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He moveth them to persist in their liberty, and not to observe circumcision; but love, which is the sum of the law. He reckoneth up the works of the flesh, and the fruits of the Spirit; and exhorteth to walk in the Spirit.
Anno Domini 49.
THE Apostle, in the third chapter, having, from Abraham's justification by faith, proved, 1. That all who believe are the seed of Abraham, whom God in the covenant promised to justify by faith:—2. That the law of Moses, which was given long after the covenant was ratified by the oath of God, could neither annul nor alter the covenant, by introducing a method of justification different from that which was so solemnlyestablished in the covenant:—3. That men are heirs of the heavenly country, of which Canaan was the type, not meritoriously by obedience to the law, but by the free gift of God.—4. That the law was given to the Israelites, not to justify them, but to restrain them from transgressions; and, by making them sensible of their sins, and of the demerit of their sins, to lead them to Christ for justification.—Farther, having, in the fourth chapter, observed, that the method of justification by faith, established at the fall, was not universally published, inthe first ages, by immediately introducing the gospel dispensation; because the state of the world, in the first ages, did not admit thereof, and because it was proper that mankind should remain a while under the tuition of the Adamic law, and of the law of Moses, accompanied, indeed, by such measures of divine grace as would be sufficient, through the merits of the Redeemer, for the salvation of every faithful soul:—also, having declared, that the supernatural generation of Isaac, and his birth in a state of freedom, were intended to typify the supernatural generation of Abraham's seed by faith, and their freedom from the bondage of the law of Moses, as a term of salvation, the Apostle, in this fifth chapter, as the application of the whole of his doctrine, exhorted the Galatians to stand firm in that freedom from the law of Moses, as a term of salvation, wherewith Christ had freed them in the gospel dispensation; and by no means to be again held fast in bondage to any ritual form of worship, Galatians 5:1.—Then, with the authority of an inspired Apostle, he solemnly declared, that, if they sought salvation by receiving circumcision, Christ would be of no manner of use to them as a Saviour, Galatians 5:2.
The Judaizing teachers, who enjoined obedience to the law of Moses as necessary to salvation, being sensible that the burdensomeness of the services required by Moses might deter the Gentiles from receiving circumcision, had, it seems, made the Galatians believe that circumcision did not bind those, who lived out of Judea, to obey the more troublesome and expensive services of the law; such as the offering of sacrifices, the paying of tythes, the going up to Jerusalem three times in the year, &c. but to obey those precepts only which were of easy performance, namely, the keeping of the sabbaths, the new moons, and the other holy days enjoined in the law: theabstainingfromuncleanmeats, the avoiding of the company of the uncircumcised, &c. Wherefore, to undeceive the Galatians, the Apostle solemnly testified to them, that every circumcised person, who sought to be justified by the law of Moses, bound himself to obey all its precepts, without exception, and subjected himself to its curse, if he failed in the least particular, Galatians 5:3.—In short, they separated themselves from Christ, who sought to be meritoriously justified by the law of Moses; and, to their unspeakable loss, excluded themselves from the grace offered in the gospel, Galatians 5:4.—as they might know from this, that all who adhere to Christ are warranted, by the gifts and graces of the Spirit bestowed on them, to consider themselves as justified through faith, without the works of the law of Moses, Galatians 5:5.—Besides, in the gospel dispensation, neither circumcision, nor the want of it, availeth any thing to men's acceptance with God, but the faith which strongly works by love to God and to man, Galatians 5:6.—Next, the Apostle having observed that, at the first, the Galatians made good proficiency in the doctrines of the gospel, he asked, who it was that now interrupted their progress, so as to make them forsake the truth, Gal 5:7-9 and hoped, that when they considered what he had written, they would not think differently from him, concerning the method of justification, Galatians 5:10.—And because his enemies had said, that, since he conversed with the apostles at Jerusalem, he had altered his doctrine, and now taught the necessity of circumcision, he desired to know how it came to pass that the Jews still persecuted him? For, if he preached circumcision, the stumbling-block of the cross of Christ was certainly removed out of their way, Galatians 5:11.—Then concluded, with wishing them to cut off by excommunication the person who had subverted them, Galatians 5:12.
The doctrinal part of the Epistle being finished, the Apostle, in what remains, advised the Galatians not to use their freedom from the law of Moses, with respect to meats, as a pretence for gratifying their sensual appetites, to the offence of their weaker Jewish brethren, who still thought the meats forbidden by Moses unclean, Galatians 5:13.—Because, in so doing, they would break the great Christian law of love, Galatians 5:14.—the Jews, by speaking of the Gentiles as prophane persons; and the Gentiles, by representing the Jews as ignorant bigots. For, said the Apostle, by thus giving occasion to the flesh to exercise its lusts in biting and devouring one another, ye will bring destruction on one another, Galatians 5:15.—He therefore commanded them to obey the dictates of the Spirit of God, and not to fulfil the lusts of their flesh. Withal, to make them the more watchful in that respect, he told them, that the inclinations of the Spirit and of the flesh are oftentimes contrary the one to the other: and that, through the prevalence of the inclinations of the flesh, men are frequently hindered from doing what the Spirit inclines them to do. At the same time, to encourage them, he assured them, that if they followed the dictates of the Spirit of God, they would not fall under the curse of any law whatever, Galatians 5:18.—Then, to shew what sort of actions the lust of the flesh would lead them to perform, he enumerated the works of the flesh: and, to make them sensible of the dangerous nature of these works, he foretold now, as he had done before, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God, Galatians 5:19-48.5.21.—Also he enumerated the fruits of the Spirit; and, in their commendation, took notice, that their excellency is so evident, that in no nation was there ever any law made against them, Galatians 5:22-48.5.23.—Farther, as a powerful motive to renounce the works of the flesh, he assured them that all Christ's faithful disciples have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts, Galatians 5:24.—In short, since the Galatians lived under the spiritual dispensation of the gospel, he commanded them to walk according to its rules, Galatians 5:25.—And cautioned such as possessed the spiritual gifts to avoid vain-glory in the exercise of them, that they might not provoke their brethren to anger and strife. And those who were destitute of the spiritual gifts, he exhorted them not to envy those who were endowed with them, Galatians 5:26.
Galatians 5:2. Behold,— This word is used to fix their attention. I, Paul;—"I, the same Paul, who am reported to preach circumcision,—testify again, (Galatians 5:3.)—continue my testimony, to every man; to you, and all men." This very emphatical way of speaking may well be understood to have regard to what he takes notice of Gal 5:11 namely, his preaching circumcision; and is a very significant vindication of himself.If ye be circumcised, means, "If ye submit to circumcision, and depend on that, and the observance of the rest of the Jewish rites, for justification and salvation." It must have beenallowedthateitherJudaismorChristianitywasnecessaryto salvation. If Judaism had been necessary, Christianity could not be so; and (vice versa,) it is the same, if the argument be reversed. It was plain, therefore, that if the observance of circumcision, and other Jewish rites, was obligatory, all that Christ had done and suffered would have been of no advantage to them; for if the soul could not repose its confidence in him for salvation, its divided regards would be rather an affront than an act of homage.
Galatians 5:5. For we— It is evident, from the context, that St. Paul here means himself; but we, is a more graceful way of speaking than I, though he be vindicating himself alone from the imputation of setting up circumcision.
Galatians 5:6. Faith which worketh by love.— There is some degree of ambiguity in the original:— Δι αγαπης ενεργουμενη . It may be rendered either which operates, and works by love; or, which is wrought, inspired and perfected by love. Some have preferred the latter sense; and have taken occasion hence to shew, how much love tends to establish and perfect faith: but the former, which is the more usual sense, appears to be authorized by the use of the same word, Eph 3:20 and Colossians 1:0.
Galatians 5:7. Who did hinder you, &c.— The word 'Ανεκοψε, rendered hinder, is an olympic expression, answerable to the word rendered ye did run: and it properly signifies, "Coming across the course,while a person is running in it, in such a manner as to justle, and throw him out of the way."
Galatians 5:8. Of him that calleth you.— He used this expression before, ch. Gal 1:6 and in both places means himself; and here declares that this πεισμονη, whether taken for persuasion, or for subjection (as it may well be in St. Paul's style, considering the word πειθεσθαι, at the end of the foregoing verse) came not from him; for he called them to liberty from the law, and not subjection to it. See Galatians 5:13. His argument runs thus: "You were going on well in the liberty of the gospel; who stopped you?—I, you may be sure, had no concern in it; for you know that I called you to liberty, and not to subjection to the law; and therefore you can, by no means, suppose that I should preach up circumcision." From the two followingverses, it looks as if all the disorders here complained of arose from one man.
Galatians 5:10. Will be none otherwise minded:— "Will beware of this leaven, so as not to be put into a ferment, nor shaken in your liberty, in which you ought to stand fast: and, to secure it, I doubt not, (such confidence I have in you) you will, with one accord, cast out him that troubleth you. For, as for me, you may be sure I am not for circumcision, in that the Jews continue to persecute me." This is evidently the Apostle's meaning, though not spoken out, but managed warily, with a very skilful and moving insinuation. Κριμα, judgment, here seems to mean expulsion by a church censure, cutting off from church communion. See Galatians 5:12. We shall be more inclined to this opinion, if we consider that the Apostle uses the same argument of a little leaven leavening the whole lump, 1Co 5:6 where he would persuade the Corinthians to purge out the fornicator. Some, however, would extend the meaning to the solemn account which this troubler of the church's peace should give to God, and to the condemnationhe should certainly receive, if he persisted in the endeavours he was using to subvert the truth. See on 1 Corinthians 4:21.
Galatians 5:11. Persecution?— The persecution which St. Paul was still under, was a convincing argument that he was not for circumcision and subjection to the law; for it was from the Jews, upon that account, that at this time arose almost all the persecutions which the Christians suffered;—as may be seen throughout the history of the Acts: nor are there wanting clear footsteps of it in several other places of this Epistle, as ch. Gal 3:4 Galatians 6:12-48.6.14.
Galatians 5:12. I would they were even cut off which trouble you.— Who subvert or unsettle you. It by no means agrees with the gentle genius of Christianity to suppose that this Apostle, who understood it so well, and cultivated it so much, should mean by this to intimate that he wished these troublers dead; or that any bodily evil were inflicted upon them by human violence. All arguments, therefore, which are drawn from this text in favour of persecuting principles, must be veryinconclusive: but when we consider the particular circumstances in which these seducing teachers opposed the Apostle, it will appear that they very well deserved that ecclesiastical censure which he here wishes to be pronounced against them. Some, following a different reading, render this verse, They ought to be cut off, and shall in reality be cut off, who trouble you.
Galatians 5:13. Only use not liberty— From the mention of liberty, to which St. Paul tells them they are called under the gospel, he takes occasion to caution them respecting the use of it, and so exhorts them to a spiritual or true Christian life; shewing the difference and contrariety between that and a carnal life, or a life after the flesh, Galatians 5:13-48.5.26. The word δουλευετε, rendered serve, has a greater force in the Greek than our English word serve expresses, in the common acceptation; for it signifies the opposite to ελευθερια, liberty; and so the Apostle elegantly informs them, that, though by the gospel they are called to a state of liberty from the law, yet they were still as much bound and subjected to their brethren, in all the offices and duties of love and good-will, as if in that respect they were their vassals and bondmen.
Galatians 5:16. This I say then, walk in the Spirit, &c.— That is, "I have been cautioning you against that contentious temper which is so great a reproach to the professors of Christianity, and tends so much to the detriment of our common faith. But, that I may effectually guard you against this and every other evil, I have a charge to give you, and, in a word, I say, Walk in the Spirit, and at all times endeavour to conduct yourselves as under the influences of that blessed Agent, and in a way agreeable to the new nature that he has given you, and then ye will not fulfil the lust of the flesh; so that, if you be not yet delivered from the remainders of corruption, yet by his powerful suggestions, and by the gracious aids which you receive from him, you will be happily preserved from the predominancy of carnal and irregular appetites, so that the work of mortification and all the exercises of true godliness, will daily become more and more easy and familiar to you." Instead of, ye shall not fulfil, some read, ye shall in nowise fulfil.
Galatians 5:17. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, &c.— As it is plain that by the flesh, which is the same with what the Apostle calls the body of sin and the old man (Romans 6:6.), we are to understand that natural corruption and depravity which is the ruling principle in a state of nature: so by the Spirit, which is here set in opposition to it, and is elsewhere expressed by the new man that is put on by such as are renewed in the Spirit of their mind (Ephesians 4:23-49.4.24.), we are to understand that supernatural principle of grace which is imparted from above to the renewed soul, to overcome the passions of the carnal mind, to set us free from the dominion of our lusts, and to inspire us with a love to holiness; which divine and heavenly principle being communicated to us by the Holy Spirit, has frequently the title of the Spirit given to it, as it is plainly the effect and fruit of it; for that which is born of the Spirit, is Spirit (John 3:6.).—And there is such a contrariety in these two principles, that, where they exist together, they are continually opposing one another in their desires and tendency; so that (as the Apostle adds) ye do not the things that ye would, (for so it is expressed in the original, and not, ye cannot do, &c.) ye do them not without doing violence to the opposite principle which would be drawing you another
Galatians 5:18. But if ye be led by the Spirit,— "But if ye give yourselves up to the conduct of the Spirit of God, by faith in Christ, ye are not under the law." For they who are led by the Spirit of God, are the sons of God; and so heirs, and free. This is plainly the sense of the Apostle, who teaches all along, in the former part of this Epistle, as well as of that to theRomans, that those who put themselves under the gospel, are not under the law of Moses, or under the Adamic law. The reason of the Apostle's thus using the word Spirit, is, indeed, very apparent in the doctrine of the New Testament; which teaches that those who receive Christ, by faith, with him receive his Spirit, and its sacred and powerful influences against the flesh. See Romans 8:9-45.8.11. Accordingly, for the obtaining of salvation, St. Paul joins together belief of the truth, and sanctification of the Spirit, 2 Thessalonians 2:13. See also Ephesians 3:16.
Galatians 5:19. Now the works of the flesh are manifest;— If flesh be taken for the irregularities of the appetite,—for that natural corruption which infects the faculties of every man by nature; it extends to the mind, as well as to the appetites of the body; and there will be no difficulty in ascribing each of the particular crimes here enumerated to the flesh, as they all proceed from that corruption, by means of which even the mind and conscience is defiled. Titus 1:15.
Galatians 5:20. Witchcraft,— Some would render the word φαρμακεια by poisoning; but surely this is comprehended under the word murders; nor is there any reason to believe the flesh so particularly inclined to this one kind of murder, as that it should be specified rather than any other. It is certain that, on account of the drugs made use of in some supposed magical compositions, this word is often used to express practices of that kind; to which the Gentiles, even in the most learned nations, were very much addicted. We render the word διχοστασιαι, seditions; but as the original word seems more general, some would express it more largely by divisions of a party-spirit, among those who ought to be united in one interest and affection. Perhaps, however, by this word the Apostle means to point out divisions in the state, as by the next he refers to divisions in religion—heresies in religious communities, bywhich professing Christians are induced to separate from each other, and to form parties, which, instead of maintaining true candour, benevolence, and love, renounce and condemn each other.
Galatians 5:21. Revellings,— Κωμοι, or revellings, among the Greeks, were a disorderly spending of the night in feastings, with a licentious indulging in wine, good cheer, music, dancing, &c. See Romans 13:13. 1 Peter 4:3.
Galatians 5:22. Faith,— Fidelity; which the word πιστις undoubtedly signifies in many places. See on Matthew 23:23. So that in one place we may understand it of the faithfulness of God, or his fidelity to his promises, Rom 3:3 and where it is applied to servants, we expressly render it fidelity: Titus 2:10. And though it generally signifies the grace of faith, or the confidence reposed in another; yet, where we find it joined, as in the place before us, with other graces, or moral virtues, it may be rather taken to denote fidelity. See 1 Timothy 4:12; 1Ti 6:11. 2 Timothy 2:22; 2Ti 3:10 and Revelation 2:19.
Galatians 5:23. Against such there is no law.— They have so manifest and evident a goodness in them, that they never were forbidden by any human institution.
Galatians 5:24. They that are Christ's— These are the same with those who are led by the Spirit, Gal 5:18 and are opposed to those who live after the flesh; Romans 8:13, where it is said, conformably to what we find here, they through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body. That principle in us, whence spring vicious inclinations and actions, is sometimes called the flesh, sometimes the old man: the subduing and mortifying of this evil principle, so that the force and power wherewith it used to rule in us is extinguished, the Apostle, by a very engaging accommodation to the death of our Saviour, calls crucifying the flesh; and in Rom 6:6 crucifying the old man. It is likewise called mortifying the members which are on the earth, Colossians 3:5. See also Colossians 2:11.
Galatians 5:25. If we live in the Spirit, &c.— Living in the Spirit expresses, in terms nearly resembling these in Act 17:28 our continual dependence on its influences; and also illustrates the significancy of the word στοιχωμεν, in the latter part of the verse. Let us walk in the Spirit,—"in a regular and orderly manner, viewing God with the eye of faith; taking every step according to rule, and under the holy influence of the Spirit of God; regulating our whole life and actions by his light and dictate
Galatians 5:26. Envying one another.— Whether the vain-glory and envying here were about their spiritual gifts, (a fault whereof the Corinthians were guilty, as we may see at large 1 Corinthians 12:13, 1 Corinthians 12:14) or upon any other occasion, or on any other account, and so contained in Gal 5:15 of this chapter, is not very important to inquire; either way the sense of the words will be much the same.
Inferences, drawn from Galatians 5:13.*—There is not a more valuable blessing in human life than liberty, whether civil liberty, as it respects social happiness, or liberty of conscience, as it respects religion. When this latter is restrained, we are treated rather like brutes than men; that is, creatures endued with moral powers, and accountable for their actions:—and therefore it is one of the chief excellencies of the Christian religion, and very far from the air and spirit of an imposture, that it preserves the rights of conscience sacred and inviolable.
* The following thoughts are intended only for the Deists, who are too often to be found even in families which are in the general pious: but the Reflections will, I trust, make ample compensation to the sincere Christian.
But, because the world is apt to run into extremes, the writers of the New Testament, like persons who had a thorough knowledge of human nature, as well as being infallibly inspired by the Spirit of God, have taken care in this respect, as well as in all others, to guard against excess and irregularity. Thus St. Paul advises these Galatians not to mistake licentiousness for Christian liberty; or, in other words, not to imagine that, because they were freed from the expensive and burdensome observances of the Mosaic institution, (which is elegantly described as a state of servitude,) they were discharged likewise from moral obligations, which are an eternal and immutable law to all rational beings.
It may not be unseasonable to consider the subject in a light suited to the complexion and genius of the present age; and to inquire into some of the chief abuses of free-thinking; by which it happens that what is really the peculiar honour and greatest advantage of our intelligent nature, becomes a reproach to it, and is attended with the most injurious consequences.
1. And, first, embracing the principle of liberty, has ended, with many, through the abuse of that excellent principle, in infidelity, or a disbelief of all religion. It is most evident, that infidelity never more abounded than in this age of free inquiry; and that those who are most loose in their sentiments with respect to the obligations of religion in general, and of Christianity in particular, are, in profession at least, enemies to bigotry and implicit faith. Nay, it may be allowed further, that it is likely they would never have gone such a length as to throw off all religion, if they had continued in a blind attachment to the principles of their education, and to established and popular opinions.
Whence now can this arise?—We, who believe that religion, in all the parts of it, is strictly rational, can never allow that infidelity is the natural consequence of a free and impartial examination of it; but must suppose, on the contrary, that the more thoroughly it is considered, and the more nicely weighed in the balance of true and unbiassed reason, it will be the more heartily believed and submitted to, through the grace of God. Indeed, this melancholy event may be sufficiently accounted for from other causes, and shewn, not to proceed from a superior understanding, or more adequate and enlarged views of things, but from ignorance, superficial inquiry, and even from that prejudice and implicit faith which the monopolizers of reason and free-thinking so loudly disclaim.
It is by no means intended, by any thing here advanced, to discourage the most rational and free examination of all religious principles, be they ever so sacred and venerable, and transmitted down with ever so much awe and solemnity by our forefathers; neither is it designed to assert that any man is obliged to receive a revelation, so called, which, upon mature deliberation, appears to be unworthy of God, and repugnant to the reason and nature of things. The present purpose is only to point out briefly some false principles, which are all an abuse of the true principle of liberty; and by which, it is highly probable, many of its professed admirers and zealous espousers have been led to a disregard of all religion.
Some seem to mistake liberty for a right to dispute every thing; and cavil at all religious principles which are commonly received, merely to shew that they are free-thinkers. Now, it is certain, that every one has an undoubted right to debate in his mind upon all principles, before he receives them, whether they are true or false; and no wise man will take up any opinion implicitly, how powerfully soever it may be recommended by great names and worldly advantages: but it also is certain, that disputing only for the sake of cavilling, is not an honest and ingenuous frame of mind, but humour, pride, and singularity. Such men think, perhaps, by this means, to pass for persons whose understandings are delivered from vulgar prejudices, and who, in their pursuits after knowledge, are under no bias, nor influenced by any consideration but the abstract reason and truth of things. And thus, what was at first only vanity, may, by degrees, be confirmed and settled infidelity: for the opposition such persons frequently meet with will make them more eager in opposing, more tenacious of what they have advanced, and more inclined to maintain it; till, at length, what they asserted and urged only for cavilling's sake, or from the spirit of contradiction, too natural to eager disputants, they fancy themselves obliged in honour to stand by, as their own genuine sentiments.
2. Another abuse of the principle of liberty is this, that it has led many, who have not proceeded so far as a downright disbelief of all religion, to pay little or no regard to instrumental and positive duties. Impartial inquiries into things have discovered the folly and mischief of superstition; and that reading, hearing, praying, &c. answer no valuable purposes, unless they influence men to govern their passions, and to behave and shew forth justice and universal benevolence to their fellow-creatures: and they have perhaps met with many hypocrites, the worst of characters, who, while they profess to experience the powers of religion, and the divine influences of the Spirit of God, can keep back their neighbour's property, or defraud in other respects, &c. And hence they have strangely and inconsistently inferred, that the instrumental duties of piety are not only unnecessary, but hurtful; and that an inward veneration and esteem for God, improved by frequent serious meditation, is sufficient, without any outward stated acts of worship; and is all that is fit for us to perform, or God to expect;—an inference for which there is not the least colour of reason; nor can there be any thing more forced.
And, indeed, the ill effects of this notion are but too visible. For, those who have thus neglected all external religion, have, in general, been so far from improving, that they have rather declined in their zeal for the practice even of moral virtue, in proportion as they have grown remiss with respect to the solemn worship of God, and the instrumental duties of piety.
3. Freedom of thought, and impartial inquiry into the principles of religion, have also been abused and perverted in the present age, by degenerating into a light, trifling frame of mind, and a humour of treating things sacred with ridicule. With people who affect this way, liberty is nothing else but a free, bold manner of treating all subjects ludicrously, and turning them into a jest. They have a great inclination to shew their wit, especially upon points which afford the least room for it; for this discovers an uncommon genius!—But these empty triflers ought to know, "that there can be no true wit which has not reason for its foundation;—that ridiculing what is in itself good, useful, and venerable, fixes a certain reproach upon him who attempts it, either as to his understanding, or his morals;—that jesting with things of the highest consequence, is folly and madness;—that it is an easy matter, by misrepresenting, to make any thing appear ridiculous; and, consequently, that this talent is as far from being a demonstration that the person who possesses it is a wit, as it is from being an evidence of his good breeding, that, in violation of all the rules of decency, he banters and treats with scurrility that religion, for which all the pious and virtuous around him have a high value and regard."
From what has been said we learn, that there are no doctrines, or truths, in themselves so excellent, but what are capable of being abused; and be their natural consequences ever so friendly and beneficial to mankind, may be made to produce the most mischievous effects: and yet, as this great and melancholy abuse is no just objection to the wisdom and goodness of God, so neither is it any argument against the excellency and usefulness of the things themselves;—no more than it is an argument against the necessary supports of life, that they are frequently abused to excess and intemperance; or, against wisdom, or talent, that it is too often madly perverted to the purposes of vice and immorality.
Since then this principle of freedom of thought, and an honest and impartial examination into the nature and evidence of religious matters, is the undoubted privilege of an intelligent being, and, in a peculiar manner, honourable, and on the whole highly advantageous to Christianity; let us, notwithstanding accidental abuses to which the best things are liable, constantly assert and vindicate it; ever remembering, that, though we are called to liberty, both these rules have the same foundation, and are of equal authority in the Christian revelation:—Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free;—but use not your liberty for an occasion to the flesh.
REFLECTIONS.—1st. Having established the doctrine which he undertook to prove, of free justification by faith alone, without the works of the law, he passes on to exhort them steadily to hold fast the truth. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free from the curse of the law, and its obligation as a covenant of works; and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage, and, by submitting to circumcision, return to the Mosaical law as obligatory, and necessary to salvation. Note; (1.) Every true believer is Christ's freed-man. (2.) The liberty of the gospel is not a liberty to sin, but to serve God with freedom of spirit and willing obedience. The Apostle inforces his exhortation with several arguments:
1. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. If you depend on this as essential to your justification before God, all Christ has done and suffered will be of no avail to you; ye are fallen from grace, and excluded from all the blessings of that gospel, whose doctrines you once professed to hold.
2. Every one of them who was circumcised was obliged to immaculate obedience to the law, under the penalty of the curse which it denounces. For I testify again (so earnest am I that this important matter be clearly understood) to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law; and having laid himself under such an obligation, must perish under the least failure, while he expects eternal life on the footing of his immaculate obedience to the law.
3. For even we, who are Jews, whose consciences have been enlightened to see the spiritual demands of the law, despairing of acceptance with God that way, do, through the Spirit, under his divine illumination and influence, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith, expecting earnestly and patiently that eternal life which God has promised, not by the merit of works, but through that faith in our great Redeemer, which works by love, and produces holiness of heart and life. And if the Jews were thus necessitated to renounce all dependance on their circumcision, and the legal institutions under which they had been brought up, if they would be saved; what folly would it be for Gentiles, who had never been subject to the law, to have recourse thereto?
4. The gospel has cancelled all distinction of Jew and Gentile. For in Jesus Christ, and under that gracious dispensation which he has introduced, neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, as a recommendation to God's favour; but it is faith which worketh by love; that alone is available to salvation—faith, which lays our whole dependance on Christ alone, and, from a confidence in his love, engages our souls in love to him, and in universal benevolence to mankind. Note; (1.) Christ is to the believer all and in all. (2.) Faith justifies, not as a grace in us, but as it receives and embraces the infinite merit of the Redeemer, and leads us to renounce every other hope. (3.) Wherever faith is unfeigned, the genuine fruits of love will spring from it, and hereby it shall be proved and evidenced.
5. It was the more grievous for them to depart from the faith, whose beginnings had been so exceedingly promising. Ye did run well; who did hinder you from proceeding in the happy ways of the gospel, or has diverted you from your course, that ye should not obey the truth, which once you embraced? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you; these Judaizing sentiments I never taught you; and God, by his Spirit in the gospel, laid down a quite different method for your acceptance before him. Note; (1.) It should be matter of serious inquiry with backsliders, what has turned them aside, or retarded them in their Christian race? (2.) They who receive the truth in the light of it, must shew their love of it also by the unfeigned obedience of their hearts thereunto.
6. The insinuation of such dangerous tenets was likely to produce the most fatal effects. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Where once a departure from the principles of truth begins, like the plague, it spreads through the whole body; and one corrupt member in a church may communicate the most fatal and pernicious heresies to the whole.
7. The Apostle, notwithstanding the fears he could not but entertain, yet charitably expresses his confidence in many of them, that they would resist these innovations. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that you will be none otherwise minded, and cleave unshaken to the principles of the gospel: but he that troubleth you, ('Ο ταρασσων ), the arch-heretic, and author of these pernicious opinions, shall bear his judgment, and be laid under the just censures of the church, whosoever he be, however great and distinguished.
8. He exculpates himself from every insinuation, which these seducers suggested, as if he himself was of their sentiments. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision as necessary to salvation, which they would make you believe, why do I yet suffer persecution from the Jewish zealots, my most envenomed foes? then is the offence of the cross ceased; if this were the case, there would be no reason for them to be any longer exasperated with me. His sufferings, therefore, proved the zeal wherewith he opposed a notion so subversive of the fundamentals of Christianity.
9. He, with just indignation, expresses his earnest wish that these troublers of the church's peace had their deserts. I would they were even cut off which trouble you, excommunicated from the society of the faithful. Note; The troublers of the church's peace, who broach their destructive opinions, sow dissensions, and promote schisms in the undivided body of Christ, shall be severely dealt with in the day of recompence.
2nd, As the Apostle had before exhorted them to hold fast their liberty, he also teaches them wherein that liberty consisted. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, as if you were discharged from moral obligations, and might gratify the corrupt desires of the flesh and of the mind: but the gospel of grace teaches us a different lesson, and engages us, by the most powerful principle, even by love, to serve one another, in every instance of brotherly affection, seeking to promote each other's temporal, spiritual, and eternal interests. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, all the precepts of the second table are summed up in one, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, disputing, reviling, and, with fierce contentions, like savage beasts, are exasperated against each other, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another, and forsaken of God, be given up to the evil of your own hearts, which must end in your ruin. Note; nothing tends to the destruction of Christianity so immediately, as dissensions among those who profess the faith of Christ.
3rdly, The advice which St. Paul upon the whole gives, is as follows:
1. In general: This I say then, walk in the Spirit, under his blessed influence, dictates, and guidance, according to the gospel word, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh, be given up to the native corruptions of your heart: for there are two contending principles in the heart of every believer not perfected in love; the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, craving indulgence and gratification, and the Spirit against the flesh; opposing and mortifying its corrupt desires; and these are contrary the one to the other, in their nature, actings, and tendencies; so that ye cannot do, or ye do not, the things that ye would; the workings of the old man, it is true, are checked and restrained by the power of divine grace, but not without opposition; and every real believer, who experiences justifying faith, is enabled, by the nobler and divine nature which he has received, to oppose and conquer his carnal will and affection, though the conflict is often sharp. But if ye be led by the Spirit, habitually under his influence, ye are not under the law, its condemnation is no longer dreaded, but ye are brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, and walk in the light, as he is in the light.
2. He particularly enumerates those works of the flesh which must be avoided, and those gracious fruits of the Spirit which should be produced in their hearts by his divine operation. Now,
[1.] The works of the flesh, of the corrupt nature in fallen man, are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, with every act of bodily pollution, or mental impurity; also, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, which more immediately are the iniquities of the carnal mind. Add to these the horrid crimes of murder, drunkenness, revellings, and such like debaucheries and abominations; of the which I tell you before the day of vengeance comes, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things, unless they repent, shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Reader, mark these awful words, so express, so full, so distinct. Examine thyself; is any one of these things allowed or indulged in thy heart or conduct? Then assuredly the wrath of God abideth on thee. But,
[2.] The fruit of the Spirit, which he produces in the souls of genuine believers, is love to God and men, joy in God, through Jesus Christ; in his people who live to his glory; in his ordinances, now become our delight; peace of conscience, and peace with all mankind; long suffering, under all afflictive providences, or the provocations of the perverse; gentleness of temper and manners towards every creature; goodness that makes us ready to every word and work for the benefit of others; faith and truth in all our promises, engagements, and dealings; meekness, that is not easily provoked, and is instantly pacified; temperance in all our desires, and in the use of every earthly enjoyment: against such dispositions, and those who are possessed of them, there is no law, nor any condemnation, to be dreaded.
3. They that are Christ's, in reality living members of his body mystical, will give demonstrative proof of the truth of their profession, by their spiritual practice; for they have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts; their old man is nailed to their Redeemer's cross. And, while we are here in a state of warfare, if we live in the Spirit, actuated and influenced by his mighty energy, let us also walk in the Spirit, and act, according to our profession, as believers, and the obligations we are under to die daily unto sin, and to live unto righteousness. Let us not be desirous of vain-glory, puffed up with a high conceit of our attainments or performances, and affecting human approbation; provoking one another by a proud superciliousness; or envying one another for their superior gifts; tempers the most opposite and contradictory to the profession of Christianity. Note; (1.) All, who are truly Christ's, evidence it by their conduct; the same mind, in a measure, is in them, and they follow his steps; if we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie. (2.) Only from pride cometh contention, envy, and every evil work; this must therefore be mortified and destroyed, or we cannot be saved.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Galatians 5". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany