LIBERTY OF THE CHRISTIAN
Galatians 5:1. Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
THE doctrine of justification by faith is inculcated throughout all the Holy Scriptures, even in parts where we should never have thought of looking for it. Not only was it fully and explicitly declared to Abraham; but it was allegorically set forth by his putting away of Hagar and her son Ishmael, and his constituting of Isaac his sole heir. This was intended by God to shadow forth to us that we cannot be saved by the legal covenant, the covenant of works; but that we must embrace, and be saved by, the new covenant, the covenant of grace [Note: Gal. 21–31.]. By the covenant of grace we are liberated from the bondage of the covenant of works; and “in this liberty it becomes us all to stand fast.”
We shall be led from these words to notice,
I. The Christian’s privilege—
The Christian is a believer in Christ: and by his faith he is made a partaker of all that Christ has procured for him. He was formerly under the law; and by that law was condemned. As long as he continued under that law, he continued under the curse. But “Christ has freed him from that law [Note: Romans 8:2.]” and brought him to a state of perfect liberty.
1. By suffering the penalty due to his transgressions, he has released us from it—
[Christ became the Surety and Substitute of sinful man. Did we owe a debt which it was impossible for us to pay? He discharged it for us, even to the uttermost farthing. Were we under the curse of the broken law? “He became a curse for us [Note: Romans 3:13.],” and endured all that was due to our sins. Hence there remains “now no condemnation to us [Note: Romans 8:1.].” “If only we believe in Christ, we are justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.],” and “our sins are blotted out as a morning cloud.”]
2. By giving us faith, he has brought us into a better covenant—
[There is a new covenant, which is a perfect contrast with the old covenant. The old covenant cursed us for one transgression, and provided no remedy for us whatever: the new covenant provides for us all that our necessities can require—pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory. Into this covenant all are brought, who believe in Jesus. He therefore, by imparting faith to our souls, translates us from the one to the other; and both liberates from all the evils of the former, and conveys to us all the blessings of the latter. From the very instant of our believing in Christ, we cease to have any thing either to hope or fear from the covenant of works; we are dead to it, and it is dead to us: it is abrogated and annulled: and, like a woman released from her nuptial bonds by the death of her husband, we are at liberty to “unite ourselves to Christ, that through him we may bring forth fruit unto God [Note: Romans 7:4.].” Thus, “being made free by Christ, we are made free indeed [Note: John 8:36.].”]
We may easily conceive, from hence, what is,
II. The Christian’s duty—
Privilege and duty comprehend all that constitutes religion. In themselves they are widely different; but they are never to be separated from each other. Possessing this high privilege of freedom from the law, we are to “stand fast in it;”
1. Against the influence of false teachers—
[There were such among the Jews, who were extremely zealous in propagating their sentiments, and in endeavouring to subvert the faith of Christ. And such there are at this day. What is the whole system of popery, but an establishment of the covenant of works? It inculcates, in all its ordinances, the merit of good works, and teaches men to expect salvation by their works. And what do they who teach that we are justified by the act of baptism; and they who administer the Lord’s supper to dying persons as a passport to heaven? I deny not the use or efficacy of the sacraments, when duly received: but, to teach men to rely on the mere administration of them, irrespective of the manner, and mind, and spirit in which they are received, is as fatal an error as ever was broached: it is nothing but popery revived amongst us. Against all such errors, by whomsoever they are inculcated, you must be on your guard. If Peter himself make such an use of a sacrament, he must be reproved, as a traitor to the cause of Christ [Note: Galatians 2:11-16.]: and “if an angel from heaven were to bring such a doctrine as that, he must be held accursed [Note: Galatians 1:8-9.].”]
2. Against the devices of Satan—
[That great adversary is ever fighting against Christ; and endeavouring to “blind men, lest the light of Christ’s glory should shine unto them [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.].” But you must “resist him, steadfast in the faith [Note: 1 Peter 5:8-9.].” It is impossible for you to be too much on your guard against his temptations. As he beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so will he, if possible, turn you from the simplicity that is in Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:3.].” He will, both by his emissaries and by his suggestions, pervert the Scriptures themselves, just as he did when he tempted Christ: but you must “take the sword of the Spirit, and the shield of faith,” and, “in the strength of Christ, resist him” to the uttermost [Note: Ephesians 6:10-17.]; that you “may never be moved away from the hope of the Gospel [Note: Colossians 1:23.],” or be induced to “make shipwreck of your faith in Christ [Note: 1 Timothy 1:19.].”]
3. Against the treachery of your own hearts—
[There is no evil whatever more deeply rooted in the heart of man than self-righteousness. It will assume in you ten thousand shapes. Sometimes it will put on the garb of holiness; and make you fearful of exalting Christ too much, lest you should depreciate and discourage morality. Sometimes it will assume the form of humility; and make you stand aloof from Christ because of your own unworthiness: ‘You are not good enough to come to him: he will never receive so vile a sinner as you.’ There is no end to the delusions which your own deceitful hearts will suggest, to sanction, in some degree or other, a dependence on your own works. But you must put away every thought that may interfere with the honour of Christ, to whom the glory of your salvation must be given, whole and entire, from first to last. It is altogether the purchase of his blood, and the gift of God for his sake: and it must be received, by every creature under heaven, “without money, and without price.” St. Paul tells you, that if you do the best act in the world with a view to augment your interest in Him, “he shall profit you nothing [Note: ver. 2.].” The least attempt of this kind will invalidate the whole Gospel [Note: ver. 3, 4.]: and therefore look well to yourselves, that ye “receive not the grace of God in vain.”]
1. Those who are yet cleaving to the covenant of works—
[What works will ye ever do, that shall be effectual for your salvation? or what single act have ye ever done, that will bear the test of God’s law? O, think of your folly and your wickedness! your folly, in preferring bondage to liberty; and your wickedness, in so requiting the grace of Christ — — —]
2. Those who are enjoying the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free—
[Enjoy it, and be thankful for it — — — but “turn it not to licentiousness.” Shew, by your lives, that the Gospel is “a doctrine according to godliness:” and let the world see that, whilst you “contend earnestly for the faith delivered to the saints,” you are “careful to maintain good works.”]
Galatians 5:2-4. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law: ye are fallen from grace.
ON matters of morality, men will permit us to speak with the utmost freedom; but, on points of faith, they would have us use none but the mildest possible expressions, lest we should appear dogmatical and severe. St. Paul, where moral offences had been committed, was lenity itself [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:7. Galatians 6:1.]; but when the fundamentals of our faith were endangered, his energy rose even to intolerance. I mean not to say that he disregarded morality, or that we should think lightly of it: but I mean, that we ought to entertain far different thoughts about the leading doctrines of religion, than those which generally prevail. Hear the Apostle, when he found that some of the Galatian Church had been drawn from the pure Gospel to a reliance on the observances of the Jewish ritual: “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 [Note: Galatians 1:8-9.].” I grant, that he, as inspired, was authorized to speak in terms that would be unseemly for one who is not under an infallible guidance: but, so far as our doctrines accord with those of the Apostle, we may, yes, and must, maintain them, with a measure of the firmness which he uses in the promulgation of them. The passage which we have selected for our meditation this day contains nothing but what must be affirmed by every servant of Christ But who that reads it must not tremble, lest he be found in the predicament there referred to? That we may fully understand the mind of the Apostle, I will, with all possible plainness, state,
I. What was the conduct here reproved—
It was not the mere practice of circumcision—
[This was a rite which had been ordained by God himself; and the neglect of which had so incensed God against his servant Moses, that, if his wife Zipporah had not instantly, and without delay, performed the rite with her own hands, that favourite of heaven would have been destroyed [Note: Exodus 4:24-25.]. And though the ceremonial law was now abolished, the observance of this rite was innocent: for St. Paul himself, in condescension to the prejudices of the Jews, had circumcised Timothy; and in this very place, where he so decidedly condemns the observers of it, speaks of it as a matter of perfect indifference: “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith, which worketh by love [Note: ver. 6 and again, Galatians 6:15.].” It is clear, therefore, that it was not of circumcision, as an act, that he spake, when he declared it to be incompatible with an interest in Christ.]
It was self-righteousness to which the advocates of circumcision were strongly inclined—
[Circumcision, when first appointed of God, was given to Abraham as “a sign and seal of that righteousness which he possessed in his uncircumcised state,” and which he had obtained solely by faith [Note: Romans 4:11.]. But the Jews had altogether perverted it from its original intention, and had made it a fundamental article of the Mosaic ritual: they regarded it as connected with the Law, rather than with the Gospel; and founded their hopes of salvation, in a considerable measure, on their observance of it. This it was which St. Paul so severely reprobated; because it undermined the Gospel itself, and led the people to look to the law for righteousness, which the Gospel alone could impart. Nor was it without just reason that he so strongly guarded them against this error: for it obtained very generally amongst the Jews; and was the great stumbling-block over which they fell, to the utter destruction of their souls [Note: Romans 9:30-33; Romans 10:2-3.].]
That we may see how circumcision could by any means be so injurious to their souls, I will proceed to shew,
II. Wherein the evil of it consisted—
1. It was a recurrence to the law—
[So the Apostle interprets it: “As many of you as are justified by the law.” This shews, that the Apostle viewed the act as performed in order to their justification before God: and such was really their end in performing it. There were many who insisted upon it as still obligatory upon all: and maintained, that “except men were circumcised, they could not be saved [Note: Acts 15:1.].” And it was St. Paul’s firm opposition to this tenet that so greatly incensed the Jews against him. If he would have yielded to them in this one particular, they would have laid aside their hostility against him, and have left him at liberty to make as many converts as he could. But “he would not give place, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the Gospel might be kept inviolate.” And to those who wished to represent him as still favouring their sentiments, he appealed: “If I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased [Note: ver. 11.].” Viewing, then, this rite as a recurrence to the law for salvation, he declared to every person who submitted to it, that he “became a debtor to do the whole law:” for if the law was obligatory in one part, it was in all: and, if they looked for salvation by obedience to any law whatever, whether ceremonial or moral, they must go back to the covenant of works altogether, and stand or fall by that. But this would be to involve themselves in inevitable and eternal ruin; since “it was written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them:” and, consequently, in going back to the law, they must bring down all its curses upon their souls. This, then, was one reason why it was wrong to practise circumcision in the way they did.]
2. It was a renunciation of the Gospel—
[All who had been baptized into the faith of Christ had professed to accept salvation as the free gift of God for Christ’s sake. But, in going back to circumcision, and insisting upon that as necessary to salvation, they did, in fact, declare that they considered the work of Christ as incomplete, and as insufficient for their salvation, without this work of the law super-added to it. All therefore who had imbibed this error were “fallen from the grace” of the Gospel altogether. They thought, indeed, to combine the law with the Gospel; but this was impossible. Salvation must be wholly of the one or the other: works and grace, as foundations of hope before God, were absolutely contrary to, and inconsistent with, each other: as the Apostle says, “If salvation be by grace, it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace: but if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work [Note: Romans 11:6.].” Would they, then, be content to forego all hope by the Gospel, and to abandon as worthless all the promises of grace? This was, in fact, their conduct, whilst they thus placed their reliance on this abrogated rite: and the folly of such conduct once seen, must deter them, for ever, from the prosecution of it.]
But we are yet further taught by the Apostle,
III. What was, and must in all cases be, the issue of it—
“Christ would become of no effect to them,” and “would profit them nothing.” Never, to all eternity, would they derive any benefit from him,
1. As their atoning Sacrifice—
[He died indeed for sinners, and offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world: but, in renouncing him, and going back to the law, they cut themselves off from all participation of the benefit: so that, as far as they are concerned, “he died altogether in vain [Note: Galatians 2:21.].”]
2. As their great High-priest—
[For his people he is gone within the vail, there to make continual intercession for them: and through his intercession their peace is maintained with God. But never does he make mention of their name; never prefer one request in their behalf. If he were once to bring their case before his Father, it would be rather to “make intercession against them;” and to say, ‘How long dost thou, O my Father, forbear to execute vengeance on those ungrateful creatures?’ “How long dost thou not judge, and avenge my blood upon them [Note: Revelation 6:10.]?”]
3. As their Federal Head and Representative—
[To those who are united to Christ by faith, he is, under the new covenant, what Adam was to his posterity, under the old covenant. “In Adam, all” his natural posterity “died:” and “in Christ all” his spiritual children “are made alive [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:22.].” But those who return to the law, renounce the covenant of grace, and go back to the covenant made with Adam in Paradise; according to the tenour of which they shall be justified or condemned, Having no other representative than Adam, “in whom they have sinned,” they have no one through whom they can obtain any better title than what they have derived from him, or any other portion than what is entailed upon them as his descendants.]
4. As their Head of vital influence—
[Believers in Christ derive from Him all that they need for life and godliness, as branches of the living vine. But those who, in any measure or degree, transfer to the law their dependence, become as branches that are broken off, and that derive from Him no benefit whatever. To their impotence they are left; and as destitute of all spiritual good, they perish.
What a fearful thought is this! But let me dwell somewhat upon it, in a way of more direct]
Application.—See, I pray you,
1. How indispensable to our happiness is an interest in Christ—
[The Apostle represents the being without any profit from Christ, as the sum of human misery. And so, indeed, it is: for what can he possess who has no part in Christ? He may have wealth and honour in the richest abundance; but he has no life, no hope in this world, no portion but misery in the world to come — — — Can you reflect on this, my brethren, and not desire an interest in Christ? My brethren, seek him, lay Hold on him, “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart;”and let no consideration under heaven induce you for a moment to draw back from him — — —]
2. What need we have to examine the state of our minds towards him—
[The persons who laid so great a stress on circumcision little thought what evils they were bringing on their own souls: and it is highly probable that they thought the affirmations of the Apostle needlessly severe. But this very circumstance rendered it the more necessary that he should deal faithfully with them, and declare to them the danger to which they were exposed. And so it is, when we declare the danger of self-righteousness, we are thought harsh and uncharitable. But we must declare, and “testify to every one” who relies on the works of the law, or blends any thing whatever with the merits of Christ, that he makes void the whole work of Christ, and cuts himself off from any part in his salvation. Examine yourselves, therefore: for self-righteousness is deeply rooted in the heart of man; and it has many specious pretexts for its acting. But be on your guard against it, and watch against it in every form; and determine, through grace, that you will henceforth trust in nothing, and “glory in nothing, but the cross of Christ.”]
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH
Galatians 5:5. We, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
THE object of St. Paul, in this epistle is, to maintain and establish the doctrine of justification by faith alone, without the deeds of the law. This doctrine had been assailed and controverted by Judaizing teachers, who had gained such influence in the Church, as to draw multitudes after them, and to intimidate even the Apostles themselves. We are told that Peter, through fear of the circumcision, dissembled, and drew Barnabas also, his friend and fellow-labourer, into a participation of his crime. St. Paul, with becoming zeal, set himself to stem the tide. He felt for the honour of God, whose Gospel was thus perverted; and for the welfare of immortal souls, whose salvation was endangered; and, without partiality, he rebuked Peter in the face of the whole Church; shewing that all mixture of the Law with the Gospel was a fatal error; and that all who would be saved must seek salvation wholly and exclusively by faith in Christ.
Having concluded his argument, he enforces the truth he had established; and declares, that all who were under the influence of the Spirit of God would wait for the hope of righteousness, not by works, but by faith alone.
The words before us will lead me to shew,
I. To what every true Christian looks for justification before God—
The context makes known to us the Apostle’s views—
[The energy of the Apostle on this subject is such as must, on no account, be overlooked. He declares, in opposition to the Judaizing teachers, that the blending of the Law with the Gospel, in any respect, would make void all that Christ has done and suffered for us; that it would bring us back altogether to the covenant of works, which promised nothing but to perfect obedience; and that it was, in fact, an utter renunciation of the Gospel, and a contempt of all the grace contained in it. “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you: whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.” Now, of all works that could be performed, circumcision was the most innocent: for it had been expressly commanded of God, from the first moment that Abraham had been admitted into covenant with him: it was enjoined under the penalty of death: Moses himself was in imminent danger of being slain by God for the neglect of it: and, though abrogated by the Gospel, St. Paul had sanctioned the observance of it in the case of Timothy. ‘Yet,’ says St. Paul, ‘the observance of this rite, with a view to increase or confirm your interest in the Gospel, will invalidate the Gospel altogether, and plunge your souls into inevitable perdition.’
Having solemnly asserted and testified of these things, he goes on to declare what he himself, and all true Christians, looked to for their justification before God: “ ‘we,” we Apostles, we who are truly under the influence of the Spirit, “wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” We renounce every other hope whatever: we blend nothing with the merits of Christ: we look for acceptance through His righteousness alone: and we expect to obtain an interest in it, and to be made partakers of it, simply and solely by faith in Him.’]
In accordance with these are the views of every true Christian—
[Every one who is but a babe in Christ knows that he neither has, nor can have, any righteousness of his own. Having transgressed the law, he feels that he is obnoxious to its curse denounced against him; and that he must obtain some better righteousness than his own, if ever he would find acceptance with God. He looks into the Scriptures, and learns, that the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, the co-equal, co-eternal Son of God, has left his throne of glory, and assumed our nature; and in that nature has suffered the penalty which we had merited, and obeyed the law which we had broken; and has thereby “brought in an everlasting righteousness” for all who believe in him. Convinced of this, he casts himself entirely on the Lord; calling him “The Lord our Righteousness;” and saying, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” Thus, renouncing all hopes by the works of the law, he “waits for the hope of righteousness by faith” alone. He considers that righteousness as wrought out on purpose for him: he regards it as promised to him the very instant he believes in Christ: he looks to him by faith, in order to obtain an interest in it; and he “waits for” it God’s appointed time: he waits for it here, even for the manifestation of it to his soul; and he waits for it hereafter, as the ground of his acquittal at the bar of judgment, and as the ground of his elevation to the throne of glory. At no period does he hope for any thing on the ground of his own merits: and though he knows that his works shall be rewarded, he looks for that recompence, not as a reward of debt, but of grace: and to God alone does he give all the glory of his salvation, from first to last.]
As the Apostle ascribes his experience in this respect to the agency of the Holy Spirit, it will be proper for me to shew,
II. How far the Holy Spirit operates to the production of these views—
“In God we live, and move, and have our being.” But, in the economy of redemption, there is a special office assigned to the Third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, even that of applying all its benefits to the souls of men, and rendering it effectual for their salvation. It was “through the Spirit” that the Apostle waited for the hope of righteousness by faith:
1. Through his teaching in the word—
[All the prophets, from the beginning, have spoken by inspiration of God, even as they were moved by the Holy Ghost [Note: 2 Timothy 3:16. 1 Peter 1:10-11 and 2 Peter 1:21.]. Now, from the beginning has the Holy Spirit declared, that our hope of righteousness is solely by faith in Christ. To Adam, as soon as he had fallen, was it made known, that “the Seed of the woman, the Lord Jesus Christ, should bruise the serpent’s head,” and repair the evil which that wicked fiend had introduced. Abel, we arc told, “by faith offered” an acceptable sacrifice unto his God. Now this presupposes a revelation from God in relation to that sacrifice: for there can be no scope for the exercise of faith, where nothing has been revealed. Here, then, it is clear, that God had made known to Abel, that a sinner should be saved through the intervention of a sacrifice, even of that Great Sacrifice which should in due time be offered upon the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ; who is therefore called, “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Through all successive ages was this represented by a variety of types, and proclaimed in a variety of prophecies; to particularize which will be unnecessary, because St. Paul expressly affirms all that we have asserted:—“Now,” says he, “the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe [Note: Romans 3:21-22.].” Here, I say, we are not only directed to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Author of salvation, but we are told that his righteousness is the ground of our hope; that we must obtain an interest in it by faith; and that to this way of salvation both the law and the prophets have borne witness from the beginning. It is clear, therefore, that if we ever attain to it at all, it must be “through the Spirit’s” teaching in the word.]
2. Through his influence upon the soul—
[To this way of salvation man is extremely averse. He wants to have something of his own whereon to trust, and something which shall serve him as a ground of glorying before God. No human power can divert him from this: no arguments can convince him; no persuasion can move him; not all the promises or threatenings of the Scriptures can induce him to renounce all self-confidence, and rely on Christ alone. “God himself must make him willing in the day of his power.” And this work the Holy Spirit effects. “He convinces the man, of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment [Note: John 16:8.]:” of sin, so as to make him feel himself lost and utterly undone; of righteousness, so as to shew him that in Christ there is a sufficiency for the very chief of sinners; and of judgment, so as to assure him, that, by faith in this Saviour, Satan himself shall be vanquished, and bruised under his feet.
But, as man, whilst ignorant of his own sinfulness, disdains to accept of mercy in God’s appointed way; so, when his eyes are opened to see how unworthy he is, he is ready to think that God never can shew mercy to one so vile as he. Here, therefore, the Holy Spirit’s operations are again called for: and here he exerts himself effectually for the production of the desired end. Having first inclined the person, and made him willing to submit to God’s method of justifying a sinner, he next encourages and enables him to repose his confidence in God, and to accept the proffered mercy. This the Holy Spirit does, by revealing Christ unto his soul, in all the fulness of his sufficiency, and in all the freeness of his grace. He glorifies Christ: he takes of the things that are Christ’s, and shews them unto the trembling soul [Note: John 16:14.]; and thus overcomes his reluctance on the one hand, and his diffidence on the other. In this way the person is brought to see, that “righteousness is by faith” only; and to “hope” for that righteousness, yea, and to “wait for” it, till it shall please God to make known to him his interest in it, and to speak peace unto his soul.]
1. Those whose views of this subject are indistinct—
[All have “a hope of righteousness,” which, in some way or other, shall prove sufficient for their acceptance, when they go hence. But, if we come to examine the grounds of their hope, we find that few, very few, have their views clear, decided, scriptural. To renounce all dependence on our own works, to have no leaning whatever to any righteousness of our own, is a very rare attainment. If we were told, that the smallest measure of self-righteousness would make “Christ himself of no effect to us,” and leave us in the very state of the fallen angels, who have no Saviour, we should account it harsh. We are willing that the Lord Jesus Christ should have the principal share of the glory arising from our salvation, but not all. Beloved brethren, I pray you, examine into this matter: see whether you can be content to be saved precisely as one of the fallen angels would be, if he were now plucked as a brand out of the burning. You must be brought to this. Why was it that so many millions of moral and religious Jews have perished, whilst millions of immoral and idolatrous Gentiles have been saved? It has arisen from this: the Jews could not be brought to renounce all dependence on the law; whilst the Gentiles have thankfully accepted the righteousness provided for them in the Gospel. “The Jews have stumbled,” as thousands of Christians also do, “at that stumbling-stone:” for, on this account, Christ has proved to them no other than “a rock of offence;” whilst to those who have believed in him he has invariably proved a rock of salvation [Note: Romans 9:30-33.]. And this is the peculiar danger of those who are most moral, and most religiously inclined. It was the Jews, who “had a great zeal for God,” who fell into this unhappy snare, and would not submit to the righteousness provided for them in the Gospel [Note: Romans 10:2-4.]. I pray God, that you, my brethren, may not reject the overtures that are now made to you. I believe that there are many of you who have a zeal of God: but I fear that, in many cases, it is not a zeal “according to knowledge.” You do not clearly see that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness;” and that he is so to those only who “believe [Note: Romans 10:2-4.].” I beseech you, leave not this matter unexamined, and undecided, in your minds: but beg of God to reveal his Son in you; and that you may never be suffered to rest, till you can say, with the Apostle, “I desire to be found in Christ, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith [Note: Philippians 3:9.].”]
2. Those who, whilst they have these views, are afraid fully to rely upon them—
[A free and full salvation, even to the chief of sinners, and simply by faith in Christ, seems to be so rich a blessing, that it would be presumptuous in any human being to entertain a hope of it: and, from this feeling, many are led to put it away from them, as too great ever to be obtained. But, my brethren, if God has revealed it, and absolutely appointed it as the one only way in which he will receive sinners to himself, who are we that we should refuse it? This is a false humility. If we could see ourselves possessed of some worthiness, then we should be content to receive salvation at God’s hands: but, because we see our utter unworthiness, we put it from us. But this is greatly to dishonour God, and grievously to insult the Lord Jesus Christ; yea, and to do despite also to the Holy Spirit, who has revealed this salvation to us. Be content to receive all freely from God, as you receive the light of the sun, and the very air you breathe. Remember, that the more unworthy you feel yourselves to be, the more will his grace be exalted and magnified. There is a righteousness already wrought out for you, and ready to be imparted to you. It is appointed to be received simply and solely by faith. It is “the hope laid up for you in heaven:” and you are to “wait for” it, in the exercise of earnest and continual prayer. O! beg of the Holy Spirit to reveal it fully to your souls, and to overcome all your doubts and all your fears; and so to work faith in your hearts, that you may be filled with peace and joy in this world, and attain, in a better world, “the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”]
THE OFFICE AND OPERATION OF FAITH
Galatians 5:6. In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
THE peculiar character of the Gospel is, that it shews how a sinner may be justified before God; yet the generality of Christians are far from entertaining just views of this most fundamental point: they confound the different offices of faith and works. But St. Paul distinguishes them with much accuracy and precision; he invariably declares that our justification is by faith; yet, though he denies to works the office of justifying, he invariably insists on them as the fruits and evidences of our faith. Nothing can be more decisive than the declaration before us.
I. Explain it—
Man is prone to trust in outward rites and ceremonies—
[The Jews confided in the ordinance of circumcision: the Judaizing teachers also among the Christians inculcated the observance of that rite as a ground of hope: amongst ourselves also, many think it sufficient that they have been baptized, or expect to find admission into heaven because they have attended regularly at the Lord’s table.]
But no outward observances can avail for our salvation—
[An external conformity with the rule of duty may proceed from the basest principles: it may spring from a desire to obtain man’s applause, or to establish a righteousness of our own; and it may consist with the indulgence of evil tempers and vicious appetites. It cannot therefore of itself characterize the true Christian, nor can it “avail any thing” towards procuring the Divine favour. If indeed it proceed from faith and love, it will be rewarded; but if it be made the ground of our hope, it will prevent, rather than procure, our acceptance with God [Note: Galatians 5:2.].]
That which alone can avail for our acceptance with God, is “faith”—
[All the promises of God are made to faith [Note: Mark 16:16. Acts 10:43.]. It is by faith that all the saints of old obtained salvation [Note: Romans 4:3; Romans 4:6-7.]. St. Paul and St. James do not really differ respecting this [Note: St. Paul (Romans 4:1-5.) speaks of Abraham as being justified before God: St. James (2:21–23.) speaks of Abraham as manifesting his faith before man, and as justifying his pretensions to the Divine favour by a suitable conduct and conversation.], nor do any passages of Scripture really contradict it [Note: There are many expressions both in the Old and New Testament which seem to assert salvation by works: but they are only declarative of the character of those that shall he finally saved, or of God’s gracious determination to reward those works which flow from faith. If they were interpreted in any other way, they would invalidate the whole Gospel.]. If salvation be of grace, it must be by faith [Note: Romans 4:16.].]
Yet this faith must be productive of good works—
[It is not a mere notional assent to certain doctrines, nor is it a confident assurance respecting the safety of our own state; but it is a living operative principle in the heart: it is, on our part, the bond of union between Christ and our souls, and it cannot but discover itself by “works of love.—If it produce not holy tempers, and an unfeigned regard for the bodies and souls of men, it is no better than the faith of devils [Note: James 2:19.].]
The declaration in the text being explained, we shall,
I. Improve it—
Every part of Scripture, rightly understood, is profitable for the directing both of our faith and practice [Note: 2 Timothy 3:16. See the Greek.]—
We will improve this before us,
1. “For doctrine,” that is, for the establishing of true doctrine—
[The way of salvation is simply by faith in Christ: and every kind of work, ceremonial or moral [Note: The Apostle does not deny that circumcision is of any avail merely because it is a ceremonial work, but because it is a work; and because dependence on it would rob Christ of his glory. His argument therefore excludes works of whatever kind they be. Compare Galatians 2:16.], must be considered as of no avail with respect to justification before God. However necessary, however valuable, our obedience may be if performed aright, it ceases to be valuable the moment we depend upon it. This is clearly stated in the text and context [Note: Galatians 5:2-6.]; and St. Paul himself was practically persuaded of this doctrine [Note: Philippians 3:9.]. Let us then renounce all confidence in our own works, and rely wholly on the blood and righteousness of Christ.]
2. “For reproof,” that is, for the refuting of false doctrines—
[Some have argued from the text, that faith saves us as an operative principle. Thus they affirm that we are justified by something within ourselves. But faith, as a principle, is not of more value than love [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:13.]; and if we were justified by it as an operative principle, we should have room to boast, just as much as we should if we were justified by love or any other principle. The reason of our being justified by faith is, that faith unites us unto Christ, which is a property not common to any other grace. Our works do not make our faith to be good or saving, but only prove it to be so [Note: Just as fruit does not make a tree good, but only manifests it to be so.]. If our faith be genuine, we shall discover it to God by a simple dependence upon Christ, and to man by the practice of good works.]
3. “For correction” of unrighteous conduct—
[It must be confessed that many profess faith in Christ while their lives are unworthy of the Gospel: but such persons stand condemned even by their own profession. No faith is of any avail, but such as “works by love.” Let professors then weigh themselves in the balance of the sanctuary; let them examine their tempers, dispositions, and actions; let them acknowledge that a proud, envious, passionate, unforgiving, covetous, or selfish Christian, is as much a contradiction in terms, as an adulterous or murderous Christian; let them put away either their profession or their sins.]
4. “For instruction in righteousness”—
[To point out all the offices of love would be tedious. Let us contemplate it as set forth by the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13.; — — — and, not content with any measure that we have attained, let us abound in it more and more [Note: If this were the subject of a Charity Sermon, it would be proper to open here the nature, excellence, and importance of the particular institution which was to be benefited; and then to exhort the benevolent in general, and believers in particular, to give it their liberal support.].]
OFFENCE OF THE CROSS
Galatians 5:11. Then is the offence of the cross ceased.
THE Gospel, in the first ages, was an object of hatred and persecution both amongst Jews and Gentiles: to the Jews it was a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23.]:” and it was the one constant labour of them both to corrupt it; the one by their traditions; the other by that which was falsely called philosophy. Hence, whilst those opposite parties felt the utmost contempt for each other, they united their efforts against Christianity; as Herod and Pontius Pilate had done for the destruction of its Founder.
In the passage before us, St. Paul is guarding his converts against the attempts of the Judaizing teachers; who sought to bring back their brethren to a dependence on the law, and who laboured even to subject the Gentile converts also to an observance of the Mosaic ritual. Circumcision, in particular, was that which these teachers insisted on as ordained of God and as of perpetual obligation. St. Paul tells the Galatians, that the whole of the Mosaic ritual was abrogated; and that they must never suffer any one to bring them into subjection to it [Note: ver. 1.]. If he would have consented that the Jews should blend the Law with the Gospel, they would have been well pleased with him and with his doctrines too: “If,” says he, “I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? for then is the offence of the cross ceased.”
From these words I will endeavour to shew,
1. Whence it is that the doctrine of the cross gives offence—
The doctrine of the cross is simply that declaration, that Christ died upon the cross for our redemption, and that through his obedience unto death we must obtain favour with God — — —
Now this doctrine uniformly gives offence to those who hear it, whether they be Jews or Gentiles. For it is,
1. An humiliating doctrine—
[It brings down all men upon a level; so far, at least, that they must renounce all dependence on themselves, and seek for salvation solely through the righteousness of another. It leaves no room for any man to boast, or to glory in any thing that he possesses. The best, as well as the worst, must owe their salvation simply and entirely to Christ, from first to last — — —]
2. An unaccommodating doctrine—
[It will not bend to men’s prejudices or passions: nor must its advocates “give way to any one, no, not for an hour.” Moral works, as well as ceremonial, must be excluded utterly from the office of justifying the soul; and the whole glory must be given to Christ alone — — —]
3. A peremptory doctrine—
[It appeals not to our reason, but demands assent to its dictates. It requires the most perfect submission to all that it inculcates; and threatens with eternal damnation every one who withholds his assent from its truths, or his obedience to its commands. Its plain declaration is, “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned.”
On these grounds, I say, it is hated. It is esteemed licentious, bigoted, severe: licentious, as denying any merit to works, and therefore cutting off all motives for the performance of them; bigoted, as admitting of no relaxation, but binding all persons to receive it simply as it is; and severe, as denouncing such heavy judgments on all who cannot bring their minds to embrace it.]
The Apostle clearly supposes that this character is essential to the Gospel; and that it will, to the remotest ages, give the same offence. We inquire therefore,
II. Why it can never cease to do so—
Two reasons may be assigned;
1. The Gospel must ever remain the same—
[No alteration has ever taken place in it, or ever can take place. It is a revelation of the way which God has devised for the salvation of fallen man. He gave up his only-begotten Son to die for us, and by his own blood to make an atonement for our sins. The Lord Jesus Christ has executed this great work, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. “That cross we preach,” as the one only means of reconciling man to God: and all the servants of God have but this one testimony to bear; namely, that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.].” We have nothing to announce about the merits of man: we are not authorized to make any distinction between one man and another: we are to bear the same testimony to all, whether Jews or Greeks, bond or free: and without hesitation must we declare to all, that “no other foundation of hope for sinful man can ever be laid, than that which God has laid, which is Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.];” and that “there is no other name given under heaven whereby any man can be saved [Note: Acts 4:12.].”
Now, if this could admit of any change, or any modification, we might hope to please men: but we are shut up to this: we can preach nothing else; and they must hear nothing else: and if they will not receive this, there is no alternative left them: perish they must, and under an accumulated condemnation too: for they will be judged, not only as transgressors of the law, but as despisers of the Gospel also; and, consequently, will have a far sorer punishment to bear, than if they had never heard of the salvation provided for them.]
2. Human nature ever remains the same—
[Men are born into the world with all the same propensities as they were in the apostolic age. Man has, by nature, the same pride of heart, that rises against the humiliating doctrines before specified. Every one wishes to have within himself some ground of glorying. To be stripped naked, as it were, without so much as one “rag of righteousness,” as the Scripture expresses it, to cover him [Note: Isaiah 64:6.], is more than he can endure. To be nothing, that Christ may be all, is a hard lesson.
Again: the heart of man is as worldly as ever: it affects not the things that are above, but the things only of time and sense. But the same Gospel which requires such self-renunciation in its principles, requires no less self-denial in its practice. We must “live not in any degree to ourselves,” but wholly and unchangeably “unto Him who died for us, and rose again.” To this our carnal hearts will not submit: and until the heart be changed by grace, it will ever quarrel with these appointments, as unreasonably precise. In no point of view whatever is the Gospel palatable to the carnal mind: let a new heart be given to a man, and all will be well: but, whilst the heart of man continues what it is, “the offence of the cross can never cease.”]
1. Let none reject the Gospel on account of the offence attaching to it—
[Many conceive the doctrine of the cross must be erroneous, because it is everywhere spoken against. But, if this is any argument against the doctrine now, it was so equally in the apostolic age; for the enmity of mankind against it was most inveterate and universal. I will certainly grant, that the existence of enmity against any doctrine will not of itself prove that doctrine to be true; for then the most pernicious tenets of the wildest enthusiasts would have a claim to our belief. But this is certain, that any Gospel which gives no offence, must be false. There are multitudes who hear what they call the Gospel, and are extremely well pleased with it: the worldly approve it: the self-righteous approve it: even the most profligate find no fault with it. Can that, I ask, be the Gospel which Paul preached? It is impossible. I know, indeed, that there is a way of preaching even truth itself without offence: but the truth, the whole truth delivered with authority as the truth of God must give offence. Men have no alternative left them, but to be offended with the preacher, or with themselves. And the very offence which they take is so far from being an argument against the doctrines they have heard, that it is a presumptive argument in their favour. If, then, you hear the doctrine of the cross firmly stated, and find that it gives offence, take it and compare it with the doctrine which St. Paul delivered: and, if you find that it accords with his, then embrace it, and hold it fast, and glory in it; saying, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by which the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world,”]
2. Let none cause others to reject it, by giving any needless offence—
[Many who have embraced the Gospel are sadly inattentive to the feelings and prejudices of those around them. They will run into many absurdities, without ever considering what stumbling-blocks they lay in the way of their unconverted brethren. Some give great offence by the crude and partial statements which they make of the Gospel; and others, by the harsh, uncharitable, and contemptuous way in which they speak of those who do not accord with their views. It is a great misfortune to the world to have such persons connected with them; because they are almost of necessity led to impute to the Gospel itself the indiscretions and absurdities of those who profess it. Let these incautious professors consider what evil they do, and what guilt they contract: for if there is a “woe to the world because of offences, there is a double woe to those by whom the offence cometh.” As for those who cause “the way of truth to be evil spoken of” by their inconsistent conduct, by their neglect of their own proper calling; for instance, by a want of truth in their words, or integrity in their dealings; “let them look to it;” for evil is before them: and the very Gospel which they so dishonour will plunge them into tenfold perdition. Let all who profess the Gospel see to it, “that they give no needless offence in any thing.” Let them rather be far more observant of the whole of their duty, that they may “give no occasion to the enemy to speak reproachfully:” and let it be their one continued care to “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”]
WALKING IN THE SPIRIT, A PRESERVATIVE FROM SIN
Galatians 5:16. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
IN the Church of God, no less than in the ungodly world, there have always been found persons ready to foment divisions, and to kindle animosities between man and man. It was so in the apostolic age: it is so at this day: and it must of necessity be so, as long as tares are left growing amongst the wheat, or persons professing godliness suffer themselves to be led captive by a proud, unmortified, and contentious spirit. In the Galatian Church, persons of this description abounded: and to such a height did their contentions arise, that the Apostle was constrained to give them this solemn warning: “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another [Note: ver. 15.].”
Now, how shall this propensity be counteracted? The Apostle tells us, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” Let us consider then,
I. The direction here given—
Before we can enter fully into the passage before us, we must explain the terms which the Apostle uses to convey his sentiments. The whole context shews that there are two principles in the regenerate man; one which is called flesh, and another which is called spirit: the one comprehending all which we bring into the world with us, and which is common to the natural man; the other importing that better principle which is infused into the soul by the Spirit of God, when he quickens us to a new and heavenly life: as our Lord says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit [Note: John 3:6.].” Sin of every kind is the fruit of the former; and holiness of every kind is the offspring of the latter. Amongst “the works of the flesh,” the Apostle numbers “idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulation, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies [Note: ver. 20.]:” which shews, that we are not, when speaking of “the lusts or desires of the flesh,” to confine our views to sins which are acted in and by the body; but to take in all the corruptions of our nature, in mind as well as body. With this explanation, we shall the more easily see, that, to “walk in the Spirit,” we must walk,
1. In a constant attention to the new principle infused into us—
[I cannot give a more just idea of this new principle, which the Spirit of God imparts to us in our conversion, than by comparing it with the modern invention of the compass. Before the invention of the compass, mariners, in a dark night, were unable with any precision to direct their course. Whilst they were in sight of land, or had a view of the sun or stars, they could proceed with some degree of certainty: but, in the absence of these, they were altogether at a loss. But it is not so with mariners at this time. By the help of the compass they can by night steer the ship, as well as in the day; having constantly at hand, as it were, a sure directory. Now this is the difference between the natural and the spiritual man: the natural man has reason and conscience, which, to a certain degree, are capable of directing his path. But numberless occasions arise whereon they fail him utterly. The spiritual man has, superadded to these, a new and living principle abiding in him; a principle infused into him by the Spirit of God, and in exact accordance with his mind and will: and by this principle the Spirit himself guides him in all his way. The spiritual man, therefore, in every doubt or difficulty, should consult this divine principle within him; and see its bearings, and follow its directions. And as the mariner, whilst he observes his compass, consults also his chart and maps; so must we, whilst attending to the motions of this principle, consult also the directory which God has given us in the Holy Scriptures: and by means of these observations we shall be kept from any great aberrations from the way of truth. This process, however, must be continued throughout all our way: we must not only live in the Spirit, but must “walk in the Spirit,” every step we take [Note: ver. 25.] — — —]
2. In a humble dependence on that Divine Spirit who has infused it—
[The new principle within us may suggest what is right; but it cannot enable us for the performance of it: for all power to do the will of God, we must be indebted altogether to the Spirit of God. Our blessed Lord expressly says, “Without me ye can do nothing [Note: John 15:5.].” There is no surer cause of failure than self-confidence and self-dependence. Peter, and with him all the other Disciples, declared that they would follow their Lord even unto death: but no sooner did the trial come, than “they all forsook him and fled.” And we, too, if we make resolutions in our own strength, shall learn, by bitter experience, that “he who trusteth in his own heart, is a fool [Note: Proverbs 28:26.].” We must be careful, too, not to make any difference between matters of greater or lesser difficulty, as though we were competent for the one any more than the other. We must, in the whole course of our journey, depend on God alone: we are never, for a moment, to feel strong in ourselves, but “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might [Note: Ephesians 6:10.]:” and in every step that we take, we must cry, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe [Note: Psalms 119:117.].”]
To this direction the Apostle adds,
II. Our encouragement to the observance of it—
We have before shewn, that by the “lusts of the flesh” we are to understand all the motions of our corrupt nature: and from these we shall be preserved, if we follow the direction given us in our text. But here we must carefully distinguish between what is promised, and what is not.
1. It is not promised that we shall not be tempted by the lusts of the flesh—
[The carnal principle still remains with us after we are renewed; as the Apostle says, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit, against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things ye would [Note: ver. 17.].” If, on the one hand, our spiritual principle keeps us from following the evil bias of our nature; so, on the other hand, the remainder of the carnal principle within us keeps us from following so fully as we could wish the dictates of our renewed mind. The Apostle Paul himself complained, that “when he would do good, evil was present with him;” and that, notwithstanding he delighted in the law of God after his inward man, “he had still a law in his members, warring against the law of his mind, and at times bringing him, in some degree, into captivity to the law of sin which was in his members [Note: Romans 7:21-23.].” And we, too, shall find the same, even to our dying hour. But,]
2. It is promised that we shall not fulfil them—
[God will “strengthen us by his Spirit in our inward man [Note: Ephesians 3:16.],” and enable us to “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts [Note: ver. 24.].” Weak as we are in ourselves, “nothing shall be impossible to us,” if we trust in Him [Note: Matthew 17:20.]: he will “give us more grace [Note: James 4:6.],” and “strength according to our day [Note: Deuteronomy 33:25.].” Whatever be our temptations, “the grace of Christ shall be sufficient for us [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.];” and “we shall be enabled to do all things through Christ, who strengthens us [Note: Philippians 4:13.].”]
From this subject we may clearly learn,
1. What is the great work we have to do—
[The one employment which we have daily to attend to, is, to be putting off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and to be “putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:22-24.].” We are here as in a great hospital, where the process of healing is going forward, and many are convalescent; but we need still to apply the same remedies; and we are none of us possessed of that measure of health which we hope to attain previous to our dismission. We follow still the prescriptions of our physician; and we hope, in so doing, to obtain, in due season, a perfect recovery — — —]
2. The need we have of constant vigilance and exertion—
[The old principle, as has been observed, still remains within us: and, if we be not constantly on our guard, it will regain its former ascendency over us. A stronger army, if the sentinels fall asleep, may be surprised and vanquished by troops that are far inferior: and we too, notwithstanding the power given us by the indwelling Spirit, shall surely be overcome, if we be not constantly on our watch-tower. We must be prepared to meet our adversary at his first approach. Our blessed Lord says, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation:” and the sad consequences of sleeping on our post may be seen in the Disciples, when they failed to observe this important admonition [Note: Matthew 26:41; Matthew 26:43; Matthew 26:56.]. Corruption will often put on the appearance of virtue, and Satan assume the garb of an angel of light [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:14.]: but if we be on our guard, we shall detect his devices; and “if we resist him manfully, he will flee from us [Note: James 4:7.].”]
3. The security that is afforded us, if we be only faithful to ourselves—
[God assures us of success, if only we follow his directions. “If we sow to the flesh, we shall of the flesh reap corruption: but if we sow to the Spirit, we shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting [Note: Galatians 6:7-8.].” In two respects shall we be placed on a totally different footing from that on which we stood before: we shall not be judged according to the perfect law, which condemns us for the smallest act of disobedience; for, “if we walk in the Spirit, we are not under the law [Note: ver. 18.]:” on the contrary, our imperfect obedience shall be eternally rewarded: for God would deem himself “unrighteous, if he were to forget” any thing that we do for his sake [Note: Hebrews 6:10.]. With boldness, then, I say to every one amongst you, “Be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, and you may rest assured that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:58.].”]
THE PRINCIPLES OF FLESH AND SPIRIT CONSIDERED
Galatians 5:17. The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
IT might be naturally imagined, that, from the moment of our conversion to God, the transformation of the soul into the Divine image should proceed so rapidly, as soon to extirpate sin altogether. But God has not seen fit so to carry on his work in his people’s hearts. The Canaanites were not rooted out of the land at once, but “by little and little [Note: Deuteronomy 7:22. with Numb. 23:55.]:” and so it is with our spiritual enemies: they have strong-holds, from which they cannot be expelled, but by means of a long-protracted warfare. They remain, to be “thorns in our eyes and in our sides;” and ultimately in a more conspicuous manner to subserve the glory of God in their final extirpation. The best of men have yet within them two contrary and contending principles; the one being used by Satan as an instrument for the defeating of God’s gracious purposes towards them; the other being employed by God for the furthering and securing of their eternal welfare. To what an extent the conflict between the two is sometimes carried, may be seen in the Galatian converts, many of whom betrayed by their contentious dispositions how great an ascendant the evil principle yet retained over them, notwithstanding all the professions of piety which they made, and the distinguished advantages they enjoyed. The Apostle did not mean to extenuate, and much less to excuse, the sinfulness of their instable and contentious conduct; but he exhorts them to walk more entirely under the influence of the Holy Spirit, as the only means of securing them against the evil propensities which they had manifested, and of carrying on unto perfection the good work that had been begun in them [Note: ver. 16.].
In speaking of the two principles mentioned in our text, we shall notice,
I. Their united existence—
There yet remains in God’s people an evil principle, which is here designated by the name of “flesh”—
[Man, since the fall of our first parents, is born into the world a corrupt creature: for “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” He is depraved in all the members of his body, and in all the faculties of his soul: there is no part which is not defiled and debased by sin; the understanding is become dark; the will perverse; the affections sensual; the conscience seared; the memory retentive only of things that are gratifying to the carnal mind. However this depravity may be checked by grace, it is not extirpated: it remains like the infection in the leprous house, and will remain till the house itself is levelled with the ground.]
But there is also in them a new heaven-born principle, which is called “spirit”—
[This is spoken of by our blessed Lord as contradistinguished from the other, and in precisely the same terms: “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit [Note: John 3:6.].” Under the term “flesh,” he includes all that we bring into the world with us, and all that characterizes us as men: but the “spirit” is that which makes and designates us new men, or “new creatures in Christ Jesus.” Indeed, it is called “the new man,” as the other is “the old man;” and is “a renewal in the spirit of our mind,” after the “very image of our God, in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:22-24.].” This new principle is infused into the soul at the time of our regeneration; and it is, if I may so speak, the seminal principle of our conversion. At the instant of its infusion into the soul, we are “quickened from the dead,” and “pass from death unto life.” Previously to the communication of it to us from above, we are like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision: we may have the form of men, but we are not living men: it is not till we have received that, that “Christ liveth in us;” but then “Christ himself becomes our life [Note: Galatians 2:20; Galatians 4:19 and Colossians 3:4.].” Now this principle co-exists with the former: it does not at once expel the former; nor is itself barred out by the former: but it enters into, and occupies, the whole man, even as the former did; and, according to the measure in which it is imparted, it communicates light to the understanding, submission to the will, heavenliness to the affections, tenderness to the conscience, and to the memory a tenacious apprehension of all that is good. From the time of its existence in the soul, it becomes a second self, a spiritual self as distinguished from the carnal self; agreeably to what the Apostle has repeatedly said for the purpose of distinguishing the more fully the actings of the two contrary principles: “It is no more I that do this evil, but sin that dwelleth in me [Note: Romans 7:17; Romans 7:20.].”]
Both these principles being strong and active in the soul, we will consider,
II. Their contrary operations—
The flesh is always striving to regain its former ascendency over us—
[The members of our bodies are but its agents and instruments: the chief seat of its residence is the soul; in every faculty of which it works, to “bring forth fruit unto death.” In the understanding, it suggests proud reasonings against the revealed will of God, prompting us to dispute the authority of his precepts, the truth of his promises, the justice of his threatenings, and the wisdom of that mysterious plan of redemption which he has devised for the recovery of fallen man. In the will, it stirs up rebellion against him, and a determination to follow “its own corrupt and deceitful lusts.” In the affections, it magnifies the things of time and sense, so as to make them, if not the only, at least the chief, objects of its pursuit. In the conscience, it produces such blindness and partiality, as to force from it a sentence of condemnation or acquittal, not according to truth, but according to its own predominant habits and inclinations. Nor does the memory escape its baneful influence, being filled by it with all manner of corrupt images, which from time to time it presents to the imagination, as the means of corrupting the heart, and enslaving the soul.
The better principle, on the other hand, protests against all the workings of the flesh, and presents to the mind such considerations as are calculated to awaken the tempted soul to a sense of its guilt and danger. Especially it reminds the soul of the obligations it owes to God the Father and to the Lord Jesus Christ for all the wonders of redeeming love; and provokes it to high and heavenly pursuits. What is said of the Holy Spirit may also be said of this divine principle which is formed in the soul; namely, that “when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit lifts up a standard against him.” The standard of the cross especially is that by which it calls forth into activity all the powers of the soul, and unites them in the service of their God. The reflux of a tide may not unfitly illustrate its operation on the soul. The flesh, like a majestic river, runs with irresistible impetuosity towards the ocean, till the tide begins to flow; and then, from an invisible but mighty influence, its waves are staid, till by degrees its current is turned back again towards the source from whence it emanated. This in the material world is but the process of a few hours; but in the spiritual world it is the work of the whole life. The dominance of the flesh is exhibited in the progress of the river to the ocean; the conflicts and triumphs of the spirit are depicted in the reversal of its course, and the progress towards the fountain-head.]
In this however the illustration fails, that when the tide has once overcome the resistance of the river, the conflict ceases: but it is not so with the Christian’s conflicts: they continue to the end; and may perhaps be better compared with a conflagration which is opposed by engines, where the supply of water is scarcely equal to the demand: sometimes the fire yields to the well-directed stream; and at other times it breaks forth with renewed fury, and seems to defy the efforts of those who would arrest its progress. This, I say, will place in the justest view the operations of the two principles within us, and enable us to comprehend,
III. Their combined effects—
Acting always in opposition the one to the other, they prevent us from following either to the extent that we should, if there were but one principle within us. Through the simultaneous actings of each,
1. We do not serve sin as we did—
[We did follow it with constancy and alacrity, and without remorse. But not so now. The better principle will not admit of it. Like the angel that was sent to Balaam, it presents itself in our way to obstruct our course; and, if we overcome it on one occasion, it will meet us again, and renew its opposition till it has prevailed. Nor can we now so easily run into evil. Sin now appears to he sin, and consequently to be an object of aversion and dread: and, though its solicitations may prevail, we yield to them rather as a captive that is dragged against his will, than as persons following the bent and inclination of their own hearts. Now too we can no longer wipe our mouth, like the adulteress, and say, What evil have I done [Note: Proverbs 30:20.]? Remorse and shame are now the followers of transgression: and an evil thought now occasions more pain in the soul, than formerly the perpetration of the act. Thus the corrupt principle, though not extirpated, is obstructed, and ceases to maintain an undisputed sway.]
2. Nor do we serve God as we would—
[The renewed soul pants after universal holiness: it would be pure as God is pure, and perfect as God is perfect. It would believe every word of God without the smallest hesitation or doubt: but unbelief creeps in, and weakens the energy of our faith. We would love God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength; but the contracted soul cannot expand itself to the occasion. We would draw nigh to him in prayer and praise, and hold most intimate fellowship with the Father and the Son; but the heart “starts aside as a deceitful bow,” and, like a bird entangled in a snare, is incapable of executing its most ardent desires. In a word, the renewed soul would be satisfied with no exertions, however great; no services, however eminent; no enjoyment of God, however intimate: it aspires after absolute perfection, and a total transformation into the Divine image. But, alas! its attainments fall infinitely short of its desires, and it is constrained to cry, “O that I had wings like a dove! then would I flee away and be at rest!”
That this is no false representation of the Christian’s state, may be seen from the account which St. Paul himself gives of his own experience. Of the united existence of these two principles, and of their contrary operations within him, and of their combined effects, he speaks at large in the seventh chapter to the Romans: “He had a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin, which was in his members:” “When he would do good, evil was present with him;” so that “the good which he would, he did not, and the evil which he would not, that he did.” “To will indeed was present with him; but how to perform that which was good, he found not.” Hence, feeling himself like a poor captive chained to a putrid corpse, which he was compelled to drag about with him to the latest period of his existence, he brake forth into this mournful complaint, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death [Note: Romans 7:14-24.]?”]
From this subject we may draw many important lessons.—It is of use,
1. For instruction—
[How shall I know whether I am a Christian indeed? Shall I know it by a freedom from all anxieties, or by a deliverance from all sin? No; but by an earnest anxiety about the soul, and an incessant conflict with sin and Satan. A body, when dead, is insensible, whatever be the state to which it is reduced: and, if the soul be insensible of its state, it is a proof that it is dead also. A living soul trembles at the Divine judgments; labours to obtain a well-founded hope of peace with God; flees to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge, and cleaves to him with full purpose of heart. Being united unto Christ by faith, the believer enlists under his banners, and, as a good soldier, heartily engages in a conflict with all his enemies. Never for a moment will he turn his back; he may be wounded, but he will not yield; he may be beaten down, but he will rise again to renew the combat: he will never put off his armour, till he is crowned with victory, and beholds “Satan himself bruised under his feet.”
Now, if we will ascertain our real state before God, let us inquire, what we know of this spiritual warfare? Is it begun? Is it carried on vet daily? Are we like soldiers in a camp, watching with all care, withstanding firmly the assaults of our enemies, and in our turn vigorously pursuing them to their strong-holds, and suffering none to approach us with impunity? Yes, verily, if we are Christians indeed, we are “warring a good warfare,” and “fighting the good fight of faith.” There may be, as in earthly campaigns, short seasons of comparative ease: but if we truly belong to Christ, this is our one business, our one employment, to walk in the Spirit, and to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts [Note: Galatians 5:24-25.].]
2. For consolation—
[No man can be engaged in this warfare without feeling deeply humbled on account of the strength and number of his corruptions. Many will be his sighs, his tears, his groans: yes, “even they who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even they will groan within themselves,” will “groan, I say, being burthened [Note: Romans 8:23.],” longing to get rid of their corruptions, and to have “mortality, with all its attendant evils, swallowed up of life [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:4.].” But, if sin be our burthen, it is at least a comfort to us to reflect, that we are enabled to feel it a burthen: for there was a time, when it was harboured and indulged without remorse. This too is a source of comfort, that, in this struggle within us, the younger shall prevail [Note: Genesis 25:23. Romans 5:12.]; “however sin may have abounded, grace shall much more abound; and as sin has formerly reigned unto death, so shall grace ultimately reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord [Note: Romans 5:20-21.].” Doubtless the conflicts will be painful to flesh and blood: but by them shall the soul be trained for heaven, and be made “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.” Go on then, stripling as thou art, believer, against the Goliath that menaces thy existence: and know that thou mayest enter into the combat, singing, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”]
3. For direction—
[Whatever your attainments be, “walk humbly with God.” Were you as perfect as Job, it would still become you, on account of your remaining corruptions, to acknowledge yourselves “vile,” and to “repent and abhor yourselves in dust and ashes.” — — — Be watchful too against your spiritual enemies. With hearts so deceitful and corrupt as yours, and in the midst of an ensnaring world, surrounded too by myriads of evil spirits, whose devices none but God can understand, how can you hope to maintain your steadfastness, if you stand not upon your watch-tower, and guard against every motion of your corrupt nature? — — — And never for a moment turn away your eyes from the Lord Jesus Christ. Where can you wash away your past iniquities, but in the fountain of his blood? Or where can you obtain grace sufficient for your daily necessities, but out of the fulness which is treasured up for you in him? — — — Lastly, continue instant in prayer. Nothing can come to you but in answer to prayer; (for “if you ask not, neither will you have;”) nor shall any thing be wanting to you, if only you ask it of God for Christ’s sake. Examine your own hearts, or inquire of others what their experience has been, and you will find it invariably true, that your victories or defeats have been proportioned to your urgency in prayer, or your remissness in that holy duty. As in the days of old, whilst Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed; but when his hands hanged down, success was transferred to Amalek; so it is in every age, with every saint. Watch therefore unto prayer; continue instant in prayer: “give unto your God no rest day or night:” plead with him: wrestle with him as Jacob did: and you shall find “your inward man renewed day by day,” till the work of grace that has been begun in you is perfected, and consummated in glory.]
THE CHRISTIAN FREED FROM THE LAW
Galatians 5:18. If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
TO understand these words aright, we must notice, first the general scope of the whole epistle, and then, the particular scope of the more immediate context. The epistle itself was written to establish the doctrine of justification by faith alone, without the deeds of the law; in opposition to the Judaizing teachers, who insisted on the necessity of observing the Jewish ritual, in order to form a justifying righteousness, or, at all events, to increase and confirm their interest in Christ. In support of his argument, the Apostle shews, that though the Law was, as a preparatory dispensation, subservient to the Gospel, it was, as a ground of hope before God, directly opposed to the Gospel; so that they could not consist together, either in whole or in part; and any attempt to blend the Law with the Gospel would invalidate the Gospel altogether, and render “Christ himself of no effect [Note: ver. 2, 4.].” But, as this controversy had been carried on with great vehemence, and had produced a very grievous irritation in the minds of the contending parties, St. Paul, after establishing the truth on a basis that could not be shaken, and enjoining his converts to “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free, and on no account to suffer themselves to be entangled any more with the yoke of bondage,” goes on to say, “Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty: only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another: for all the law is fulfilled in one word, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But, if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say, then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would; but, if ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” This, you perceive, is the immediate context, wherein the Apostle cautions the Galatians against either abusing their liberty, or maintaining it with an unchristian spirit; since, if they acted as became their holy profession, they would exercise nothing but love, either towards their friends or their enemies. And this he trusted they would do; because they had within themselves a spiritual principle, which, though strongly and perseveringly opposed by the carnal principle yet remaining in them, would ultimately prevail: and the effectual operation of that better principle would be sufficient of itself to prove that they were not under the law; since the law could never accomplish so blessed a work; whereas the very design of the Gospel, and its invariable effect, was to produce it. The dominance of the better principle was a proof that they were “not under the law, but under grace [Note: Romans 6:14.].”
This I apprehend to be the precise import of the passage before us: wherein we see a state presumed; namely, that the true Christian is “led by the Spirit:” and a privilege inseparably connected with that state; namely, that the person so living is not under the law.
To these points I will now address myself, in their order.
Let us first notice,
I. The state presumed—
It is here taken for granted, that every child of God “is led by the Spirit.” But, whether we are to understand this expression as referring to the Holy Ghost, or to that spiritual principle which is infused into us by the Spirit of God, it is not easy to determine. I rather prefer the latter sense, as more immediately suggested by the context: and it is certain that our Lord speaks of that divine principle under the very term which is here used; “That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit [Note: John 3:6.].” By being “led by the Spirit,” then, I understand the being under the influence of a spiritual principle, in opposition to that carnal principle which directs and governs the natural man. And this really characterizes every true Christian. Not only does he possess a new and spiritual nature; but in him,
1. It gains the ascendant—
[We acknowledge, that in him the old man still remains; and that the law of sin still works in his members, to bring forth fruit unto death. But there is in him a new man, a law in his mind, which counteracts his evil propensities, and enables him finally to overcome them. True, indeed, the conflict is often severe; and the saint will at all times be constrained to say, “The good which I would, I do not; and the evil which I would not, that I do.” Still, however, through grace he gains the victory over his corruptions, and is daily renewed in the spirit of his mind after the Divine image. Though tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, “he triumphs over them all in Christ Jesus [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:14.];” and with his groans for more entire deliverance mingles this song of praise, “Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Romans 7:21; Romans 7:25.]!”]
2. It forms his taste—
[Outward victory may be gained to a great extent, whilst yet the heart remains unchanged. But where this new principle really exists, the man will hate the things which once he loved, and love the things which once he hated. Though he may still be tempted in a variety of ways, he will feel, in a measure, as our Lord himself did under the temptations of Satan. There will be less of the inflammable matter in his soul for the fiery darts of Satan to fix upon; and a greater plenty of water at hand, even of the Spirit of God, to counteract the first action of the fire upon his soul. There will also be a greater delight in heavenly things; so that he will engage in them with greater ease, and find himself more in his element, when employed in holy exercises. We may conceive what would be the taste of an angel, if sent down to sojourn for a time on earth; with what indifference he would behold the things of time and sense; and with what a zest he would perform the will of God: and thus the true Christian, though far, alas! from any thing like angelic attainments, will lose his relish for the things which he once affected, and will savour those things only which are suited to the spiritual mind. And this will serve him as a criterion whereby to judge of his state before God. He may for a time be driven, by the force of temptation, from that which his soul supremely affects, even as the needle may be forced from its wonted rest: but let the opportunity once return for the discovery of his real feelings, and he will turn to his God, even as the needle to the pole: and by that he will shew whose attractions he delights in, and whose motions he obeys.]
3. It regulates his life—
[The aberrations of the more advanced Christian will be comparatively small and transient. Though in the world, he will not be of the world. Whether he move amongst the higher classes, or in. the humblest walk of life, there will be a consistency about him: he will be “the man of God” in all places, and in. all situations: “he will shine as a light in a dark world;” and “his light will shine more and more unto the perfect day.” The spiritual principle within him is compared by our Lord to a fountain of water; which pours not out its streams like an engine wrought upon from without; but sends them forth by a power from within, and “springs up, as it were, unto everlasting life.” Behold him day or night, and he is still the same; a blessing to the world, an ornament to his profession, an honour to his God.]
Let not any one suppose that this is an imaginary character, drawn only to serve a purpose: it is a real character; and, though doubtless it exists in different degrees, it really distinguishes every child of God: and In my text we see,
II. The privilege inseparably connected with it—
He is not under the law—
[He has nothing to fear from its curses; because the Saviour, in whom he has believed, and from whom he has received the gift of the Holy Ghost, has borne them for him. He has no dependence on its promises; seeing that he has a better righteousness than that can ever afford to fallen man; even the righteousness of Christ himself imputed to him, and made his by faith. Not even its commands have the same terrific influence on his mind which they had in his unconverted state. For though he still feels bound to obey them, he does not obey them with the same slavish fear which once oppressed his mind: they are no longer to him the terms of salvation, on a perfect compliance with which his everlasting happiness depends: they are to him rather the expressions of his Father’s will, which it is the joy of his soul to fulfil and execute. His real state in relation to the law, is like that of a woman to her deceased husband. He was once altogether under its authority, whilst in his unconverted state; but when he embraced the Gospel, the Law became dead with respect to him, and he dead with respect to it: and, though he still makes it the rule of his life, he obeys it through grace communicated to him by the Lord Jesus; to whom, as a woman on her second marriage, he now bears fruit unto holiness [Note: Romans 7:1-4.].]
Of his liberation. from the law he has within himself a clear and decisive evidence—
[This I conceive to be the true meaning of my text. He is under the prevailing influence of the Holy Spirit, and of a new nature implanted by him: but “whence did he receive the Holy Spirit? Was it under the law, or by the hearing of faith [Note: Galatians 3:2.]?” It was by the hearing of faith, no doubt; that is, by the Gospel of Christ, who purchased for his people the gift of the Holy Spirit, and who sends forth his Spirit upon all who believe in him [Note: Galatians 3:14.]. “What the law could not do for him, in that it was weak through the flesh, the Gospel has done: “it has destroyed the power of sin” within him; and enabled him to “walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [Note: Romans 8:3-4.].” Hence he is assured that “there is no condemnation to him:” for if “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus have made him free from the law of sin,” it has also freed him from “death,” which is the consequence of sin [Note: Romans 8:1-2.]. Behold, then, the liberty into which he is introduced: “Being delivered from the power of darkness, he is translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son [Note: Colossians 1:13.];” and, “being made free by him, he is become free indeed [Note: John 8:36.].”]
From this subject, I cannot but urge upon you two words of advice:
1. Take care that your principles are pure and evangelical—
[It is thought by many, that if our outward conduct be correct, we need not he under any anxiety resecting the principles which we profess. But, is it of no consequence whether we continue under the law, or whether we embrace the Gospel? Are we not expressly told, that “as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse [Note: Galatians 3:10.]?” Are we not also told, that “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons [Note: Galatians 4:4-5.]?” Is it of no importance, then, whether we lie under this curse, or be redeemed from it? Would God have used such means for our redemption, if it had been a matter of indifference whether we were redeemed or not? Take the Apostle Paul in his unconverted state: “he was, as touching the righteousness which was in the law blameless [Note: Philippians 3:6.]:” but yet he found afterwards, that, had he died in his unconverted state, he must have perished for ever [Note: Romans 7:9-10.]. So, indeed, must all of you, who cleave to the law as a covenant of works, instead of laying hold of the covenant of grace. Nothing can be more clearly declared than this: Be your advantages or attainments what they may, if you go about to establish your own righteousness, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God, you must perish [Note: Romans 9:30-33; Romans 10:3.]. The very law itself is intended to “lead you to Christ [Note: Galatians 3:24.];” and “He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth [Note: Romans 10:4.].” I call you, then, to believe in Christ for salvation, and, like the Apostle, to renounce your own righteousness altogether, that you may be found in Christ, and be accepted through “the righteousness which is by faith in him [Note: Philippians 3:9.].”]
2. Take care that your conduct be such as becometh the Gospel of Christ—
[You clearly see, in my text, that principles and conduct must go together: neither will stand without the other. Without faith in Christ, you can never hope to receive the Holy Spirit, or to be renewed in the spirit of your mind: nor, on the other hand, will any change whatever avail you, if you rely not entirely on the Lord Jesus Christ for righteousness and salvation. It is in vain to build a superstructure, if it be not founded on Him; and it is in vain to think you are founded on him, if your faith do not manifest itself by a superstructure of good works. You must never forget, that “faith without works is dead.” You must “be led by the Spirit of God, if ever you would approve yourselves sons of God [Note: Romans 8:14.].” The world, as I have before shewn you, must be put under your feet: sin, in all its actings, must be mortified and subdued: the whole soul must be given up to God; and holiness become the very element in which you breathe and live. Indeed, it is not a mere formal observance of duties that will suffice: we must “have the very mind that was in Christ,” and “walk in all things as Christ himself walked.” This will be our evidence, that we are really his: for then only can it be known that “we are not under the law, but under grace, when Christ himself lives in us, and no sin whatever is permitted to have dominion over us [Note: Romans 6:14. with Galatians 2:19-20.].”]
THE FRUITS OF THE FLESH AND OF THE SPIRIT CONTRASTED
Galatians 5:19-24. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I hare also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
THROUGHOUT this whole epistle we have mention made of two covenants, under the one or other of which all mankind are of necessity comprehended, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. Those who are under the covenant of works are under the curse of God as transgressors: but those who are under the covenant of grace, are delivered from that curse through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has become a curse for them [Note: Galatians 3:10-14.]. The transition from the one state to the other is effected solely by faith [Note: Galatians 3:25-26.]. But faith is an operation of the mind wholly invisible to men, and but too liable to be mistaken even by ourselves. How then shall it be ascertained either by others or ourselves to which of these covenants we adhere? We are told, that, on the transition from the one to the other, we are endued with a new and vital principle, under the influence of which we from that moment begin to live. The principle which rules in us under the former state, is called “flesh;” and that which animates us under the latter, is called “Spirit.” Not that on the transition from the one state to the other, the former principle is taken away: No; it lives, and acts, and withstands with all its might the latter principle, and prevents it from operating so successfully as we could wish: but still it is progressively weakened in its operations: and by the dominance of the better principle we know that we are no longer under the law, nor exposed to the curse which the legal covenant entails on all who are cleaving to it.
Thus we have somewhat of a criterion whereby to judge of our state: but still that criterion is of no farther use than as we have a distinct view of the fruits which the two opposite principles will produce: let these be clearly marked, and then no further difficulty will arise: we have only to examine our works, of what kind they are; and then we shall arrive at a certain conclusion as to our state before God: for, as “a good tree cannot bring forth corrupt fruit, nor a corrupt tree good fruit,” we shall know the quality of the tree by the fruit which is produced by it.
This satisfaction then is afforded us by the Apostle in the words before us: in which we see,
I. The works of the flesh—
In enumerating them, the Apostle mentions,
1. Those which stand in more immediate connexion with the body—
[“Adultery” is an evil against which even heathens in all ages have felt the deepest indignation. “Fornication” was not regarded by them in so heinous a light: would to God the malignity of it were duly appreciated even by the Christian world! But God views these evils with the utmost abhorrence; and not the acts only, but the dispositions from which they spring: “Uncleanness and lasciviousness,” if cherished in the heart, are marked by him with the same displeasure as the acts to which they lead; because the indulging of them, in word, in look, in thought, indisputably proves, that it is not the fear of God that keeps them from breaking out into more open acts, but some other consideration totally distinct from a regard to him: since the fear of God, if operating at all, would operate as much to the suppression of the desire, as to the non-indulgence of the act. Hence the mere looking on a woman to lust after her, is declared, on infallible authority, to be an actual commission of adultery with her in the heart. Now all these acts and dispositions proceed from a corrupt principle within us, even from that principle which is called “flesh,” and which is the true source of all the other evils we commit.]
2. Those which more properly have their seat in the mind—
[Of these, some have a more immediate reference to God, and others are called forth only in our intercourse with men. Of the former kind are “idolatry and witchcraft,” which being specified as “works of the flesh,” clearly shew what we are to understand by “flesh,” namely, not merely any corporeal propensity, but that general propensity to evil which operates throughout the whole extent of our fallen nature.
“Idolatry” is a total rejection of God; and “witchcraft” is an application to evil spirits, to impart to us something which we have no hope of obtaining from the true God: and both the one and the other of these is properly a “work of the flesh,” inasmuch as it betrays a total alienation of heart from God, and an entire subjection to that “carnal mind,” which, as God himself declares, “is enmity against him [Note: Romans 8:7.].”
The other evils which are called forth by our intercourse with men, as “hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like,” form such a picture of our fallen nature as may well humble us in the dust before God. It is unnecessary to enter into a distinct consideration of them: it is in the aggregate only that we can stop to notice them at this time: but what an accumulation of evil do they present to our view! Yet is it no other than what we may see in every community under heaven. Look at the seditions that agitate states; the divisions and heresies that disturb the Church; the feuds and quarrels that set man against his fellow man, and often terminate even in “murder” itself: whence do they all arise.? Come they not hence, even from the lusts that war in our members [Note: James 4:1.]? or, in other words, from the corruption of the human heart? There are some evils which pass under the milder name of good fellowship, and conviviality; some which, like the “revellings” that were common among the heathen, consist of feastings, dancings, and excess of every kind: but, however we may soften them down by specious names, and plead for them as innocent amusements, they are all hateful to God, and destructive to man: insomuch that the man who finds his pleasure in them “can in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven.” Often had the Apostle entered his protest against such carnal indulgences, so unworthy of a rational being, and so unsuited to persons standing on the brink of eternity. Can we conceive, that if man had retained his primeval innocence, he would have found delight in any such things as these? If the ungodly themselves saw pious people seeking their happiness in such things as these, would they see no incongruity between their professions and their occupations? Yes; they would be the first to proclaim the hypocrisy of such professors: which is itself an acknowledgment that the things themselves are adverse to piety, and inconsistent with it.
Know then, that all these and “such like” evils, whether arising from the body, or emanating from the mind, are decidedly to be ranked under “the works of the flesh,” “which whosoever doeth shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Unwelcome as this declaration was to the carnal man, St. Paul hesitated not to make it repeatedly, and in the strongest terms: arid we also, if we will approve ourselves faithful to God and to the office committed to us, must proclaim the same awful truth, and forewarn all, that, if they continue under the power of any of the hateful dispositions before specified, or seek their happiness in the things of time and sense, they will inevitably and eternally exclude themselves from the kingdom of heaven.]
In contrast with these, the Apostle proceeds to enumerate,
II. II. The fruits of the Spirit—
And here he mentions,
1. Those which have their sphere of action chiefly within our own bosoms—
[The very mention of them marks at once their nature and their origin—“Love, joy, peace!” Whence come they? Are they the offspring of our corrupt nature? No; nature never bare such fruits as these: these spring from that divine principle, which is imparted to us by the Spirit of God at the time of our regeneration and conversion. Then love springs up in the soul: love to God; love to Christ; love to man for Christ’s sake. Then also does a “joy with which the stranger intermeddleth not,” a “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” a joy in the testimony of a good conscience, a joy in the prospect of a glorious immortality, transport the soul: and its ebullitions, which, if continued, would exhaust the strength of our animal frame, subside into a peaceful composure, a sweet serenity of mind, a “peace of God which passeth all understanding.” These are the never-failing fruits of divine grace in the soul. A variety of circumstances may occur which may impede the exercise of these holy affections; especially the workings of a corrupt nature, still striving to bring us into captivity to sin, may occasionally prevail to damp our joy and interrupt our peace; but according to the measure of the grace given unto us, will be the fruits of that grace abounding in the soul.]
2. Those which have a more immediate relation to our fellow-creatures—
[Towards them, both the active and passive virtues are called forth by incidents of daily occurrence. “Long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith (or fidelity), meekness” have a constant scope for exercise, as also “temperance” has, both in the desire of earthly things, and in the enjoyment of them. Here again it is not necessary to enter minutely into these different virtues: it is the collective body of them which characterizes the true Christian, and marks, beyond a possibility of doubt, the excellence of the principle from which they spring.
“Against these there is no law.” Not one word is there to be found in all the Holy Scriptures that condemns the production of these fruits. Were they condemned, our blessed Lord and Saviour must fall under condemnation; since he maintained and exercised these virtues to a degree never equalled by mortal man. It is impossible to yield these fruits too much: the more we abound in them, the more we resemble the Lord Jesus Christ, and the more do we evince a meetness for the heavenly inheritance.]
Now comes the point to be determined: namely, What is,
III. The Christian’s state in reference to them both—
The description given of Christians must not be overlooked—
[There is no periphrasis by which they can be more fitly described, than that given in our text, “They that are Christ’s.” This is their title universally; and it belongs to them alone. They were from eternity given unto Christ by the Father; as Christ himself says, “Thine they were; and thou gavest them, to me [Note: John 17:6; John 17:9; John 17:11-12; John 17:24.].” They have been purchased by Christ himself, as his peculiar possession: and they have given up themselves to him by a willing and deliberate surrender of all that they are and have. By a vital union also are they his, being, as it were, “one spirit with him.” Hence in many parts of Scripture are they designated as in the words of our text: “All things are yours; and ye are Christ’s [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:23.]:” and again, “If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:7.].” Blessed distinction! glorious privilege! Believer, think of thyself under this character, and then sec what obligations thou owest to God for this unspeakable mercy, and “what manner of person thou shouldest be in all holy conversation and godliness,”]
Their state is suited to this high character—
[“They have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Crucifixion, it must be remembered, is a lingering death. The thieves who were crucified with Christ poured forth their venom against him, even whilst they were suspended on the cross. Thus also, “the old man in believers is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin may be destroyed, that henceforth they should not serve sin [Note: Romans 6:6.]:” nevertheless it is not utterly extinct: it still lives; and still rages and rebels against Christ; and would, if suffered to come down from the cross, regain its former ascendency. But there it is fixed: and thence it never shall come down, till the body itself shall cease to live. All its affections and all its desires, though still possessed of considerable strength, are checked in their operation, and restrained in their exercise; “the Spirit” now reigns: the new affections now put forth a vigour, which “the flesh” can no longer withstand. The warfare is indeed continued: but victory declares itself on the side of the better principle; so that, whereas the believer formerly “walked after the flesh,” he now in his daily life and conversation “walks after the Spirit,” and progressively advances in his heavenly course as long as he continues in the world [Note: Romans 6:20; Romans 6:22. with 8:1, 4.]. “His path is like the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”]
See then from hence,
1. How blessed is the influence of the Gospel!
[By the Gospel this change is wrought. And, to form an estimate of the change, paint to yourselves the countenances of the Jews when they met on the day of Pentecost with their hands yet reeking with their Saviour’s blood; and the same persons on the evening of that day, when they were “eating their bread with gladness and singleness of heart, blessing and praising God:” methinks, heaven and hell scarcely present a greater contrast, than those very persons within that short period. Yet such is the change which the Gospel will produce, wherever it is received in deed and in truth. Hear how the Prophet Isaiah describes it: “Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree; and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, and for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off [Note: Isaiah 55:12-13.].” O, beloved, see that this change take place in you: for to effect it is the glory of the Gospel; and no further than this change is wrought in you, have you any evidence that you belong to Christ.]
2. How vain are the expectations of carnal professors!
[Frequently does the Apostle characterize as “carnal,” those who are yet under the power of unholy tempers and affections. Look, thou professor of godliness, and see what thy conduct is, in the family, the Church, the state. Art thou a favourer of feuds, of heresies, of seditions? Take off thy mask, and proclaim thyself an hypocrite. Thou hast no part nor lot in the salvation of God. Yet rest not hero: but go on to examine how far all holy tempers and heavenly affections abound in thee: see whether thou livest in the habitual exercise of love, joy, peace; and whether thy whole walk be marked by long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, temperance? See whether in these things thou resemblest Him whose property thou professest thyself to be, even that blessed Jesus who requires thee to walk as he walked? Know of a certainty, that, “if thou walkest after the flesh, thou shalt die; but if through the Spirit thou mortifiest the deeds of the body, then, and then only, shalt thou live [Note: Romans 8:13.].”]
3. How desirable is it to obtain an interest in Christ!
[All this will he do for those who truly believe in him. Came he, think you, to save you from hell only? No; he came to “save you from your sins.” He came to make you new creatures; and to transform you into the Divine image, in righteousness and true holiness. Seek then an interest in him. Give up yourselves to him, to be washed in his blood, and to be renewed by his Spirit. Do this, and you shall have no cause to complain that your corruptions are invincible: for his grace shall be sufficient for you, even though your corruptions were ten thousand times more powerful than they are. Nor imagine that the maintenance of holy tempers and affections shall be such an impracticable task as Satan would represent it to be: for the love of God shed abroad in the heart shall render every thing easy. Only receive the Lord Jesus Christ into your hearts by faith, and he will work effectually within you, as he does in all his saints: “He will fulfil in you all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power; and so shall the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God, and the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.].”]
WALKING IN THE SPIRIT
Galatians 5:25. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
MEN, as creatures, may be called “the offspring of Jehovah,” “in whom they live, and move, and have their being [Note: Acts 17:28.].” But, as created anew in Christ Jesus, we have a nearer relation to God, seeing that his Spirit dwelleth in us: and consequently, we are bound in a more peculiar manner to glorify him by a suitable life and conversation. This is strongly intimated in the words of our text: in which we see,
I. The Christian’s character—
It is here assumed that the Christian “lives in the Spirit.” That the Christian’s character, as here described, may be fully understood, let us mark,
1. The import of the assumption—
[Two things are implied in the expression “living in the Spirit,” namely, that the Christian is endued with the Spirit; and that he lives under the influence of the Spirit. The Christian has not merely the powers and faculties which he brought into the world with him, and which an heathen possesses as well as he; but he has received the Spirit of God, by whom he has been quickened from a death in trespasses and sins, and been made a partaker of a new principle of life, whereby he is enabled to live to God. This new principle is distinct from any thing which man, by any powers of his own, can acquire, and from any thing which can by any means be derived from man. It is a sovereign gift of God, as much as the natural life is: and they who have received it, are said to have “been born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” They who have experienced this heavenly birth, have the Spirit of God dwelling and abiding in them; enlightening their minds, directing their steps, sanctifying their hearts, and “fulfilling in them all the good pleasure of their God” — — —]
2. The truth of this assumption—
[It is taken for granted by the Apostle, as an unquestionable truth, that every real Christian “lives in, and by, the Spirit.” And well may this be taken for granted; since the Spirit of God is to the soul of man, what the soul itself is to the body. Without the soul, the body is dead; and the body, when bereft of it. is no more a man, but a mere corpse. So the soul without the Spirit of God is dead; and the person destitute of the Spirit, is not a Christian, but a mere man, like any heathen man. This is expressly asserted by the Apostle Paul: “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his [Note: Romans 8:9.].” To the same effect. also, our blessed Lord most solemnly affirms, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God [Note: John 3:3; John 3:5.].” The point, then, is clear and indisputable: a Christian is one who is born of the Spirit, and who lives under the Spirit’s influence: and if any person would estimate his own character aright, he must inquire into these two points. It is not sufficient that he has been baptized into the faith of Christ, or that he gives a speculative assent to all the truths of Christianity; he must possess a principle which none but God can give him, and which regulates all his views, desires, and pursuits. I pray you, brethren, before you go any further, examine yourselves in relation to this matter: for I must declare to you before God, that if Jesus Christ dwell not in you in this manner, you are not Christians, but mere baptized heathens: and so unquestionable is this truth, that St. Paul makes it a matter of appeal, to be decided by your ownselves: “Know ye not your ownselves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.]?”]
Answerable; to this high character are,
II. His obligations—
“If we be in the Spirit, we should also walk in the Spirit;” that is, we should walk,
1. In compliance with his motions—
[There are inward motions of the Spirit, which a person who lives nigh to God may discern, and which it becomes him very carefully to follow. Not that they can with certainty be distinguished from the voice of a man’s own conscience, except by the quality of the suggestions themselves; (for it is in and by the conscience that the Spirit speaks:) but they are so agreeable to the mind of God, that they manifest from whom they come; and God himself, “who knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit,” when he beholds them in us, acknowledges them to be of divine origin [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:10-11. with Romans 8:27.]. When temptations to evil arise, the Spirit softly whispers to the soul, “O, do not that abominable thing which I hate [Note: Jeremiah 44:4.].” So also, when doubts arise in the mind respecting the path of duty, he causes us to “hear a voice behind us, saying, This is the way; walk ye in it [Note: Isaiah 30:21.].” And in a mind that is at all well regulated, I believe that the first intimations of conscience will be found to be, for the most part, most accordant with the mind and will of God: and though I would on no account discourage the closest possible examination of what is so suggested, and the trial of it by the touchstone of God’s word, yet I cannot but say, that in our subsequent reasonings the voice of the Spirit is too often silenced, and its suggestions are superseded by the dictates of prejudice, or fear, or interest, or passion.]
2. In obedience to his will—
[God’s will is revealed in the written word; and to that we must refer, on every occasion. In that is our whole course distinctly marked; and by that must our every step be regulated: as says the prophet; “To the word and to the testimony: if we speak not according to that word, there is no light in us [Note: Isaiah 8:20.].” By that must the suggestions, of which we have before spoken, be tried. For it is possible that suggestions may come even from the wicked one: and if we were to place implicit confidence in them, we might run into the most fatal errors, whilst we supposed ourselves under heavenly guidance. Of this we are sure, that the Spirit of God never moves us to any thing which is contrary to the written word. In following the voice of inspiration, we are safe: and to that we should yield the most implicit obedience. When we combine the two, and are simultaneously directed by the light within and the light without, we may reasonably hope that we are in the right way, and “walking in the Spirit,” as God requires.]
From the passage thus explained, I would take occasion to commend to your constant aim,
[This is the primary point suggested in our text: our practice must accord with our profession: if, as we profess, we “live in the Spirit,” we must take care to “walk in the Spirit.” We must “walk worthy of our high calling;” or rather, I should say, we must “walk worthy of the Lord himself.” We must attend equally to both tables of the law; and never make a respect for the one a plea for neglecting and violating the other. Our conduct must be uniform, at all times, in all places, under all circumstances. What we are in the public assembly, and in the society of God’s people, that we must be in the world, the family, the closet. All our tempers and dispositions must resemble those of Christ; so that every one who sees us may bear testimony to us, that we “have both the Spirit of Christ,” and “the mind of Christ.” Dear brethren, it is in this way only that we can honour God, or approve ourselves his children indeed.]
[We must be making a continual progress in the divine life; and never think ourselves so advanced, but that we need to be going forward in our Christian course. Our “path must be like that of the sun, which shines more and more unto the perfect day.” Even St. Paul thought not that he had yet “attained, or was already perfect:” but this one thing he did, “forgetting the things that were behind, and reaching forth unto those that were before, he pressed forward toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” And we also, if we would be perfect, must “be thus minded [Note: Philippians 3:13-15.].”]
[To this it is our privilege to look forward; even as Israel did, when journeying in the wilderness. In truth, this life, with all its labours and conflicts, would be a very miserable life, if we had no prospect of a better. But “there is a rest that remaineth for the people of God:” and with that in view, we may well exert ourselves with all our might. That will richly recompense all our labours. What will not men do, even for a corruptible crown? But ours is incorruptible. “Be not weary, then, in well-doing: for in due season ye shall reap, if ye faint not.”]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Galatians 5". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany