THE GREAT OBJECT OF CHRIST’S COMING
Galatians 1:4. Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.
THESE words are a part of an introductory prayer, with which St. Paul begins almost all his epistles. The portion of it which I have selected for the subject of our present contemplation, expresses a truth, which, if stated in a didactic form, might have somewhat of a forbidding aspect; but, as incidentally mentioned, in the midst of a prayer which conveyed to the Galatian Church the strongest evidence of his regard for their welfare, it comes recommended to us by all the endearments of Christian love. One thing, in particular, we cannot fail to notice; namely, that the sentiment contained in it was well known amongst them, and universally approved. It needed nothing to confirm it, nothing to enforce it. They were in the habit of looking to the Saviour, as well as to God the Father, for all the blessings of “grace and peace:” and to the one, as well as to the other, of these divine Persons, did they ascribe all “glory for ever and ever.” The nature of their obligations, too, both to the one and to the other, they clearly understood. They knew, that to “deliver them from this present evil world,” was the Father’s object in sending to them his Son, and the Son’s object in dying for them. The introduction therefore of this sentiment would not offend them: on the contrary, it would meet with their most cordial concurrence; and would increasingly occupy their minds, whenever they were engaged in the blessed work of supplication and thanksgiving. Well therefore may the truths which it will of necessity lead me to inculcate be received by you, not as hard sayings, but as expressions of love.
Consider, then, with me,
I. What is the great object aimed at in our redemption by Christ—
Persons at all conversant with the Gospel would, without hesitation, say, that Christ gave himself for us, to deliver us from the guilt of our sins, and from the condemnation due to them. But the complete connexion which that subject has with our deliverance from the world would not so immediately occur to the minds of all. That, therefore, it shall now be my endeavour to point out.
Through the fall of our first parents, the world has usurped, in the heart of man, the place which was originally assigned to God—
[The world, as first constituted, and as subordinated to God, was good: but, as rivalling God in the affections of men, if and every thing in it, is evil. To fallen man it is become his one object of desire, his one source of pleasure, his one ground of confidence. It occupies all his thoughts: it is his pursuit, his portion, and his god. As for his Creator, he flees from him, as Adam did in Paradise. He delights not to contemplate him, to seek him, to serve him, to enjoy him. Nay, if the inspired testimony be true, “God is not in all his thoughts.” The things of time and sense engross him utterly. When he rises in the morning, when he passes through the day, when he lies down to rest at night, the world, with its cares, its pleasures, its vanities, binds him as with adamantine chains, and keeps him from ever soaring to his God. He loves his bonds indeed, and feels them not: but he is bound notwithstanding; and, whilst “walking according to the course of this world, he is walking according to the dictates of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in all the children of disobedience [Note: Ephesians 2:2.].”]
To deliver him from this state was the great end for which our Lord and Saviour came into the world—
[He came to cast out every idol from our hearts, and to bring us back to God. Not that he grudges us the enjoyment of earthly things; for “he has given us all things richly to enjoy [Note: 1 Timothy 6:17.];” but he cannot endure that God should have a rival in our hearts. By contemplating man in Paradise, we may form an idea what that state is to which the Lord Jesus Christ seeks to restore us. Before sin had defiled the soul of Adam, he had as rich an enjoyment of earthly things as a creature could possess. But he enjoyed God in them: and it was this which rendered them so sweet to his taste. God was the first and last in all his thoughts. He “dressed, indeed, and kept” the garden in which he was placed; but it caused him no anxious care; nor excited any idolatrous attachment in his mind; nor alienated his soul from God, even for a moment. It never unfitted him for communion with God, or deadened the ardour of his affections towards God: no; he walked as before God, every day and all the day long: he walked with God, as a man walketh with his friend. Now, to bring us back to this, is the true end of redemption, and the proper scope of all that God has ever done for our souls.]
Let us now proceed to consider,
II. How great an object this is—
It is the one object aimed at both by the Father and the Son—
[For this the Lord Jesus “Christ gave up himself.” For this he left the bosom of his Father: for this he vacated his throne of glory: for this he assumed our nature: for this he lived; for this he died: for this he rose again, and ascended into heaven, and took upon him the government of the world. This is the end he ever keeps in view, in the chastisements he inflicts, and in the blessings he bestows. In all this, the Father also concurred with him. The very proposal, so to speak, originated with the Father; as the Son himself testifies: “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not: but a body hast thou prepared me. In burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come, (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God [Note: Psalms 40:6-8. with Hebrews 10:5-7.].” The Father, as is here said, “prepared him a body,” and sent him into the world; and “gave him a commandment, what he should say, and what he should do [Note: John 6:38; John 14:31.].” The Father upheld him also in the whole of his work [Note: Isaiah 42:1.]; and “raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory [Note: 1 Peter 1:21.];” and committed all things into his hands, that he might accomplish in man all the purposes of his love [Note: Ephesians 4:10.].]
What an object, then, must this be!
[We are accustomed to judge of objects, in general, by the efforts made to obtain them. And, if we take that criterion, what is there that can equal the great object before us? That it should ever occupy for a moment the mind of the Deity, is amazing: but that it should ever be so desirable in Jehovah’s mind, that he should give his only dear Son to effect it; and that his Son, also, should willingly endure all the curses of the broken law to attain it; yea, that the Holy Spirit, too, should undertake, by his own almighty power, to accomplish in us this good work; that the Sacred Trinity, I say, should all combine thus to effect it, exhibits such a view of its importance as nothing can exceed, Yet, how little is it viewed in this light! How little do men, at that season of the year when we commemorate the Saviour’s Advent, recollect for what end he came! If we were to judge by the conduct of the generality amongst us, we should rather suppose that the Saviour gave himself to deliver us to, and not to deliver us from, this present evil world: precisely as the Jews of old committed all manner of iniquity, and then said, “We are delivered to do all these abominations [Note: Jeremiah 7:9-10.].” You well know, that, as by general consent, this is made a season of more than usual conviviality; insomuch that dissipation is, if I may so speak, the order of the day: and the man who has no greater portion than usual of mirth and gaiety seems to himself to have failed in the peculiar exercises of his mind, which the season calls for. If one were to say, that such commemorations were an insult to the Deity; that they obstructed the very ends for which the Saviour came; and were a direct act of rebellion against God the Father, whose avowed will was opposed; one should be thought a gloomy enthusiast, and an enemy to all social happiness. But so it is, whatever ungodly men may think concerning it; and so it will be found at the last day. God says, “Give me thy heart;” and that command must be obeyed. We must withdraw it from all things that stand in competition with him. The most lawful and honourable attachments must be subordinated to him: we must “set our affections altogether on things above, and not on things on the earth [Note: Colossians 3:2.]:” we must “have our conversation in heaven.” Our blessed Lord has shewn us, in this respect, how to walk; and we “must follow his steps.” In the world we are, and must be: but of the world we must not be, either in our spirit or our conduct. If we will be his followers indeed, we must “not be of the world, even as he was not of the world [Note: John 17:14-16.].”]
In this subject we may clearly see,
1. How few experience the full benefits of Christ’s redemption!
[The light of Christianity has certainly raised the tone of morals, where its precepts are heard: but a complete conformity to the Christian code is rarely seen. Where do we find persons living according to the pattern of Christ and his Apostles? Where does the cross of Christ so operate, that they who look to it regard the world as a crucified object, or as a person that was himself crucified would regard it [Note: Galatians 6:14.]? This is a feeling utterly unknown, except amongst a few; who, on that very account, are despised and hated by the whole world [Note: John 15:19.]. The truth is, that Christians in general differ very little from either Jews or Heathens. Christianity occupies their heads; but heathenism their hearts. They pretend to have faith: but, as for “the faith that overcomes the world,” they know nothing about it [Note: 1 John 5:4-5.]. Their whole life, instead of being occupied in a progressive transformation of the soul after the Divine image, is one continued state of conformity to the world [Note: Romans 12:2.]: and, instead of regarding “the friendship of the world” as a decisive proof of their “enmity against God,” they affect it, they seek it, they glory in it [Note: James 4:4. See the amazing strength of the original βουληθῇ καθίσταται: the very inclination constitutes a man an enemy to God.]. I appeal to all, whether these observations be not true; and whether those who are “dead to the world” be not “as signs and wonders” in our day? Know, however, that they, and they only, are right; and that all the knowledge, or all the experience, that leaves us short of this, is but learned ignorance, and specious delusion. “The whole world lieth in wickedness:” and “they who are of God” come out of it, even as Lot did out of Sodom [Note: 1 John 5:19.]. “If we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.].”]
2. How blessed is the effect of real Christianity upon the soul—
[It emancipates us from the sorest bondage; and brings us into a state of liberty and peace. The votaries of this world, see with what cares they are harassed, with what disappointments they are vexed! See them in the full enjoyment of their portion; What have they? what, but “vanity and vexation of spirit?” But, on the other hand, behold the Christian that is enabled to live above the world: his acquisitions cause no idolatrous feelings, like those which the rich man expressed, when he said “Soul, take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry [Note: Luke 12:19.]:” nor do his losses cast him down, or cause him to cry out, “Ye have taken away my gods; and what have I more [Note: Judges 18:24.]?” “He knows how to be full or to be hungry,” as God shall see fit: and “in whatsoever state he be, to be therewith content [Note: Philippians 4:11-12.].” His happiness is independent of earthly things. “God himself is his portion, and his inheritance [Note: Psalms 16:5.]:” and death, which is so formidable to a worldly man, is to him an object of desire [Note: Philippians 1:23.], because it brings him to the full fruition of all that he holds dear. In a word, in him is fulfilled “the will of God the Father;” and in him is accomplished the purpose of Christ his Saviour [Note: The text.]. Behold this man! I ask not whether he be rich or poor, learned or unlearned, infirm or strong; but this I ask, Is there a person who does not in his heart envy him? I know, full well, that in words the generality will reproach him, as a weak enthusiast: but who would not wish, in a dying hour, to be found in his place? A superiority to the cares and pleasures of life, if accompanied with a suitable deportment in other respects, carries such evidence along with it, as men know not how to reject. They may be ignorant of the principle from whence such conduct flows; but the conduct itself commends itself to their consciences, with a force which they cannot resist. All in their hearts congratulate the consistent saint; and though they will not say, “Let me live his life,” they will say, “Let me die his death, and let my latter end be like his.”]
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE
Galatians 1:8-9. Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other Gospel unto you, than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
TO exercise candour and forbearance towards those who differ from us, is the duty of all: yet there are bounds beyond which candour becomes indifference, and forbearance treason. In things which are nonessential, and only of secondary importance, we should on no account be rigid: we should form our own opinions, and leave others to follow their own judgment: yea, rather than grieve them by an unnecessary adherence to our own ways, we should conform to theirs, or at least forbear to prosecute our own. This was the conduct of the Apostle Paul. He “bore with the infirmities of his weak brethren [Note: Romans 14:1; Romans 15:1.]:” he circumcised Timothy, in order that he might gain an easier access to them for their good [Note: Acts 16:3.]. “He became all things to all men,” that he might win their souls [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.]: and rather than prove a stumbling-block to any, by using that liberty to which he was introduced by the Gospel, he would decline the use of meat to the latest hour of his life [Note: 1 Corinthians 8:13.]. But was this his practice when he came to things essential? Did he express no concern when he saw the whole city of Athens given to idolatry? Yes; “his spirit was stirred within him,” and he testified boldly against their ignorant superstitions [Note: Acts 17:16; Acts 17:22.]. When he perceived that some of the Corinthians were lax in their sentiments and conduct, he told them plainly, that “if any man defiled the temple of God, him would God destroy [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:17.].” Thus, in the passage before us, he, who on other occasions “was gentle among them, even like a nursing mother cherishing her children [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:7.],” was filled with indignation against those who perverted the “Gospel of Christ,” and denounced against every one of them, even though he were an angel from heaven, the most awful anathemas: yea, that they might know the fixedness of his mind respecting it, he renewed his declarations, and repeated his anathemas.
Let us then inquire,
I. What was the Gospel which Paul preached—
On this point the utmost caution is necessary. The Apostle pronounces every one accursed that preaches any other Gospel different from that which he had preached to the Galatians. A mistake therefore in this matter will he absolutely fatal to us.
Observe then, that the great doctrine which he insisted on, was justification by faith alone without the works of the law. This, I say, was the point which he maintained, in contradistinction to justification by works, or by faith and works together: and this, namely, justification by faith without works, was the Gospel which he preached.
Respecting this we can have no doubt, if we consider,
1. The statements which he makes—
[Here let us notice his train of argument, especially in that part of the epistle which accords with a similar statement in the Epistle to the Romans. He observes, that Abraham was justified by faith; and that we become partakers of his benefits by faith also [Note: Galatians 3:6-9.]: that the law, instead of justifying, curses and condemns us [Note: Galatians 3:10.]: that the prophets asserted justification by faith, in direct opposition to justification by the works of the law [Note: Galatians 3:11-12.]: and that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, not that we might afterwards be justified by the law, but that we might enjoy his blessings through faith [Note: Galatians 3:13-14.]. The Apostle then goes on to illustrate and confirm this by the covenant which was made with Abraham. In this covenant God gave to Abraham, and to his believing posterity, the inheritance of eternal life. Four hundred and thirty years after, he gave the law to Moses, and made another covenant with the Jews respecting their possession of the earthly Canaan. This latter covenant therefore, you perceive, was made between different parties; the former being between God and Abraham, (including all the believing seed of Abraham, whether they were circumcised or not,) and the other, between God and the Jewish nation only: consequently, as a man’s covenant cannot be annulled unless both parties consent, so the covenant which God made with the Jews cannot supersede that which he had so long before made with Abraham and his believing seed; because the latter party were not present at the making of it, nor had they ever consented to annul the covenant which had been made with them [Note: Galatians 3:15-18.]. If it be asked, Why then was the law given? We answer, Not to supersede the covenant which had been “before confirmed of God in Christ,” but to shew men their need of that better covenant [Note: Galatians 3:19.], and to serve “as a school-master to bring them unto Christ, that they might be justified by faith [Note: Galatians 3:24.].”
Now compare this with the whole train of argument in the five first chapters to the Romans, and the coincidence will establish the point at once. The Apostle there shews our condemnation by the law, and the consequent impossibility of ever being justified by it: from thence he shews the necessity of seeking justification by faith in Christ [Note: Romans 3:19-22.]; more especially because that way of justification, and that alone, would exclude boasting [Note: Romans 3:27-28. (Mark ver. 28.)]. He then proceeds to establish his point by the examples of Abraham [Note: Romans 4:1-3.] and David [Note: Romans 4:6-8.], both of whom sought justification by faith only: and he argues from thence, that if works compose any part of our justifying righteousness, “our reward will not be of grace, but of debt;” and heaven will be, not a gift bestowed, but a compensation that we have earned: and consequently, that we must “not work” in order to obtain righteousness, but “believe on him who justifieth the ungodly [Note: Romans 4:4-5. Mark these verses, and weigh every word in them.]:” (Mark well, not the godly, but the ungodly.) If it be said, that another Apostle represents Abraham as justified by his works [Note: James 2:21.], St. Paul proves to demonstration, that St. James cannot speak of Abraham’s justification before God, but only of the justification, or manifestation, of his faith, as true, and genuine; for that Abraham “was justified while yet he was in uncircumcision [Note: James 4:9-11.];” which was not only before he offered Isaac upon the altar, but long before Isaac was born [Note: Genesis 17:19; Genesis 17:23-24, with Genesis 22:1-13.].
It is needless to prosecute any further the Apostle’s statement: it will be sufficient just to mention his conclusion from it, which is; “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God [Note: Romans 5:1.].”]
2. The objections he anticipates—
[In all his writings St. Paul is careful to obviate the objections which he foresees will be urged against the truths that he inculcates. The objections which he supposes an ignorant person will make, are two: first, That if, where sin has abounded, grace much more abounds, we may “continue in sin that grace may abound [Note: Romans 5:20; Romans 6:1.]:” for the greater sinners we are before we are justified, the more will the grace of God be magnified in justifying such ungodly creatures: and, if a person be justified without any respect to his works, then, secondly, we may live in sin after we are justified; because we are not under the law which requires good works, but under a dispensation of grace [Note: Romans 6:15.], wherein life is given freely without any regard to our works, past, present, or future.
Time will not admit of our considering how he answers these objections: (suffice it to say, that he shews they have no solid foundation; and that good works are effectually secured, though they be not taken into the account in our justification:) we mention the objections only, to shew what the doctrine must be that gave rise to them. Suppose the Apostle had said, that we were to be justified by our works alone, or by faith and works united, what room could there have been for such objections as these? If works were taken into consideration in the matter of our justification before God, we could have no temptation whatever on that account, to neglect them, either before or after we were justified. But if we are justified by faith without any respect to our works, then we can see at once, how a person, not understanding the whole of the Christian scheme, might conceive that the doctrine tended to licentiousness. Indeed these are the very objections that are yet daily urged by ignorant people against the Apostle’s doctrine: they cry, ‘You need only believe, and you may live as you will: and the more wicked you are, the more will the free grace of God be glorified in saving you.’ Persons never think of urging these objections against those who preach salvation by works, whether in the whole or in part; which is a sure proof, that the Apostle did not preach that doctrine; but that the doctrine which he delivered was that of salvation by faith without the works of the law. In this view of his doctrine there is some apparent ground for the objection: in any other view of it, there is none at all.]
3. The perversions he complains of—
[What was it he complained of in the conduct of the Galatians? It was this: that they added the observance of the Mosaic ritual to the duties enjoined by the Gospel [Note: Galatians 4:9-10.], hoping thereby to render themselves more acceptable to God. And in what manner does he complain of this? He calls it an introducing of “another Gospel, which yet was not another [Note: Galatians 1:6-7.]” (for it was a mongrel religion, neither law nor Gospel); or, in other words, a “perversion or rejection of the true Gospel [Note: Galatians 1:6-7. with 3:1.].” Now what ground had he for such heavy accusations, if he himself preached salvation (whether in whole or in part) by the works of the law? On this supposition, the more works they did, the more certain they would be to obtain justification: supposing the Mosaic ritual to be abrogated, there still was no harm in “observing days, and months, and years;” and all that he could properly say to them on the occasion, was, “That they were giving themselves needless trouble:” he must have commended them for their zeal in doing these works; and only told them, that now there was no occasion for these observances. But if he preached justification by faith without the works of the law, and saw that they were performing these works in order to secure their justification, then he might well say, “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain [Note: Galatians 4:11.].”
Again—We read of heavy complaints against Peter. What had Peter done? He had conversed familiarly with the Gentile converts, and lived for a season, as they did, without any regard to the Mosaic ritual. But when some Judaizing converts came from Jerusalem, he was afraid of offending their prejudices; and therefore he forsook the Gentile converts, and lived with the others in the observance of all the Jewish rites and ceremonies [Note: Galatians 2:11-13.]. By this conduct, he not only sanctioned the erroneous idea that the Mosaic rites were still obligatory on the Jewish Christians, but that it was necessary even for the Gentile Christians to conform to them. Now this, in any view of St. Paul’s doctrine, was highly blameworthy; because it was imposing a needless yoke upon the neck of the Gentiles. But this was all: and supposing that Paul had preached justification by works, this was all that he could properly lay to the charge of Peter. But supposing, as we have shewn, that the Gospel which Paul preached held forth justification by faith alone, then there was abundant reason for rebuking Peter in the presence of the whole Church, and accusing him of subverting the foundations of the Gospel [Note: Galatians 2:14-16.], and declaring that, so far as he prevailed, he “frustrated the grace of God,” and made “the death of Christ to be in vain [Note: Galatians 2:21.].”]
We are convinced that, if this accumulated evidence be duly weighed, no doubt can remain upon our minds respecting the doctrine which Paul preached, and which he calls in our text “The Gospel.” Let us then inquire,
II. Why he manifested such zeal in maintaining it—
No man had less of bigotry than the Apostle Paul: for, though a Jew, he spent his life in vindicating the liberty of the Gentiles, and, in fact, died a martyr to. their cause [Note: Acts 21:28-31.]. Nor was he actuated by resentment; for, when most blaming the Galatians, he says, “Ye have not injured me at all [Note: Galatians 4:12.].” Nor was he impelled by ambition, as though he would preserve an unrivalled ascendency over the Galatian Church; for he considered himself as “not having dominion over their faith, but merely as a helper of their joy [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:24.].” His view was to maintain,
1. The purity of the Gospel—
[The Gospel is a fountain of life to a ruined world: nor is there a cistern in the universe that can afford waters so salubrious. It is there alone that Christ is revealed: and “there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we can be saved [Note: Acts 4:12.].” Now a perverting of this fundamental doctrine of justification by faith alone, is a poisoning of that fountain; and consequently a destroying of the whole human race, as well those to whom its waters flow, as those who dwell in the parched desert. Suppose any man were found so in-human, as without any cause to poison the spring whereby a populous city were sustained, and from whence alone they could draw what was necessary for their sustenance; would not every living creature execrate him? Yet that man would be innocent in comparison of him who diffuses the deadly doctrines of a mutilated Gospel: for the former destroys only the bodies of men; whereas the latter consigns over their souls to everlasting destruction. No wonder then that the Apostle expressed himself with such vehemence! no wonder that he pronounced every person, whether it were himself, or an angel from heaven, “accursed,” who should dare to “adulterate the sincere milk of the Word [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:2.]!” It was on this ground that he resisted with invincible firmness the attempts that were made to get Titus circumcised [Note: Galatians 2:3.]; and it was with the same view that he opposed so strenuously all the efforts of Judaizing teachers, even though they were sanctioned by the examples of Barnabas or Peter himself.]
2. The importance of the Gospel—
[Many who would shudder at the idea of infidelity, are ready to consider the doctrine of justification by faith alone, either as erroneous, or at best as speculative, doubtful, and indifferent. They will not unfrequently say, ‘Take care to do good works, and you need not trouble yourself about these nice questions.’ Now I readily grant that there are nice questions relative to predestination and election, and some other points, which may, or may not, be received consistently with our “holding the Head,” the Lord Jesus Christ: but this is not the case with the doctrine before us. Justification by faith alone, is the hinge upon which the whole of Christianity turns. If that be practically received into the heart, it will save a man, though he be mistaken in many other points: but a mistake relative to that will be fatal to him, though he should hold every other truth in the Bible. Hear how St. Paul speaks in a passage before referred to; “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain [Note: Galatians 2:21.];” that is, It was in vain that Christ came down from heaven: all that he did or suffered was in vain, “if righteousness (whether in whole or in part) come by the law;” for “all that are under the law are under the curse [Note: Galatians 3:10. compared with Galatians 5:3.].” Again, with peculiar firmness and solemnity he says, “Behold, I, Paul, say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing [Note: Galatians 5:2.].” What! was there any sin in circumcision? Why then did Paul circumcise Timothy? No: the act was as innocent as any act could be: but the sin lay, in complying with that ordinance with a view to further their justification before God: and then, it not only did not improve the prospects of the person that submitted to it, but made “Christ himself of no profit to him whatsoever.” Once more he says, “Christ is become of no effect unto you; whosoever of you is justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace [Note: Galatians 5:4.];” that is, Ye have utterly renounced the grace of the Gospel, and ye can no more be saved, than the devils themselves; for Christ is become of no effect unto you. In the Epistle to the Romans he confirms these things, not merely, as in the fore-cited passages, by strong assertions, but by matter of fact: for he declares that the Jews were left to perish, notwithstanding all their endeavours to obtain righteousness by the law; and that the Gentiles, who had paid no attention whatever to righteousness of any kind, were saved: and that the reason of the one being saved, while the others perished, was, that the one embraced the doctrine of justification by faith only, while the others were too proud to submit to it [Note: Romans 9:30-33; Romans 10:3-4.]. Let these matters be considered; and then let any one say, whether there was not good reason for the Apostle’s anathemas, which under any other circumstances might have been justly counted harsh and severe. He felt the importance of the doctrine; and he wished all others to feel it: and therefore he did not hesitate to imprecate curses even on an angel from heaven, if any one could be found blind and impious enough to set it aside.]
3. The sufficiency of the Gospel—
[We are far from imputing any evil intention to those who object to the doctrine we are maintaining. “They have a zeal for God; but not according to knowledge [Note: Romans 10:2.].” They have fears and apprehensions that the Gospel which has been set forth, is insufficient either to justify, or to sanctify, the soul: and on this account they add good works to faith in order to their justification; conceiving, that the righteousness of Christ cannot be the less effectual for the addition of ours to it; and that the idea of being justified in part by our good works must be an irresistible inducement to the performance of them: whereas the exalting of faith as the only mean of salvation, must, they suppose, relax men’s diligence in good works. But let us not presume to prop up the ark, or to change the plans which Infinite Wisdom has devised for the salvation of man. “The robe of Christ’s righteousness” is quite sufficient “to cover our nakedness [Note: Revelation 3:18.],” without adding to it “the filthy rags of our righteousness [Note: Isaiah 64:6.].” And there are grounds enough for abounding in good works without putting them into the place of Christ, and making a Saviour of them. The Scripture is plain; “All that believe are justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.]:” and it is equally plain, that “faith will work by love [Note: Galatians 5:6.],” and “overcome the world [Note: 1 John 5:4.],” and “purify the heart [Note: Acts 15:9.].” Had the Gospel needed any addition in either of these respects, St. Paul would not have been so adverse to the attempts to improve it: but, as it needed nothing of this kind, he could not endure that we should presume to be wiser than God: “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty, instruct him? He that reproveth God, let him answer it [Note: Job 40:2.].”]
Our improvement of this subject must be short: but we cannot conclude it without briefly noticing its importance,
1. To those who minister—
[It is not within the compass of language to suggest words that could more deserve the attention of ministers, than those of our text. Many things doubtless are requisite for a due discharge of the ministry: but there is one that as far surpasses all others, as the sun exceeds a taper. It is this; an acquaintance with this fundamental doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of justification by faith alone. If a man be not instructed in it, how can he instruct others? and if he be not instructing them in this, what is he doing, but bringing down curses upon his own soul, and leading his people also to destruction? Would to God, that those who look forward to the ministry as a source of worldly honour or emolument, would seriously reflect upon this tremendous passage, and consider, whether it be worth their while to involve themselves in such accumulated misery! Would to God that those also who are in the ministry, would consider what they have undertaken to preach, and what is uniformly inculcated in the articles, the homilies, and the liturgy of our Church! But whether men will consider for themselves or not, we must say, “a necessity is laid upon them, and woe be unto them if they preach not the Gospel [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:16.].”]
2. To those who are ministered unto—
[If there be such a necessity laid on ministers to preach “the truth as it is in Jesus,” there must be the same necessity for you to hear and embrace it. Inquire then, what is the Gospel that ye have received? Is it this, or is it “another Gospel?” Are your views of the Gospel such as would furnish occasion for an ignorant person to raise objections against it as tending to licentiousness? Yet do you, at the same time, manifest by your life and conversation, that it is “a doctrine according to godliness?” Inquire into these things; for “they are your life [Note: Deuteronomy 32:47.].” If your views of Divine truth do not answer to this description, they are not such as the Apostle Paul had, nor will they lead you where he is. If, instead of looking for salvation by faith alone, you are mixing your own merits with those of Christ, you must inevitably perish: Christ shall profit you nothing. You may build hay, and wood, and stubble, upon the true foundation, and yet be saved at last: you will suffer loss indeed; yet you will be saved, though it be as persons snatched out of the fire [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 3:15.]. But if you build on any thing besides Christ, you have a foundation of sand, which will fail you in the hour of trial, to the destruction of your whole fabric, and the ruin of your own souls [Note: Matthew 7:26-27.]. The mixtures of your righteousness with Christ’s, like the feet of iron and clay in Nebuchadnezzar’s image, will never bear the super-incumbent weight: they cannot unite; they cannot adhere; if you attempt to stand upon them, you will fall and be broken in pieces [Note: Daniel 2:33-34.]. There is but “one faith [Note: Ephesians 4:5.],” but one foundation: “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.].” Take heed therefore that you build upon it [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:10.]; and let your superstructure be such as shall be approved in the day when it shall be tried by fire [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:13-14.].]
Galatians 1:10. Do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
IN the Churches of Galatia, great efforts were made, by Judaizing teachers, to “pervert the Gospel of Christ,” and to establish in its place a doctrine more congenial with Jewish prejudices and Jewish habits. St. Paul set himself vigorously to withstand their influence, and to maintain the Gospel in all its purity. For this end, he declared, in this epistle, his full authority from God to require from all of them a submission to the doctrines which he preached; and he denounced a curse on any creature, whether man or angel, who should attempt to introduce any other Gospel. In prosecution of his argument, he appeals to the Galatians themselves, whether he was, or could be, actuated by any unworthy desire of pleasing men: “Do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men?” In explanation of these words, some would supply an ellipsis here, as though he had said, “Do I persuade (preach) the things of men, or of God [Note: “Dei appellatione τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ intelligit: et πείθειν idem declarat atque τὸ κηρύττειν.” Beza in loc.]?” Others would translate it, “Do I solicit the favour of men or of God [Note: Doddridge on the place.]?” But neither of these interpretations can I altogether approve. The former is that which our translators seem to have acquiesced in; though, father than express it, they have left the passage altogether unintelligible. But if the word which we render “persuade” were translated “obey” (as it is translated in other parts of this very epistle [Note: Galatians 3:1; Galatians 5:7.]), I conceive that the sense would be more clear. Let it be remembered, that the Apostle, previously to his conversion, had sought to please men, and, under their authority, had opposed to the uttermost the cause of Christ [Note: Acts 9:1-2.]. Now he laboured, with no less zeal, to maintain that cause; and denounced a curse, even against an angel from heaven, if one should be found presumptuous enough to oppose it. But was he now actuated by the same motives as he was before? Did he now act under the authority of men, or seek to please men? Was he not rather acting in obedience to God? It was clear that he was not pleasing men, nor could possibly have any such object in view; because men’s wishes were in direct opposition to God’s commands, and to the ministrations which he felt it his duty to maintain: and if he would please and obey man, he could not be the servant of Christ.
That this is the real meaning of the passage appears, both from the terms which are used, and from the relation which the different parts of this verse bear to each other. The Apostle says, “Do I now obey man [Note: ἄρτι, at this present time.]?” I did formerly; but I do not now: “for if I yet [Note: ἕτι.] pleased man, I could not be the servant of Christ.” Here, you will perceive, the two services are opposed to each other, and declared to be inconsistent with each other [Note: ἀνθρώπους πεἱθωis put in opposition to χριστοῦ δοῦλος.]. And this not only makes the sense clear, but cuts off all occasion for supplying an ellipsis, in a way which one would not wish, and which, in my opinion, can scarcely be justified. As to the text itself, that, in its import at least, is perfectly intelligible: and, in opening it, I shall,
I. Confirm the Apostle’s assertion—
We shall have no doubt of its truth, if we consider the grounds on which it stands:
1. The things which men, and the Lord Jesus Christ, require, are directly contrary to each other—
[Men have their maxims and habits, to which they wish all others to be conformed. Our blessed Lord, on the contrary, says, “Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds, that ye may know what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God [Note: Romans 12:2.].” But this is not all: he commands us, not only to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but also rather to reprove them [Note: Ephesians 5:11.].” Now, the separation alone is, of itself, sufficently displeasing to the world, because it forms a tacit reprehension of their ways: but, when to this is added a testimony borne against their ways as evil, they are irritated and incensed; and, in self-defence, they brand their opponents with every term of ignominy and reproach. Our blessed Lord found it so with respect to himself: “The world cannot hate you,” said he to his unbelieving brethren; “but me it hateth, because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil [Note: John 7:7.].” And he has taught us to expect the same treatment on precisely the same ground: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you [Note: John 15:19.].”]
2. There is no possibility of reconciling them—
[Our blessed Lord has placed this beyond a doubt: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon [Note: Matthew 6:24.].” This is the very foundation of that separation from the world, which is the bounden duty of every one that calls himself “a servant of Christ.” “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” “Wherefore come out from among them, and he ye separate, saith the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.].” In truth, this is nothing but what must commend itself to every considerate mind. St. Paul appealed respecting it to the whole Church of Rome, and, in fact, to the whole world: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey [Note: Romans 6:16.]?” It may be said, perhaps, that the services of God and Mammon are not so irreconcileable as we represent them; since our Lord himself has shewn us that they may be reconciled. In one place he says, “He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth abroad [Note: Matthew 12:30.]:” and in another place he says, “He that is not against us, is for us [Note: Luke 9:50.]:” and therefore he may, in this latter passage, be said to have modified and tempered the severer language of the former. But there is no real opposition between the two passages: for if the occasions on which they were spoken be duly marked, it will be found that the former passage forbids neutrality in our own conduct; the latter forbids uncharitableness in judging of the conduct of others. Strong as are the declarations of our Lord and of St. Paul, which have been before cited, they fall far short of that which is spoken by St. James. From them we see that neutrality is treason, in reference to God, just as it would be in an earthly kingdom, where a subject would not move to repel an invading enemy. But St. James declares, that even a wish to preserve friendship with the world is nothing less than a direct act of rebellion against God. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, will be (wishes to be) the friend of the world, is (is thereby constituted) the enemy of God [Note: James 4:4. the Greek.],”
On these grounds I conceive that the Apostle’s assertion admits not of the smallest doubt; but is plain, direct, and incontrovertible.]
Let me now, then,
II. Shew the bearing it should have on our life and conversation—
It is of great importance for us to remember, that broad and unqualified assertions may easily be perverted, to the establishment of principles which, in reality, are false; and to the encouragement of conduct which is essentially unbecoming. It is the part of sound wisdom to make those discriminations, which will serve to guide an humble and conscientious Christian to an adjustment of contending claims, and to a discernment of the path of duty in difficult and conflicting circumstances. With a view to this, I will point out,
1. Negatively, what effect this assertion should not produce—
[It should not render us indifferent to the opinions or feelings of those around us. Indifference to the feelings of others is highly criminal: it argues a want of love; without which divine principle, whatever a man may have, he is no better than “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1.].” Those around us have immortal souls, for which we ought to be tenderly concerned: and, as they must of necessity be more or less affected by our conduct, and have their estimate of our principles influenced by the fruits which they produce, it becomes us, for their sakes, to avoid casting any stumbling-block before them, or giving them any unnecessary offence. We should, as far as possible, “prevent even our good from being evil spoken of [Note: Romans 14:16.].” Nay further; we should endeavour to “please men,” yea, to “please all men.” “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification: for even Christ pleased not himself [Note: Romans 15:2-3.].” Nay, I go further still, and say, that we ought to be ready to make considerable sacrifices for this very end: for St. Paul, speaking on this very subject, says, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God: even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:32-33.].” Now, this is a point on which religious people, and young people especially, need to be put upon their guard. There is a self-will, and self-pleasing, in religious matters, as well as in things unconnected with religion: and there is a disposition to magnify the importance of matters that are indifferent, and to urge the claims of conscience for things which are really dictated only by inclination, and an undue pertinacity in these things frequently proves a greater stumbling-block to our friends and relatives, than a firm adherence to any positive duty would do. Still, however, I must guard this on the other hand; and say, that, in any concessions which we may make, we must look well to our motives, which, none but God can see. We must not comply with the wishes or solicitations of men, merely to please them, or to avoid exciting their dipleasure: we must do it simply “for their good to edification.” This was the Apostle’s motive, in all his compliances: “Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more: unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law: to the weak, became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do (not for my own sake, but) for the Gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.].” Let this distinction be kept in view, and this principle be in operation, and we shall not materially err, either by pertinacity on the one hand, or by compliance on the other.
It may be said, that this mode of proceeding will make a Christian’s conduct extremely difficult and unnecessarily dangerous; and that it will be better to adhere to the broad line altogether, and to wave all consideration except for the good of our own souls. But to this I can by no means accede. I agree that this would be far easier, and in some respects safer: but I cannot therefore say that it is better. It may be right to incur both difficulty and danger for the good of others; though it would not be right to incur them merely for their gratification. It would be right to expose our own lives to a tempest in a small boat for the sake of saving a shipwrecked crew, when it would be highly criminal to do so for the amusement of those on shore: and, if we do subject ourselves both to difficulty and a measure of danger for the everlasting salvation of others, we may expect the Divine protection and blessing in our endeavours. Let us but serve our God according to his directions, and we need not fear but that “he will give his angels charge over us, to keep us in all our ways.”]
2. Positively, what effect this assertion should produce—
[It must lead us to adopt a decided part, and never to swerve from the path of duty, even if the whole world should be against us. The conduct of the Apostles should be ours, whenever such an alternative is presented to us: “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye;” for we cannot but do the things which our God requires [Note: Acts 4:19-20.]. We must be very careful to examine what the path of duty is; but, having ascertained it, we must not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, on any account whatever. We must not deviate from the path of duty, in a way either of commission or of omission. Suppose it said to us, as to the Hebrew Youths, ‘Bow down to this idol, or thou shalt go into the fiery furnace;’ we should not hesitate to choose the fire in preference to the sin. Or if it were said, as to Daniel, ‘Forbear to pray to thy God, or thou shalt be cast into the den of lions [Note: Daniel 3.];’ we should not hesitate to prefer the den of lions, to an abandonment of an acknowledged duty: nay, we should not even appear to concede the point; but should serve God openly, and at all events [Note: Daniel 6.]. As far as our Lord and the world go together, we should follow the world: but where they separate, we should let all men see “whose we are, and whom we serve.”]
Now, in this subject we may see,
1. Matter for serious inquiry—
[“Do I yet please men?” This has been the habit of us all in former times: for the unconverted man has no higher principle of action than this. But, if we have been truly converted unto God, we have given ourselves up to another Master, even Christ; and to serve and please him is our chief, our only, aim. We must have no will, no way, but his. For him must we both live and die.
Well do I know, that our change, in this respect, is often imputed to us for evil; and that we are deemed weak, conceited, and fanatical, because we presume to judge for ourselves in this particular. But where eternity is at stake, how can we do otherwise? We must approve ourselves to God, and to our own conscience. In no other way can we have peace: in no other way can we ever attain to glory.
And I cannot but say, that in what the world demand at our hands, they are very unreasonable. For they will not mete to us what they expect us to measure to them. They will not be persuaded by us to do the smallest thing for God, and for their own souls. If, to please us, they read a book which we put into their hands, or attend upon a ministry which we have recommended, they think they make mighty concessions; though, in the daily habit of their minds, they are as much addicted to the world as others: but there are no bounds to the concessions which they require of us: nor are they ever satisfied, till they have drawn us into the same vortex with themselves. I must therefore recommend extreme caution in carrying into effect the very advice which I myself have given. For though to please all men is a legitimate and becoming object of pursuit, if you have attained it you will have great reason to suspect yourselves: for you will have attained what neither our Lord nor his Apostles ever did, or ever could. If “all men speak well of you,” you may be perfectly assured that you have been unfaithful to your God, and that nothing but a woe attends you [Note: Luke 6:26.].]
2. Matter for unceasing consolation—
[It is extremely painful to have our friends and relations displeased with us, as they assuredly will be, if we give up ourselves unreservedly to the Lord. Our blessed Lord has told us, that, though this was not the end of his coming, it is, and will be, the effect: “I am come,” says he, “to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against the mother, and the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law: and a man’s foes shall be those of his own household [Note: Matthew 10:35-36.].” But then we should ask ourselves, “Have I, like Enoch, this testimony, that I have pleased God [Note: Hebrews 11:5.]?” If I have, I am satisfied. I would most gladly, if it were in my power, please all who are connected with me: but if they reduce me to the dilemma of either displeasing them or God, they must excuse me: for “I must obey God rather than man [Note: Acts 5:29.].” The persons who are offended with me, would expect their servant to obey them rather than a stranger: and is not God entitled to that deference from me? I am “a servant of Jesus Christ;” and I must, at the peril of my soul, obey him. And as our blessed Lord said respecting his own conduct to his heavenly Father, “I do always those things which please him [Note: John 8:29.];” so, God helping me, will I say: and if I stand condemned for it at man’s tribunal, I have this comfort, that, when standing at the tribunal of my God, he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord [Note: Matthew 25:21.].”]
CONVERSION, AND ITS EFFECTS
Galatians 1:15-16. When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.
GREAT were the trials which the Apostle Paul met with in the Churches of Galatia through the subtilty of some Judaizing teachers, who laboured, and with too much success, to turn the newly converted Christians from the faith which Paul had preached to them, and to bring them over to a faith compounded of Judaism and Christianity. To give the greater weight to their doctrines, they represented Paul as preaching a Gospel which he had received only from human authority, and not from the Lord Jesus Christ, as all the other Apostles had; and consequently, as unworthy of the confidence which his followers reposed in him. To counteract the sad effects of their representations, St. Paul, in the very introduction to his Epistle to the Galatians, declared, that he had received his Gospel, “not of men (as the authors), nor by man (as an instrument), but directly from the Lord Jesus Christ, and from God the Father, who had raised him from the dead [Note: ver. 1.]:” and then, after expressing his “wonder that they had been so soon turned away from him who had called them into the grace of Christ,” he proceeds to vindicate more fully his apostolic authority: “I certify you, brethren,” says he, “that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man: for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ [Note: ver. 11, 12.].” Then, after specifying the time when it was revealed to him, namely, in his way to Damascus, he asserts, that he studiously avoided every thing which might be construed into a reception of it from men; for he had not gone at all at that time to Jerusalem, where the other Apostles were, but into Arabia, where there was none but God to teach him.
In the account which he thus gives of himself, he gives us an insight into the work of conversion, and into that line of conduct which all converted persons should pursue. It is for the elucidating of these two things that we have selected the passage which we have just read: from which we shall take occasion to shew,
I. Wherein our conversion, must resemble Paul’s—
Certainly it is not at all necessary that our conversion should resemble his in the external circumstances; for in respect of them he stands alone, not so much as one of his attendants being, as far as we know, converted with him. Nor even in respect of the suddenness of it, is it at all necessary that we should resemble him: our conversion may be so gradual that we cannot trace it to any particular time; and yet it may be as certain and as evident as his. But in its essential parts conversion is the same in all. Ours therefore must resemble his,
1. In its origin, the electing love of God—
[God “separated him from his mother’s womb” to the apostolic office, just as he had done the prophet Jeremiah to the prophetic office [Note: Jeremiah 1:5.]. It was evidently not for his righteousness that he was thus chosen to know Christ for himself, and to preach him to others: for, to the very instant of his conversion, he was a blasphemer, and injurious, and a persecutor. His election can be traced to nothing but the sovereign will of God. And to this must our conversion also be traced, if ever we have been converted at all. “We have not chosen Christ, but Christ us:” yea, “we were chosen of God in Christ before the foundation of the world,” and “predestinated to the adoption of children” into his family. In this very epistle St. Paul most studiously marks this. He speaks of the Galatians as having known God: but, fearing, as it were, lest they should suppose that the work had begun on their part, he recalls his word, and says, “after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God [Note: Galatians 4:9. See also Philippians 3:12.].” Let us bear in mind therefore, that, if we are converted, it is “not because we loved God, but because he loved us [Note: 1 John 4:10.]:” “he loved us with an everlasting love; and therefore with loving-kindness hath he drawn us [Note: Jeremiah 31:3.].”]
2. In its means, the effectual grace of God—
[God “called him by his grace;” and without the effectual working of his grace the Apostle would never have been called at all. Nor shall we ever attain to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus in any other way. Of ourselves “we can do nothing,” no, “not so much as think a good thought:” it is “God alone who can give us either to will or to do” any thing that is good [Note: Philippians 2:13.]. “If we are brought into a state of grace,” it is “he who hath made us willing in the day of his power.” “We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works [Note: Ephesians 2:10.]:” the new creation is his work as much as the old: whatever be the means, or whoever be the instrument “to plant or water, it is he alone that gives the increase [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:6.].” Every child of man must say with the Apostle, “By the grace of God I am what I am [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.]:” “whoever he be that is born again, he is born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God [Note: John 1:13.].”]
3. In its manner, by a revelation of Christ to the soul—
[As far as relates to the external circumstances, we have before said that no analogy exists: but as it respects the revelation of Christ to the soul, conversion is the same in all. There may be a preparatory work of conviction without this; but no conversion: for in this consists the essence of conversion, if we may so speak. The revelation given in the Scriptures may inform the mind; but it is the revelation made to the soul, that can alone convert and save the soul. The means which converted Saul, produced no such effect on his companions. Many others heard the word preached to them, as well as Lydia: but she received benefit from it which others did not, because “the Lord opened her heart to attend to the things that were spoken.” So, if we are savingly enlightened, it is because God has “opened the eyes of our understanding,” and “given us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of his Son [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.],” and “shined into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].” It is then only that we truly “receive Christ” as our Saviour [Note: John 1:12.]: then only do we “feed truly on his flesh and blood;” then only do we “believe in him to the saving of the soul.”]
4. In its end, to make him known in the world—
[We are not all called, like St. Paul, “to preach Christ among the heathen;” but we are called, like Paul himself, to confess him openly [Note: Acts 22:14-15. Matthew 10:32-33.], and to become his avowed followers, and to shew forth in our life and conversation the power of his grace. We are all to “shine as lights in a dark world, holding forth the word of life [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.].” We are to be his witnesses, even “epistles of Christ known and read of all men.” We are so to make our “light shine before men, that all who see us may approve of his ways, and glorify his name [Note: Matthew 5:16.].”]
From the effect produced on him by his conversion, we are led to consider,
II. Wherein our conduct must resemble his—
It is probable that his words relate rather to his not seeking any intercourse with those who were at that time the pillars of the Christian Church, than to any workings of his own mind, which he studiously suppressed. Yet the decision of his character on the occasion shews us what we should be and do, when once we have received the converting grace of God. We must enter on the duties assigned us,
1. Without hesitation—
[Many doubts will be suggested by our own corrupt hearts, how far it is necessary or expedient to devote ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ; and our carnal friends will not fail to remonstrate with us on our new views and pursuits. They will tell us of the injury which we shall sustain in our reputation and interests, if we make ourselves singular, and join ourselves to “a sect that is everywhere evil spoken of.” They will beseech us with much affectionate importunity to put away these enthusiastic notions: and, if they have power over us, they will blend menaces with their entreaties. But, from whatever quarter the temptation may come, we must examine its tendency, and, as soon as we see that its effect will be to draw us back to the world, we must say to it, as our blessed Lord under similar circumstances said to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” We must listen to nothing, however specious it may be, that would cause us to dissemble with God, or divert us from the path prescribed to us in his word. Our one question must be, What does my Lord and Saviour require of me? and by that must we be determined, though the whole world should endeavour to obstruct our way. We must neither be allured by interest, nor deterred by fear; but must “hate father and mother, and even our own lives also, in comparison of Christ.”]
2. Without delay—
[Thus did Paul: “immediately” he betook himself to the work assigned him [Note: Acts 9:19-20.]. Thus should we also: we should not say, Let me go home first and take leave of my friends, or bury my father: No: let the dead bury their dead: our duty is to fulfil the will of Him who has called us to his kingdom and glory. We shall occasionally feel strong temptations on this subject. When difficulties and dangers present themselves, we shall be ready to think we shall find some more convenient season, when our way will be more plain and easy. But we must, like Matthew at the receipt of custom, or like others of the Apostles at their nets, forsake all and follow Christ.]
1. Let those of you who have experienced converting grace, give God the glory—
[There is a strange backwardness in man to do this. If all be traced to the sovereign grace of God, we bring forward a thousand objections, that so we may divide the glory with him. But this is not so in heaven: nor should it be on earth. In heaven there is no song but that of “Salvation to God and to the Lamb.” Let it be so on earth. It is our indispensable duty, our truest interest, our highest happiness, to give glory to the God of heaven. Let us do it cheerfully, and without reserve.]
2. Let those in whose hearts Christ has been revealed, seek to know more and more of him—
[It is but little that any man knows of him. Paul himself, after preaching Christ for twenty years, desired to know more of him, in the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings. Let us also seek to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of him.” The more we behold his glory, the more we shall be changed into his image: and the more we comprehend of his unsearchable love, the more shall we be filled with all the fulness of God.]
3. Let all learn how to avoid the snares which Satan lays for their feet—
[We must not parley with temptation, but act with promptitude and decision. There must be in us a firmness that is immoveable: yet should that firmness be tempered with suavity. We must not think, that, because our superiors are wrong in their endeavours to keep us back from Christ, we are at liberty to slight their admonitions on other subjects, or even on religion itself, as far as we can without violating the commands of Christ. Whilst we guard against an undue conformity to the world, we must guard also against two common evils, superstition, and unnecessary scrupulosity: scrupulosity makes that to be sin which is no sin; and superstition makes that to be duty which is no duty. Let us get our minds rightly instructed: in matters of indifference, let us be willing to yield; but in matters of vital interest and importance, let us be firm and faithful even unto death.]
GOD GLORIFIED IN HIS PEOPLE
Galatians 1:23-24. They had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me.
THE account of men’s conversion to God is a very profitable subject of contemplation. It tends to illustrate the infinite diversity of ways in which God deals with men, and draws them to himself. St. Paul, on various occasions, mentioned the peculiar manner in which he was turned to God, and brought to the obedience of faith [Note: Acts 9 22 and 26.]. He adverts to it in the chapter before us, in order to establish beyond contradiction his divine mission. It is not my intention to enter into the circumstances of his conversion, any further than they are referred to in my text: from whence I shall take occasion to shew,
I. What may be expected of every true convert—
It is here taken for granted that he has embraced the faith of Christ—
[This is to be taken for granted in all cases: for no man can be a Christian till he has truly come to Christ, seeking mercy at God’s hands through him, even through his obedience unto death. This is the distinctive difference between the Christian and others. Others may possess all that Paul himself possessed in his unconverted state: all his privileges of birth, all his attainments in knowledge, all his zeal in religion, and all his blameless morality; and yet, after all, be “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” It is his deep contrition as a sinner, his utter renunciation of all self-dependence, either in respect to righteousness or strength, and his simple affiance in the Lord Jesus Christ, that must characterize him as a true believer — — —]
This faith he will endeavour, to the utmost of his power, to advance—
[If, like Paul, he have been “put into the ministry,” he will “preach Christ” to his people; yea, and will “determine to know nothing among them, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:2.]” — — — If he be a private Christian, he will exert himself in every possible way to promote the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom. Has he wealth? he will gladly assist in educating pious persons for the service of the sanctuary. Has he influence? he will endeavour to establish faithful ministers in places which seem to afford them scope for more extensive usefulness [Note: If this subject be used on occasion of a Visitation, these hints about the exercise and advancement of the ministry should be considerably diversified and enlarged.] — — — Many of the primitive Christians gave up all that they possessed, that, in so doing, they might help forward the cause of Christ: and though the same sacrifices be not required now, the same disposition is; and every Christian in the universe should be able to say, “I count not even my life dear unto me, so that I may but finish my course with joy,” and fulfil my duty to my Lord and Saviour.]
The tidings of the Apostle’s conversion were soon spread far and wide; and the conduct of those who heard of it will shew us, in reference to every other convert,
II. What reason there is to glorify God on his behalf—
In many views is the conversion of a sinner a ground of joy and thankfulness:
1. For the benefit accruing to himself—
[He was but lately lying dead in trespasses and sins: now he is quickened to a new and heavenly life. He was “an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, and a stranger to the covenants of promise: he is now a fellow-citizen with the saints and of the household of God.” He was a child of Satan, and an heir of wrath: he is now a child of God, and an heir of heaven. Over such an one the angels in heaven rejoice [Note: Luke 15:10.]: yea, over such an one God himself rejoices; “killing for him the fatted calf, and making merry with him [Note: Luke 15:32. with Zephaniah 3:17.].” To this change of state must be added his change of nature also: and who can contemplate that, and not adopt the language of St. Paul, “We give thanks to God, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, and for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven [Note: Colossians 1:3-4.]?” It matters not who he be, or in what quarter of the globe he live; the tidings of this change should draw forth from us the grateful sentiment which was expressed at the conversion of Cornelius; we should “glorify God, saying, Then hath God to the Gentiles also granted repentance unto life [Note: Acts 11:18.].”]
2. For the honour arising to God—
[By none except real converts is God honoured in the world: but by them he is admired, and loved, and served, and glorified. In them, too, do all his glorious perfections shine forth. Who can see a true convert, and not admire the forbearance, the mercy, the love, the power, that have been exercised towards him. In the works of creation the wisdom and goodness of God are visible: but in the new creation, there is a combination of all those perfections, which had no scope for exercise till man had fallen, and was redeemed by the blood of God’s only-begotten Son. Can we wonder that the angels, on the first discovery of this work of mercy, burst forth into songs which they had never known before: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men [Note: Luke 2:14.]!” In truth, this is the one great theme of praise and adoration in heaven: and all who see the subject realized on earth, must, if they have any love to God, rejoice that persons are raised up, to give him the glory due unto his name.]
3. For the advantages that may be expected from it to the Church of God—
[The conversion of St. Paul, what a benefit was it to the whole world! What a benefit will it be to millions through all eternity! And, though none of us can bear any comparison with him, will any one pretend to estimate the good which the very least amongst us may be the means of effecting in the world? The work of a minister does not cease with his personal ministrations; but is ramified through a whole country, and augmented through all succeeding ages. And the poorest person, by a word spoken, or by his life and conversation, may, like Naaman’s maid, be the means of converting one, whose influence may extend through a whole kingdom. Every addition therefore to the Church of God, is a ground of joy, and should call forth the devoutest thanksgivings from all to whom the tidings of it are made known.]
1. Those who have never yet embraced the Gospel—
[Never has any one yet had occasion to glorify God for you. On the contrary, there has been reason to weep over you incessantly, even to the present hour — — — You may not have been a persecutor of the Church; but you have been an enemy of God and his Christ from your youth up: for “the carnal mind is enmity with God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” You, therefore, must be converted as much as he. It is not needful that you should be converted in the same way as he, or in the same sudden manner; but converted you must be, or perish [Note: Matthew 18:3.]. You must believe as he did; and embrace that very Gospel which he preached. O, beg of “God to count you worthy of this calling, and to fulfil in you all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power; that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and of the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.].”]
2. Those who profess themselves to have received the Gospel—
[See that ye “adorn the Gospel; that ye adorn it in all things.” Let the change be as visible in you, as it was in Paul. I mean not that ye are to affect the same ostensible character as he sustained; for ye are not called to that: but to live unto God ye are called; and to exert yourselves, according to your opportunities and ability, to promote his glory in the world, ye are called: and therefore to all of you, without exception, I say, “Let your light so shine before men, that they, beholding your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven [Note: Matthew 5:16.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Galatians 1". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter