancer, it rankles because it finds in the diseased condition of the religious life ever fresh nourishment.

II. Is opposed to the divine method of justification.—“This persuasion cometh not of Him that calleth you” (Galatians 5:8). The disturber of the Galatians taught a human method of salvation—a salvation by the works of the law. This was diametrically opposed to the divine calling, which is an invitation to the whole race to seek salvation by faith. The persuasion to which the Galatians were yielding was certainly not of God. It was a surrender to the enemy. All error is a wild fighting against God, an attempt to undermine the foundations that God has fixed for man’s safety and happiness.

III. Suggests errors that are contagious in their evil influence.—“A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). A proverbial expression the meaning of which is at once obvious. A small infusion of false doctrine, or the evil influence of one bad person, corrupts the purity of the gospel. It is a fact well known in the history of science and philosophy that men, gifted by nature with singular intelligence, have broached the grossest errors and even sought to undermine the grand primitive truths on which human virtue, dignity, and hope depend. The mind that is always open to search into error is itself in error, or at least unstable (1 Corinthians 15:33; Ecclesiastes 9:18).

IV. Shall not escape chastisement whatever his rank or pretensions.

1. Either by direct divine judgment. “He that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be” (Galatians 5:10). The reference here may be to some one prominent among the seducers, or to any one who plays the troubler. God will not only defend His own truth, but will certainly punish the man who from wicked motives seeks to corrupt the truth or to impair the faith of those who have embraced it. The seducer not only deceives himself, but shall suffer judgment for his self-deception and the injury he has done to others.

2. Or by excision from the Church.—“I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Galatians 5:12). An extravagant expression, as if the apostle said, Would that the Judaising troublers would mutilate themselves, as was the custom with certain heathen priests in some of their religious rites. The phrase indicates the angry contempt of the apostle for the legalistic policy, and that the troublers richly deserved to be excluded from the Church and all its privileges. The patience of the Gentile champion was exhausted, and found relief for the moment in mocking invective.

V. Does not destroy the hope and faith of the true teacher.

1. He retains confidence in the fidelity of those who have been temporarily disturbed. “I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded” (Galatians 5:10). Notwithstanding the insidious leaven, the apostle cherishes the assurance that his converts will after all prove leal and true at heart. He has faithfully chided them for their defection, but his anger is directed, not towards them, but towards those who have injured them. He is persuaded the Galatians will, with God’s help, resume the interrupted race they were running so well.

2. His sufferings testify that his own teaching is unchanged.—“If I preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased” (Galatians 5:11). The rancour and hostility of the legalists would have been disarmed, if Paul advocated their doctrine, and the scandalous “offence of the cross”—so intolerable to Jewish pride—would have been done away. But the cross was the grand vital theme of all his teaching, that in which he most ardently gloried, and for which he was prepared to endure all possible suffering. The value of truth to a man is what he is willing to suffer for it.


1. The man who perverts the truth is an enemy to his kind.

2. The false teacher ensures his own condemnation.

3. Truth becomes more precious the more we suffer for it.


Galatians 5:7-10. How Perfection is attained.—Everything in the universe comes to its perfection by drill and marching—the seed, the insect, the animal, the man, the spiritual man. God created man at the lowest point, and put him in a world where almost nothing would be done for him, and almost everything should tempt him to do for himself.—Beecher.

Galatians 5:7. The Christian Life a Race.

I. Christians are runners in the race of God.

1. They must make haste without delay to keep the commandments of God. It is a great fault for youth and others to defer amendment till old age, or till the last and deadly sickness. That is the time to end our running, and not to begin.
2. We are to increase and profit in all good duties. We in this age do otherwise. Either we stand at a stay or go back. There are two causes for this:
(1) Blindness of mind.
(2) Our unbelief in the article of life everlasting.
3. We must neither look to the right nor the left hand, or to things behind, but press forward to the prize of eternal life.
4. We must not be moved with the speeches of men which are given of us, for or against. They are lookers on, and must have their speeches. Our care must be not to heed them, but look to our course.

II. Christians must not only be runners, but run well.—This is done by believing and obeying, having faith and a good conscience. These are the two feet by which we run. We have one good foot—our religion—which is sound and good; but we halt on the other foot. Our care to keep conscience is not suitable to our religion. Three things cause a lameness in this foot: the lust of the eye—covetousness, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

III. Christians must run the race from the beginning to the end.

1. We must cherish a love and fervent desire of eternal life, and by this means be drawn through all miseries and overpass them to the end.
2. We must maintain a constant and daily purpose of not sinning.—Perkins.

Bad Companions.—“Bad company,” wrote Augustine, “is like a nail driven into a post, which, after the first or second blow, may be drawn out with very little difficulty; but being once driven up to the head, the pincers cannot take hold to draw it out, which can only be done by the destruction of the wood.” Of course it is useless to define bad company. Men and women, boys and girls, feel instinctively when they have fallen in with dangerous associates; if they choose to remain amongst them they are lost. So in the high tides, barks of light draught will float over Goodwin quicksands; in summer at low tide the venturous boys and young people will play cricket thereon; but neither can remain long in the neighbourhood. The time comes when the sands are covered with but a thin surface of water, and beneath is the shifting, loose, wet earth, more dangerous and treacherous than springtide ice; and then it is that to touch is to be drawn in, and to be drawn in is death. So is it with bad company.—The Gentle Life.

Cowardly Retreat.—General Grant relates that just as he was hoping to hear a report of a brilliant movement and victory of General Sigel, he received an announcement from General Halleck to this effect: “Sigel is in full retreat on Strasburg; he will do nothing but run; never did anything else.” The enemy had intercepted him, handled him roughly, and he fled.

Galatians 5:8-10. The Disintegrating Force of Error.—

1. Whatever persuasion cometh not of God, and is not grounded on the word of truth, is not to be valued, but looked upon as a delusion (Galatians 5:8).

2. The Church of Christ, and every particular member thereof, ought carefully to resist the first beginnings of sin, for the least of errors and the smallest number of seduced persons are here compared to leaven, a little quantity of which secretly insinuates itself and insensibly conveys its sourness to the whole lump (Galatians 5:9).

3. The minister is not to despair of the recovery of those who oppose themselves, but ought in charity to hope the best of all men, so long as they are curable; and to show how dangerous their error was by denouncing God’s judgment against their prime seducers (Galatians 5:10).

4. So just is God, He will suffer no impenitent transgressor, however subtle, to escape His search, or pass free from the dint of His avenging stroke, whoever he be for parts, power, or estimation.—Fergusson.

Galatians 5:9. Reform of Bad Manners.

I. We must resist and withstand every particular sin.—One sin is able to defile the whole life of man. One fly is sufficient to mar a whole box of sweet ointment. One offence in our first parents brought corruption on them and all mankind; yea, on heaven and earth.

II. We must endeavour to the utmost to cut off every bad example in the societies of men.—One bad example is sufficient to corrupt a whole family, a town, a country. A wicked example, being suffered, spreads abroad and does much hurt.

III. We are to withstand and cut off the first beginnings and occasions of sin.—We say of arrant thieves they begin to practise their wickedness in pins and points. For this cause, idleness, excessive eating, drinking and swilling, riot, and vanity in apparel are to be suppressed in every society as the breeder of many vices.—Perkins.

Galatians 5:11. The Perversion of Apostolic Preaching.—There are two attempts or resolves in constant operation as to the cross. One is man’s, to accommodate to human liking and taste; the second is God’s, to raise human liking and taste to it.

I. The aim of man.—The following may be named as the principal exceptions taken to the cross by those who rejected it:—

1. It was an improbable medium of revelation.—Man can talk loudly how God should manifest Himself. Shall the cross be the oracle by which He will speak His deepest counsels to our race?

2. It was a stigma on this religion which set it in disadvantageous contrast with every other.—It was unheard of that the vilest of all deaths should give its absolute character to a religion, and that this religion of the cross should triumph over all.

3. It was a violent disappointment of a general hope.—There was a desire of all nations. And was all that the earliest lay rehearsed, all that the highest wisdom enounced, only to be wrought out in the shameful cross?

4. It was a humiliating test.—Ambition, selfishness, insincerity, licentiousness, ferocity, pride, felt that it was encircled with an atmosphere in which they were instantly interrupted and condemned. Man is desirous of doing this away as a wrongful and unnecessary impression. He would make the offence of the cross to cease:

(1) By fixing it upon some extrinsic authority.
(2) By torturing it into coalition with foreign principles.
(3) By transforming the character of its religious instructions.
(4) By applying it to inappropriate uses.
(5) By excluding its proper connections.

II. The procedure of God.

1. It is necessary, if we would receive the proper influence of the cross, that we be prepared to hail it as a distinct revelation. Science and the original ethics of our nature do not fall within the distinct province of what a revelation intends. Its strict purpose, its proper idea, is to make known that which is not known and which could not be otherwise known. Not more directly did the elemental light proceed from God who called it out of darkness than did the making known to man of redemption by the blood of the cross.

2. When we rightly appreciate the cross, we recognise it as the instrument of redemption.—This was the mode of death indicated by prophecy. The cross stands for that death; but it is an idle, unworthy superstition that this mode of death wrought the stupendous end. It is only an accessory. We must look further into the mystery. “He His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” It is that awful identity, that mysterious action, which expiates, and not the rood.

3. When our mind approves this method of salvation, it finds in the cross the principle of sanctification.—A new element of thought, a new complexion of motive, enter the soul when the Holy Spirit shows to it the things of Christ. We are new creatures. We reverse all our aims and desires. We are called unto holiness.

(1) Mark the process. We had hitherto abided in death. But now we are quickened with Him.

(2) Mark the necessity. Until we be brought nigh to it, until we take hold of it, the doctrine of the crucified Saviour is an unintelligible and uninteresting thing.

(3) Mark the effect. There is a suddenly, though a most intelligently, developed charm. It is the infinite of attraction. All concentrates on it. It absorbs the tenderness and the majesty of the universe. It is full of glory. Our heart has now yielded to it, is drawn, is held, coheres, coalesces, is itself impregnated by the sacred effluence. The offence of the cross has ceased.—R. W. Hamilton.

Galatians 5:12. Church Censure.—The spirit of error may so far prevail among a people that discipline can hardly attain its end—the shaming of the person censured, and the preservation of the Church from being leavened. In which case the servants of God should proceed with slow pace, and in all lenity and wisdom, and should rather doctrinally declare the censures deserved than actually inflict the censure itself.

Judgment on the Troublers of the Church.

I. God watches over His Church with a special providence.

II. The doctrine of the apostles is of infallible certainty, because the oppugners of it are plagued with the just judgment of God.

III. Our duty is to pray for the good estate of the Church of God, and for the kingdoms where the Church is planted.—Perkins.

Verses 13-18


Galatians 5:13. Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh.—Do not give the flesh the handle or pretext for its indulgence, which it eagerly seeks for. By love serve one another.—If ye must be in bondage, be servants to one another in love.

Galatians 5:15. If ye bite and devour one another, … consumed.—Figures taken from the rage of beasts of prey. The biting of controversy naturally runs into the devouring of controversial mood waxing fierce with indulgence. And the controversialists, each snapping at and gnawing his antagonist, forget the tendency is to consume the Christian cause. Strength of soul, health of body, character, and resources are all consumed by broils.

Galatians 5:18. If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.—Under no irksome restraint. To him who loves, law is not irksome bondage but delightful direction. Active spiritual life is a safeguard against lawless affection.


Love the Highest Law of Christian Liberty.

I. Love preserves liberty from degenerating into licence.—“Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh” (Galatians 5:13). Christian liberty is a great boon, but it is also a solemn responsibility. It is hard to win, and is worth the most gigantic struggle; but the moment it is abused it is lost. Men clamour for liberty when they mean licence—licence to indulge their unholy passions, unchecked by the restraints of law. Christian liberty is not the liberty of the flesh, but of the Spirit, and love is the master-principle that governs and defines all its exercises.

“He is the freeman whom the truth makes free,
And all are slaves besides.”

We know no truth, no privilege, no power, no blessing, no right, which is not abused. But is liberty to be denied to men because they often turn it into licentiousness? There are two freedoms—the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where a man is free to do what he ought. Love is the safeguard of the highest liberty.

II. Love is obedience to the highest law.—“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14). “By love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). We may be as orthodox as Athanasius and as scrupulous as Jerome, we may be daily and ostentatiously building to God seven altars and offering a bullock and a ram on every altar, and yet be as sounding brass and as a clanging cymbal, if our life shows only the leaves of profession without the golden fruit of action. If love shows not itself by deeds of love, then let us not deceive ourselves. God is not mocked; our Christianity is heathenism, and our religion a delusion and a sham. Love makes obedience delightful, esteems it bondage to be prevented, liberty to be allowed to serve.

“Serene will be our days and bright,

And happy will our nature be,

When love is an unerring light,

And joy its own security.”


III. Love prevents the mutual destructiveness of a contentious spirit.—“But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Galatians 5:15). The condition of the Galatians at this time was very different from the ideal Paul set before them. The quick, warm temperament of the Gauls was roused by the Judaistic controversy, and their natural combativeness was excited. It was easy to pick a quarrel with them at any time, and they were eloquent in vituperation and invective. The “biting” describes the wounding and exasperating effect of the manner in which their contentions were carried on; “devour” warns them of its destructiveness. If this state of things continued, the Churches of Galatia would cease to exist. Their liberty would end in complete disintegration. Love is the remedy propounded for all ills—the love of Christ, leading to the love of each other. Love not only cures quarrels, but prevents them.

IV. Love by obeying the law of the Spirit gains the victory in the fend between the flesh and the Spirit.—“Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh: … these are contrary the one to the other” (Galatians 5:16-17). The flesh and the Spirit are rivals, and by their natures must be opposed to and strive with each other. The strong man is dispossessed by a stronger than he—the Spirit. The master must rule the slave. “This soul of mine must rule this body of mine,” said John Foster, “or quit it.” The life of a Christian is lived in a higher sphere, and governed by a higher law—walking in the Spirit. Christianity says, Be a man, not a brute. Not do as many fleshly things as you can, but do as many spiritual things as you can. All prohibitions are negative. You can’t kill an appetite by starvation. You may kill the flesh by living in the higher region of the Spirit; not merely by ceasing to live in sin, but by loving Christ. The more we live the spiritual life, the more sin becomes impossible. Conquest over the sensual is gained, not by repression, but by the freer, purer life of love.

V. Love emancipates from the trammels of the law.—“If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). The Spirit of love does not abolish the law, but renders it harmless by fulfilling all its requirements, without being compelled to it by its stern commands. Law does not help the soul to obey its behests, but it has nothing to say, nothing to threaten, when those behests are obeyed. To be under the law is to be under sin; but yielding to the influence of the Spirit, and living according to His law, the soul is free from sin and from the condemnation of the law. Freedom from sin, and freedom from the trammels of the Mosaic law—these two liberties are virtually one. Love is the great emancipator from all moral tyrannies.


1. Love is in harmony with the holiest law.

2. Love silences all contention.

3. Love honours law by obeying it.


Galatians 5:13-14. The Service of Love—

I. Is the noblest exercise of Christian liberty (Galatians 5:13).

II. Preserves Christian liberty from degenerating into selfish indulgence (Galatians 5:13).

III. Is the fulfilment of the highest law (Galatians 5:14).

Galatians 5:13. The Abuse of Christian Liberty.

I. To use it as an occasion of fleshly and carnal liberty.—When men make more things indifferent than God ever made. Thus all abuses of meat, drink, apparel, rioting, gaming, dicing, and carding are excused by the names of things indifferent.

II. Our liberty is abused by an immoderate use of the gifts of God.

1. Many gentlemen and others offend when they turn recreation into an occupation.
2. When men exceed in eating and drinking.
3. They offend who, being mean persons and living by trades, yet for diet and apparel are as great gentlemen and gentlewomen.

III. Liberty is abused when the blessings of God are made instruments and flags and banners to display our riot, vanity, ostentation, and pride.—It is the fashion of men to take unto themselves a toleration of sinning. Some presume on the patience of God, others on the election of grace, and others on the mercy of God. A certain dweller in Cambridge made away with himself. In his bosom was found a writing to this effect: that God did show mercy on great and desperate sinners, and therefore he hoped for mercy though he hanged himself. Of this mind are many ignorant persons, who persevere in their sins, yet persuade themselves of mercy.—Perkins.

The Right Use of Christian Liberty.

I. We ourselves must be renewed and sanctified.—The person must first please God before the action can please Him.

II. Besides the lawful use of the creatures we must have a spiritual and holy use of them.

1. The creatures of God must be sanctified by the word and prayer.
2. We must be circumspect lest we sin in the use of the creatures. In these days there is no feasting or rejoicing unless all memory of God be buried, for that is said to breed melancholy.
3. We must use the gifts of God with thanksgiving.
4. We must suffer ourselves to be limited and moderate in the use of our liberty.
5. Our liberty must be used for right ends—the glory of God, the preservation of nature, and the good of our neighbour.

III. We must give no occasion of sinning by means of Christian liberty.Ibid.

Galatians 5:14. The Law fulfilled in Love to Others.

I. The end of man’s life is to serve God in serving others.

II. True godliness is to love and serve God in serving man.—To live out of all society of men, though it be in prayer and fasting in monkish fashion, is no state of perfection, but mere superstition. That is true and perfect love of God that is showed in duties of love and in the edification of our neighbour. It is not enough for thee to be holy in church; thou mayest be a saint in church and a devil at home.—Ibid.

Regard for a Neighbour’s Rights.—Speaking of the early American prairie settlements a modern historian says: “Theft was almost unknown. The pioneers brought with them the same rigid notions of honesty which they had previously maintained. A man in Mancoupin county left his waggon loaded with corn stuck in the prairie mud for two weeks near a frequented road. When he returned he found some of his corn gone, but there was money enough tied in the sacks to pay for what was taken.”

Galatians 5:15. Church Quarrels.—

1. When schism in a Church is not only maintained on the one hand with passion, strife, reproaches, and real injuries, but also impugned on the other hand, not so much with the sword of the Spirit as with the same fleshly means, then is it the forerunner and procuring cause of desolation and ruin to both parties and to the whole Church. 2. As it is a matter of great difficulty to make men of credit and parts, being once engaged in contentious debates, to foresee the consequence of their doing so further than the hoped-for victory against the contrary party, so it were no small wisdom, before folk meddle with strife, seriously to consider what woeful effects may follow to the Church of God.—Fergusson.

Galatians 5:16. The Positiveness of the Divine Life.

I. There are two ways of dealing with every vice.—One is to set to work directly to destroy the vice; that is the negative way. The other is to bring in as overwhelmingly as possible the opposite virtue, and so to crowd and stifle and drown out the vice; that is the positive way. Everywhere the negative and positive methods of treatment stand over against each other, and men choose between them. A Church is full of errors and foolish practices. It is possible to attack those follies outright, showing conclusively how foolish they are; or it is possible, and it is surely better, to wake up the true spiritual life in that Church which shall itself shed those follies and cast them out, or at least rob them of their worst harmfulness. The application of the same principle is seen in matters of taste, matters of reform, and in matters of opinion.

II. In St. Paul and in all the New Testament there is nothing more beautiful than the clear, open, broad way in which the positive culture of human character is adopted and employed.—We can conceive of a God standing over His moral creatures, and, whenever they did anything wrong, putting a heavy hand on the malignant manifestation and stifling it, and so at last bringing them to a tight, narrow, timid goodness—the God of repression. The God of the New Testament is not that. We can conceive of another God who shall lavish and pour upon His children the chances and temptations to be good; in every way shall make them see the beauty of goodness; shall so make life identical with goodness that every moment spent in wickedness shall seem a waste, almost a death; shall so open His Fatherhood and make it real to them that the spontaneousness of the Father’s holiness is re-echoed in the child; not the God of restraint, but the God whose symbols are the sun, the light, the friend, the fire—everything that is stimulating, everything that fosters, encourages, and helps. When we read in the New Testament, lo, that is the God whose story is written there, the God whose glory we see in the face of Jesus Christ. The distinction is everywhere. Not merely by trying not to sin, but by entering further and further into the new life in which, when it is completed, sin becomes impossible; not by merely weeding out wickedness, but by a new and supernatural cultivation of holiness, does the saint of the New Testament walk on the ever-ascending pathway of growing Christliness and come at last perfectly to Christ.

III. This character of the New Testament must be at bottom in conformity with human nature.—The Bible and its Christianity are not in contradiction against the nature of the man they try to save. They are at war with his corruptions, and, in his own interest, they are for ever labouring to assert and re-establish his true self. Man’s heart is always rebelling against repression as a continuous and regular thing. There is a great human sense that not suppression but expression is the true life. It is the self-indulgence of the highest and not the self-surrender of the lowest that is the great end of the gospel. The self-sacrifice of the Christian is always an echo of the self-sacrifice of Christ. Nothing can be more unlike the repressive theories of virtue in their methods and results than the way in which Christ lived His positive life, full of force and salvation. 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.”—Phillips Brooks.

The Flesh and the Spirit.

I. When St. Paul talks of man’s flesh he means by it man’s body, man’s heart and brain, and all his bodily appetites and powers—what we call a man’s constitution, the animal part of man. Man is an animal with an immortal spirit in it, and this spirit can feel more than pleasure and pain; it can feel trust, hope, peace, love, purity, nobleness, independence, and, above all, it can feel right and wrong. There is the infinite difference between an animal and man, between our flesh and our spirit; an animal has no sense of right and wrong.

II. There has been many a man in this life who had every fleshly enjoyment which this world can give, and yet whose spirit was in hell all the while, and who knew it; hating and despising himself for a mean, selfish villain, while all the world round was bowing down to him and envying him as the luckiest of men. A man’s flesh can take no pleasure in spiritual things, while man’s spirit of itself can take no pleasure in fleshly things. Wickedness, like righteousness, is a spiritual thing. If a man sins, his body is not in fault; it is his spirit, his weak, perverse will, which will sooner listen to what his flesh tells him is pleasant than to what God tells him is right. This is the secret of the battle of life.

III. Because you are all fallen creatures there must go on in you this sore lifelong battle between your spirit and your flesh—your spirit trying to be master and guide, and your flesh rebelling and trying to conquer your spirit and make you a mere animal, like a fox in cunning, a peacock in vanity, or a hog in greedy sloth. It is your sin and your shame if your spirit does not conquer your flesh, for God has promised to help your spirit. Ask Him, and His Spirit will fill you with pure, noble hopes, with calm, clear thoughts, and with deep, unselfish love to God and man; and instead of being the miserable slave of your own passions, and of the opinions of your neighbours, you will find that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, true freedom, not only from your neighbours’ sins, but, what is far better, freedom from your own.—C. Kingsley.

Walking in the Spirit.

I. The Spirit is a divine nature, quality, or condition whereby we are made conformable to Christ.

1. It is a rich and liberal grace of God. It contains the seeds of all virtues.

2. Its largeness. The Spirit is in all the powers of them who are regenerate in mind, conscience, will, affections, and in the sensual appetite.

3. Its sincerity. The grace of God is without falsehood or guile.

4. Its excellency. The spirit of grace in Christians is more excellent than the grace of creation, in respect of the beginning thereof, and in respect of constancy.

5. Its liveliness, whereby the Spirit is effectual in operation.

(1) The Spirit works in and by the word of God.
(2) Works by degrees, to make us feel our need of Christ, and to kindle in us a desire for reconciliation with God.
(3) Works to write the law in our hearts.

II. Walking in the Spirit is to order our lives according to the direction and motion of the Spirit.

1. The Spirit renews our nature.

(1) Makes us put a further beginning to our actions than nature can, causing us to do them in faith.
(2) To do our actions in a new manner, in obedience to the word.
(3) Makes us put a new end to our actions—to intend and desire to honour God.
2. We must become spiritual men. Must do things lawful in a spiritual manner.

3. We must not judge any man’s estate before God by any one or some few actions, good or bad, but by his walking, by the course of his life.—Perkins.

Galatians 5:17. The Strife of the Flesh and Spirit.

I. Man, under the influence of corruption, is called flesh.—He may be said to be a spiritual being because he is possessed of an immortal spirit; but the term flesh seems to be awfully appropriate, because he is wholly and exclusively under the dominion of matter. In the text it implies the evil principle that inhabits the bosom of man. It is the mighty autocrat of humanity in the wreck of the Fall. Sin is such a mighty monster that none can bind him in fetters of iron and imprison Him but God Himself. In the operation of weaving, different materials cross each other in the warp and woof in order to make one whole, and this is the case with the family of heaven here below. Sin and grace are perpetually crossing each other.

II. The spiritual offspring which is born of God is called the new man.—It is the junior offspring, the junior disposition, the offspring of the second Adam. Corruption has its root only in humanity. Not so with grace. This springs alone from God. The new man lives in him; his head is above the skies, his feet lower than hell; and the reason why he is destined to be conqueror is that he fights in and under the inspiration of Heaven.

III. These two principles are in a state of ceaseless warfare, ever opposed to each other.—They are like two armies, sometimes encamped, at others engaged in terrible conflict; but, whether apparently engaged or not, each seeks the destruction of the other perpetually. They are and must be ever opposed, till one fall; one must perish and the other live eternally. Where there is no conflict there can be no grace.

IV. Consider the wisdom and valour evinced by this new principle.—It is illumined by the Spirit and by the truth of God. The sun does not give me an eye. God alone can confer this organ; yet it is equally true my eye must attain its full vigour in the light of the sun: so the external means are necessary to teach us what God is, and to develop all the principles of the new man, to clothe it with the panoply of Deity, and to lead it on from battle to battle, and from victory to victory, till the last battle is eventually fought, the last victory won, and the fruits of triumph enjoyed for ever.—William Howels.

Galatians 5:18. The Leading of the Spirit.—

1. The new man performs the office of guide to the godly in all actions truly spiritual.
(1) As it is ruled by the word, which is the external light and lantern to direct our steps.
(2) The work of grace itself is the internal light whereby the regenerate man spiritually understands the things of God.
(3) The same work of grace being actuated by the continual supply of exciting grace from the Spirit is a strengthening guide to all spiritual actions.
2. The natural man is so much a slave to his sinful lusts that the things appointed by God to curb and make them weaker are so far from bringing this about that his lusts are thereby enraged and made more violent. The rigidity of the law, which tends to restrain sin, is turned by the unregenerate man into an occasion for fulfilling his lusts.—Fergusson.

The Guidance of the Spirit.

I. Preservation, whereby the Holy Ghost maintains the gift of regeneration in them that are regenerate.

II. Co-operation, whereby the will of God, as the first cause, works together with the regenerate will of man, as the second cause. Without this co-operation man’s will brings forth no good action; no more than the tree which is apt to bring forth fruit yields fruit indeed till it have the co-operation of the sun, and that in the proper season of the year.

III. Direction, whereby the Spirit of God ordereth and establisheth the mind, will, and affections in good duties.

IV. Excitation, whereby the Spirit stirs and still moves the will and mind after they are regenerate, because the grace of God is hindered and oppressed by the flesh.

V. Privilege of believers not to be subject to the ceremonial law.—“Ye are not under the law.” Not under the law respecting its curse and condemnation, though we are all under law, as it is the rule of good life.—Perkins.

Verses 19-21


Galatians 5:19. The works of the flesh.

1. Sensual vices—“adultery [omitted in the oldest MSS.], fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness.”

2. Theological vices—“idolatry, witchcraft.”

3. Malevolent vices—“hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders.”

4. Vices of excess—“drunkenness, revellings.”


The Works of the Flesh—

I. Are offensively obtrusive.—“Now the works of the flesh are manifest” (Galatians 5:19). Sin, though at first committed in secret, will by-and-by work to the surface and advertise itself with shameless publicity. The rulers of the civilised world in the first century of the Christian era, such as Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Domitian, are the execration of history as monsters of vice and cruelty. Their enormities would have been impossible if the people they governed had not been equally corrupt. It is the nature of evil to develop a terrible energy the more it is indulged, and its works are apparent in every possible form of wickedness. “Every man blameth the devil for his sins; but the great devil, the house-devil of every man that eateth and lieth in every man’s bosom, is that idol which killeth all—himself.”

II. Furnish a revolting catalogue.—The sins enumerated may be grouped into four classes:—

1. Sensual passions.—“Adultery [omitted in the oldest MSS.], fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness” (Galatians 5:19). Fornication was practically universal. Few were found, even among severe moralists, to condemn it. It is a prostitution of the physical nature which Jesus Christ wore and still wears, which He claims for the temple of His Spirit, and will raise from the dead to share His immortality. Uncleanness is the general quality of licentiousness, and includes whatever is contaminating in word or look, in gesture or in dress, in thought or sentiment. Lasciviousness is uncleanness open and shameless. It is the final loathsome analysis of the works of the flesh.

2. Unlawful dealing in things spiritual.—“Idolatry, witchcraft [sorcery]” (Galatians 5:20). Idolatry and sensuality have always been closely related. Some of the most popular pagan systems were purveyors of lust, and lent to it the sanctions of religion. When man loses the true conception of God he becomes degraded. Sorcery is closely allied to idolatry. A low, naturalistic notion of the divine lends itself to immoral purposes. Men try to operate upon it by material causes, and to make it a partner in evil. Magical charms are made the instruments of unholy indulgence.

3. Violations of brotherly love.—“Hatred [enmities], variance [strife], emulations [jealousies], wrath [ragings], strife [factions], seditions [divisions], heresies [keen controversial partisanship], envyings, murders” (Galatians 5:20-21). A horrible progeny of evils having their source in a fruitful hotbed of unreasoning hatred, each vice preying upon and feeding the other. Settled rancour is the worst form of contentiousness. It nurses its revenge, waiting, like Shylock, for the time when it shall “feed fat its ancient grudge.”

4. Intemperate excesses.—“Drunkenness, revellings, and such like” (Galatians 5:21). These are the vices of a barbarous people. Our Teutonic and Celtic forefathers were alike prone to this kind of excess. The Greeks were a comparatively sober people. The Romans were more notorious for gluttony than for hard drinking. The practice of seeking pleasure in intoxication is a remnant of savagery which exists to a shameful extent in our own country. With Europe turned into one vast camp, and its nations groaning audibly under the weight of their armaments, with hordes of degrading women infesting the streets of its cities, with discontent and social hatred smouldering throughout its industrial populations, we have small reason to boast of the triumphs of modern civilisation. Better circumstances do not make better men (Findlay).

III. Exclude the sinner from the kingdom of God.—“They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). How poor life seems outside that kingdom! How beautiful and glorious inside its gates! If I tried to tell you how Christ brings us there, I should repeat to you once more the old familiar story. He comes and lives and dies for us. He touches us with gratitude. He sets before our softened lives His life. He makes us see the beauty of holiness and the strength of the spiritual life in Him. He transfers His life to us through the open channel of faith, and so we come to live as He lives, by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. How old the story is, but how endlessly fresh and true to Him whose own career it describes (Phillips Brooks). Exclusion from the kingdom of God is man’s own act; it is self-exclusion. He will not enter in; he loves darkness rather than light.


1. Sin is an active principle whose works are perniciously evident.

2. Sin is the primal cause of every possible vice.

3. Sin persisted in involves moral ruin.


Galatians 5:19-21. Biblical Account of Sin.—A mournful catalogue of words, based on a great variety of images, is employed in Scripture to describe the state of sinfulness which man inherits from his birth. Sometimes it is set forth as the missing of a mark or aim; sometimes as the transgressing of a line—the word occurs seven times in the New Testament, and is twice applied to Adam’s fall (Romans 5:14; 1 Timothy 2:14); sometimes as disobedience to a voice, i.e. to hear carelessly, to take no heed of—the word occurs three times (Romans 5:19; 2 Corinthians 10:6; Hebrews 2:2); sometimes as ignorance of what we ought to have done (Hebrews 9:7); sometimes as a defect or discomfiture—to be worsted, because, as Gerhard says, “A sinner yields to, is worsted by, the temptations of the flesh and of Satan”; sometimes as a debt (Matthew 6:12); sometimes as disobedience to law—the word occurs fourteen times in the New Testament, and is generally translated by “iniquity.” The last figure is employed in the most general definition of sin given in the New Testament—sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).—Trench and Maclear.

The Works of the Flesh.

I. Sins against chastity.—Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, wantonness.

1. We must stock up the root of these things, mortify the passion of concupiscence.
2. All occasions of these sins must be cut off, two especially, idleness and the pampering of the body.
3. All signs of these vices must be avoided, any speech or action that may give suspicion of incontinent disposition, as light talk, wanton behaviour, curiousness and excess in trimming of the body, suspected company.

II. Sins against religion.—Idolatry, witchcraft, heresies.

III. Sins against charity.—Enmity, debate, emulations, anger, contention, seditions.

IV. Sins against temperance.—Drunkenness, gluttony.

1. We may use meat and drink not only for necessity, but also for delight.
2. That measure of meat and drink which in our experience makes us fit both in body and mind for the service of God and the duties of our calling is convenient and lawful. To be given to drinking and to love to sit by the cup, when there is no drunkenness, is a sin. Drunkenness:
(1) Destroys the body.
(2) Hurts the mind.
(3) Vile imaginations and affections that are in men when they are drunk remain in them when they are sober, so being sober they are drunk in affection.—Perkins.

Verses 22-26


Galatians 5:22. The fruit of the Spirit.—The singular fruit, as compared with the plural works, suggests that the effect of the Spirit’s inworking is one harmonious whole, while carnality tends to multitudinousness, distraction, chaos. We are not to look for a rigorous logical classification in either catalogue. Generally, the fruit of the Spirit may be arranged as: I. Inward graces—“love, joy, peace.” II. Graces towards man—“longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.” III. A more generic form of inward graces—“meekness, temperance.”

Galatians 5:23. Against such there is no law.—So far from being against love, law commands it.

Galatians 5:24. Have crucified the flesh.—Not human nature, but depraved human nature. With the affections and lusts.—Affections refer to the general frame of mind; the lusts to special proclivities or habits.

Galatians 5:26. Not be desirous of vainglory, provoking [challenging], envying one another.—Vaingloriousness provokes contention; contention produces envy.


The Fruit of the Spirit—

I. Is evident in manifold Christian virtues.

1. Virtues describing a general state of heart. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace” (Galatians 5:22). Love is foremost of the group of Christian graces, and gives a nameless charm to all the rest, for there is an element of love in all true goodness. Love derives its power from being in the first place love to God. When the soul centres its affection in God through Christ all its outgoings are influenced and regulated accordingly. Joy is the product of love. A philosophy or religion which has no room for the joy and pleasure of man is as little conversant with the wants of man as with the will of God. “Joy in the Lord quickens and elevates, while it cleanses all other emotions. It gives a new glow to life. It sheds a diviner meaning, a brighter aspect, over the common face of earth and sky. Joy is the beaming countenance, the elastic step, the singing voice, of Christian goodness.” Peace is the holy calm breathed into the soul by a pardoning God. It is the gift of Christ, giving rest to the soul in the midst of external agitations. “It is a settled quiet of the heart, a deep, brooding mystery that ‘passeth all understanding,’ the stillness of eternity entering the spirit, the Sabbath of God. It is the calm, unruffled brow, the poised and even temper which Christian goodness wears.”

2. Virtues exercised in the Christian’s intercourse with his neighbour.—“Longsuffering, gentleness, goodness.” Charity suffereth long. The heart at peace with God has patience with men. Longsuffering is the patient magnanimity of Christian goodness, the broad shoulders on which it “beareth all things.” Gentleness (or kindness, as the word is more frequently and better rendered) resembles longsuffering in finding its chief objects in the evil and unthankful. But while the latter is passive and self-contained, kindness is an active, busy virtue. It is the thoughtful insight, the delicate tact, the gentle ministering hand of charity. Linked with kindness comes goodness, which is its other self, differing from it as only twin sisters may, each fairer for the beauty of the other. Goodness is perhaps more affluent, more catholic in its bounty; kindness more delicate and discriminating. Goodness is the honest, generous face, the open hand of charity (Findlay).

3. Virtues indicating the principles which regulate the Christian’s life.—“Faith [honesty, trustworthiness], meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23). The faith that unites man to God in turn joins man to his fellows. Faith in the divine Fatherhood becomes trust in the human brotherhood. He who doubts every one is even more deceived than the man who blindly confides in every one. Trustfulness is the warm, firm clasp of friendship, the generous and loyal homage which goodness ever pays to goodness. Meekness is the other side of faith. It is not tameness and want of spirit; it comports with the highest courage and activity, and is a qualification for public leadership. It is the content and quiet mien, the willing self-effacement, that is the mark of Christ-like goodness. Temperance, or self-control, is the third of Plato’s cardinal virtues. Temperance is a practised mastery of self. It covers the whole range of moral discipline, and concerns every sense and passion of our nature. It is the guarded step, the sober, measured walk in which Christian goodness keeps the way of life, and makes straight paths for stumbling and straying feet (Ibid.).

II. Violates no law.—“Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:23; comp. Galatians 5:18). The fruit of the Spirit is love; and the law, so far from being against love, commands it (Galatians 5:14). The practice of love and all its works is the fulfilling of the law and disarms it of all terror. The expression, “Against such there is no law,” so far from being more than superfluous, as Hofmann asserts, is intended to make evident how it is that, by virtue of this, their moral frame, those who are led by the Spirit are not subject to the Mosaic law. For whosoever is so constituted that a law is not against him, over such a one the law has no power.

III. Indicates the reality of a great spiritual change.

1. The old self-hood is crucified. “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh” (Galatians 5:24). This well expresses how sin must, little by little, be disabled and slain, for the crucified man did not die at once. He was first made fast with nails to the cross, and then kept there, till through hunger and thirst and loss of blood he became weaker and weaker, and finally died. We are to be executioners, dealing cruelly with the body of sin which caused the acting of all cruelties on the body of Christ.

2. A new law now regulates the life.—“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). The life is governed, not by the law of the flesh, but of the Spirit. The electrician can demagnetise and remagnetise a bar of iron, but the biologist cannot devitalise a plant or an animal and revivify it again. Spiritual life is not a visit from a force, but a resident tenant in the soul. The Spirit who created the life within sustains it and directs all its outgoings.

3. Everything provocative of strife and envy is carefully avoided.—“Let us not be desirous of vainglory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:26). Vaingloriousness was a weakness of the Galatic temperament; and is not unknown in modern Christian life. Superiority, or fancied superiority, in talents or status is apt to proudly display itself. It is indeed a pitiable exhibition when even spiritual gifts are made matter of ostentation, exciting the jealousy of inferior brethren, and creating discontent and envy. The cultivation of the fruit of the Spirit is the best remedy against all bitterness and strife.


1. The fruit of the Spirit a suggestive contrast to the works of the flesh.

2. Consistency of life is the test of genuine religion.

3. The operations of the Spirit are in harmony with the highest law.


Galatians 5:22-23. The Fruit of the Spirit.

I. Love.

1. The love of God.
(1) Shown in a desire of fellowship with God.
(2) To love the word of God above all earthly treasure, and to tread our own will underfoot.
(3) The love of them that love God and Christ.
2. The love of our neighbour. This is love indeed, to show love and to do good to them that wrong and abuse us.

II. Joy.

1. To rejoice in the true acknowledgment of God.
2. To rejoice in the work of our regeneration.
3. To rejoice in the hope of eternal glory.

III. Peace.—To maintain peace and concord:

1. Neither take offence nor give offence.
2. Seek to edify one another; either do good or take good.

IV. Longsuffering.—To moderate our anger and desire of revenge when many and great wrongs are done us. Set and sow this plant in the furrows of your heart, and consider:

1. The goodness of God, who forgives more to us than we can forgive.
2. It is the duty of love to suffer and forbear.
3. It is a point of injustice to revenge ourselves, for then we take to ourselves the honour of God, and against all equity—we are the parties and judge and witness and all.
4. We are often ignorant of the mind of men in their actions, and of the true circumstances thereof, and so may easily be deceived.

V. Gentleness.—Right courtesy is with an honest heart to bless when we are wronged.

VI. Goodness.—The virtue whereby we communicate to others good things, for their good and benefit.

VII. Faith.—Faith towards man, which means:

1. To speak the truth from the heart.
2. To be faithful and just in the keeping of our honest promise and word. This faith a rare virtue in these days. The common fashion of them that live by bargaining is to use glorying, facing, soothing, lying, dissembling, and all manner of shifts. They that deal with chapmen shall hardly know what is truth, they have so many words and so many shifts.

VIII. Meekness.—The same in effect with longsuffering. The difference is that meekness is more general, and longsuffering the highest degree of meekness.

IX. Temperance.—The moderation of lust and appetite in the use of the gifts and creatures of God.

1. We must use moderation in meats and drinks. That measure of meat and drink which serves to refresh nature and make us fit for the service of God and man is allowed us of God and no more.
2. We must use moderation in the getting of goods.
3. In the spending of our goods—contrary to the fashion of many who spend their substance in feasting and company, and keep their wives and children bare at home.
4. In our apparel. To apparel ourselves according to our sex, according to the received fashion of our country, according to our place and degree, and according to our ability.

X. Against such virtues there is no law.

1. No law to condemn.
2. No law to compel obedience. Spiritual men freely obey God, as if there were no law; they are a voluntary and free people, serving God without restraint.—Perkins.

Galatians 5:22. Love an Attendant of Regeneration.—

1. Love is a delight in happiness.
2. Is universal.
3. Is just.
4. Is disinterested.
5. Is an active principle.
6. Is the only voluntary cause of happiness.
7. Is the only equitable spirit towards God and our fellow-creatures.
8. Is the only disposition which can be approved or loved by God.—Dr. Dwight.

The Powers of Love.—If these be the fruit of the Spirit, they cannot be mere matters of temperament. When philosophy gives an account of the human soul it can find only constitutional propensities and voluntary acquisitions. When we interrogate Christianity we are told besides of communicated sanctities, states of mind which inheritance cannot give or resolution command, which need some touch of God to wake them up, which are above us and yet ours, and seem to lie on the borderland of communion between the finite and the infinite Spirit.

I. There is humane love, which constitutes the humblest and most frequent form of unselfish feeling. It finds its objects among the miserable, and attaches itself to them in proportion to their woes. In human pity there is a strange combination of repulsion and attraction, which it is the paradox of philosophy to state, and the mercy of God to ordain; it cannot endure the sight of wretchedness, and yet can never leave it. But there is a work ordained for us which this impulse will not suffice to do. Fastening itself on suffering alone, it sees nothing else. Yet beneath the smooth and glossy surface of easy life there may hide itself many an inward disease which the mere glance of pity does not discern. Flourishing iniquity that gives no seeming pain it lets alone; invisible corruption may spread without arrest.

II. There is imaginative or æsthetic love, which attaches itself to objects in proportion as they are beautiful, kindles the enthusiasm of art, and completes itself in the worship of genius. Yet is this affection very barren until thrown into the midst of others to harmonise and glorify them. No reciprocal sympathy is requisite to this sentiment; that which is admired as beautiful does not admire in return. And above all there is a direct tendency to turn with indifference or even merciless repugnance from what is unlovely.

III. There is moral love, which has reference to persons only, not to things, which attaches itself to them in proportion as they are good, judges them by the standard of an internal law, and expresses itself in tones, not of tenderness as in pity, or of admiration as in the trance of beauty, but of grave and earnest approval. Even this moral love is not without imperfections. Its characteristic sentiment of approbation has always in it a certain patronising air not welcome to the mercy of a true heart, and more like the rigour of a Zeno than the grace of Christ.

IV. There is a divine love, directed first upon God Himself, and thence drawn into the likeness of His own love, and going forth upon other natures in proportion to their worth and claims. This is the crowning and calming term of all prior affections, presupposing them, and lifting them up from clashing and unrest to harmony and peace. The humane, the beautiful, the right, remain only scattered elements of good till they are gathered into the divine and blended into one by the combining love of God.—Dr. Martineau.

Love the Perfection of Character.—The fruit of the true vine has been analysed, and in the best specimens nine ingredients are found. In poor samples there is a deficiency of one or other of these elements. A dry and diminutive sort is lacking in peace and joy. A tart kind, which sets the teeth on edge, owes its austerity to its scanty infusion of gentleness, goodness, and meekness. There is a watery, deliquescent sort which, for the want of longsuffering, is not easily preserved; and there is a flat variety which, having no body of faith or temperance, answers few useful purposes. Love is the essential principle which is in no case entirely absent, and by the glistening fulness and rich aroma which its plentiful presence creates you can recognise the freshest and most generous clusters, whilst the predominance of some other element gives to each its distinguishing flavour, and marks the growth of Eshcol, Sibmah, or Lebanon.—Dr. James Hamilton.

The Power of Meekness and Affection.—Once in Holland a person of high rank invited Tersteegen to be his guest. This individual imagined himself to have attained to a state of peculiar inward peace, and took occasion during dinner to criticise Tersteegen for being too active, and for not sufficiently knowing the ground on which he wrought. Tersteegen attended meekly and silently to all that was said; and when dinner was over he offered up a fervent prayer in which he commended his host to the Lord in terms of such affection and compassion that this great and warm-tempered man was so much struck and affected by it that his feelings overpowered him, and he fell upon the neck of his guest and begged his forgiveness.

Who are the Meek?—A missionary in Jamaica was once questioning the little black boys on the meaning of Matthew 5:5, and asked, “Who are the meek?” A boy answered, “Those who give soft answers to rough questions.”

The Grace of Gentleness.

I. It is not a gift, but a grace.—It is not a natural demeanour, amiable and courteous, a soft, feminine compliance, but a grace of the Spirit which takes into it the strength of the divine. You may have the instinct of delicacy, a natural tenderness and affability, yet not have this grace of the Spirit which impels you for Christ’s sake to deal gently and save men. It is the underlying motive which determines whether grace or nature reigns. How is it when your ideas and methods of doing good are thwarted? Moses seems to have in Zipporah what Socrates had in Xantippe, yet her abuse had no more abiding effect on him than the spray which angry waves toss against the rock. Calvin hearing of Luther’s in said, “Let him hate me and call me a devil a thousand times; I will love him and call him a precious servant of God.”

II. The cultivation of this grace will cost you many a struggle.—You are to get the better of your temper on your knees. No minstrel as in the case of Saul can do the work. We must forgive in our heart those who offend us.

III. The grace of gentleness is a queen with a train of virtues.—It ennobles our whole nature. An English nobleman could not be bound to keep the peace, for it was supposed that peace always kept him. So we should suppose that every professed Christian would have this grace; but if you should put your ear to the door of some Christian homes, it would be like listening to a volcano. If you did not behold a sulphurous flame bursting out, you might hear a continual grumbling. A man said to me once, “When I see Mr. So-and-so my passion is bigger than myself, and I long to make him feel it.” The Spirit of Christ leads us to pray for those who despitefully use us. Only as His temper prevails in us shall we be able to illustrate the beauty of divine greatness.—Homiletic Monthly.

Constant Joy.—Father Taylor, the Boston sailor-preacher, when going out to make a call, said to his host on the doorstep, “Laugh till I get back.”

Galatians 5:24. Crucifying the Flesh.

I. What is meant by being Christ’s.—It is to accept of and have an interest in Christ in His prophetic, kingly, and sacerdotal offices. By His prophetic office we come to know His will; by His kingly office, ruling and governing us, we come to yield obedience to that will; and by His sacerdotal or priestly office we come to receive the fruit of that obedience in our justification.

II. What is meant by the flesh.—The whole entire body of sin and corruption; that inbred proneness in our nature to all evil, expressed by concupiscence.

1. It is called flesh because of its situation and place, which is principally in the flesh.

2. Because of its close, inseparable nearness to the soul.

3. Because of its dearness to us. Sin is our darling, our Delilah, the queen-regent of our affections; it fills all our thoughts, engrosses our desires, and challenges the service of all our actions. This reveals:

(1) The deplorable state of fallen man.
(2) The great difficulty of the duty of mortification.
(3) The mean and sordid employment of every sinner—he serves the flesh.

III. What is imported by the crucifixion of the flesh.

1. The death of it. He that will crucify his sin must pursue it to the very death.

2. A violent death. Sin never dies of age. The conquest need be glorious, for it will be found by sharp experience that the combat will be dangerous.

3. A painful, bitter, and vexatious death.

4. A shameful and cursed death.

IV. The duty of crucifying the flesh.

1. A constant and pertinacious denying it in all its cravings for satisfaction.

2. Encounter it by actions of the opposite virtue.—Robert South.

Galatians 5:25. Life and Walk in the Spirit.—Life relates to what is inward, walk to what is outward.

I. To live in the Spirit.

1. The Spirit begins the life of God in the soul.
2. The Spirit gives new desires and changes all the motives of life.
3. The Spirit lives in us.

II. To walk in the Spirit.

1. The walk will follow from the life, for every kind of life is after its own kind and development.
2. Every outward manifestation will correspond to the inward principle of life, and will be marked by love to God and love to man.
3. Reputation will correspond to character and conduct to life.

III. To be led by the Spirit.

1. The Christian’s life is a growth, his walk a progress; but he is led and guided by the Spirit.
2. No new revelation is made by the Spirit. He leads and guides by what is written in the word.

IV. Learn our relations to the Spirit.

1. We live under the Spirit’s dispensation.
2. He is the Spirit of God, and so of life, truth, and authority,
3. He is the Spirit of Christ, and so unites us to Him.
4. If we live by the Spirit, let conversation and conduct be answerable thereunto.—Homiletic Monthly.

Walking in the Spirit.—

I. Is to savour the things of the Spirit.—To subject a man’s soul to the law of God in all the faculties and powers of the soul. The things revealed in the law are the things of the Spirit, which Spirit must at no hand be severed from the word.

II. To walk in the path of righteousness without offence to God or man.

III. To walk not stragglingly, but orderly by rule, by line and measure.—To order ourselves according to the rule and line of the word of God. The life of a man will discover to the world what he is.—Perkins.

Galatians 5:26. Vaingloriousness.

I. The exciting cause of many quarrels.

II. A source of envy and disappointment.

III. Unbecoming the dignity and aims of the Christian life.

The Vice of Vainglory and its Cure.

I. Vainglory is a branch of pride, wherein men principally refer all their studies, counsels, endeavours, and gifts to the honouring and advancing of themselves. They who have received good gifts of God are often most vainglorious. Whereas all other vices feed upon that which is evil, this vice of vainglory feeds upon good things. A man will sometimes be proud even because he is not proud.

II. The cure of vainglory.

1. Meditation.

(1) God resisteth all proud persons and gives grace to the humble, because the vainglorious man, seeking himself and not God, robs God of His honour.
(2) It is the work of the devil to puff up the mind with self-liking and conceit, that thereby he may work man’s perdition.
(3) There is no religion in that heart that is wholly bent to seek the praise of men. The man who desires to be talked of and admired by others gives notice to the world that his heart is not sound in the sight of God.
2. Practice.

(1) Endeavour to acknowledge the great majesty of God, and our own baseness before Him.
(2) We ought to ascribe all good things we have or can do to God alone, and nothing to ourselves.
(3) In all actions and duties of religion we must first endeavour to approve ourselves to God, and the next place is to be given to man.
(4) When we are reviled we must rest content; when we are praised take heed. Temptations on the right hand are far more dangerous than those on the left.
(5) Men who are ambitious, if they be crossed, grow contentious; if they prosper, they are envied by others. Abhor and detest vainglory; seek to preserve and maintain love.—Perkins.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Galatians 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/galatians-5.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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