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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible
Galatians 5

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

GALATIANS CHAPTER 5

Galatians 5:1 Paul exhorteth the Galatians to maintain their

Christian liberty,

Galatians 5:2-6 and showeth that by being circumcised they would

forfeit their hopes in Christ,

Galatians 5:7-12 he disclaimeth the preaching of circumcision himself,

and condemneth it in others.

Galatians 5:13-15 He adviseth them not to abuse their liberty, but to serve

one another in love, which comprehendeth the whole law.

Galatians 5:16-18 The opposition between the flesh and the Spirit,

Galatians 5:19-21 the works of the flesh,

Galatians 5:22-24 the fruits of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:25,26 Advice to walk in the Spirit, and not in vain glorious

emulation.

The

liberty here spoken of, is a right which a person hath to action, that he may do or forbear the doing of things at his pleasure, as he apprehends them suitable or not, without the let or hinderance of another. This is either in things of a civil nature, or of a spiritual nature. The former is not understood here, for it is none of

the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, for subjects to be free from the lawful commands of princes, or children to be free from the laws of their parents, or servants to be free from the commands of masters. There is hardly any book in the New Testament wherein obedience of this nature, in things that are lawful, is not either exemplified as our duty in Christ and the apostles, or urged by very strong arguments. The liberty here, is that freedom from the law, of which the apostle hath been speaking all along this Epistle: from the curse of the moral law, and from the co-action of it; and principally from the ceremonial law contained in ordinances. This is the liberty which Christ hath purchased for us, and in which the apostle willeth all believers to stand fast; not being again entangled with a yoke, which God had taken off from their necks. The apostles, in their synod, Acts 15:10, had called it a yoke, which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear.


Verse 2

It is manifest that the apostle is speaking here concerning circumcision, looked upon as necessary to justification, now under the gospel state. For under the Old Testament undoubtedly Christ profited the fathers, though circumcised; yea, Christ undoubtedly profiled Timothy, even under the gospel, though he was circumcised, Acts 16:3, that being done to prevent a scandal, and during a time whilst, for the gaining of the Jews to the Christian faith, the Jewish ceremonies, though dead, were (as it were) kept above ground, unburied for a time. But for men, after a sufficient time indulged them for their satisfaction concerning the abolition of the ceremonial law, still to adhere to it, and religiously to observe the rites of it, as in obedience to a Divine precept, and as necessary, over and above faith in Christ for justification, was indeed to deny Christ, and disclaim his sufficiency to save, who

is able to save to the utmost them that come to God by him, Hebrews 7:25; and besides whom there is no name given under heaven, by which men can be saved, neither is there salvation in any other, Acts 4:10,12; and who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, Romans 10:4. So that to join any thing with Christ, and faith in him, for the justification of the soul before God, is plainly to deny and disclaim him, and to make him insignificant to us. This Paul affirms with an apostolical authority and gravity:

I Paul say unto you.


Verse 3

This must be understood either of the Gentiles only, who were never under any obligation to circumcision, or of such as were circumcised, with an opinion that it was necessary at this time to justification and salvation. Of these the apostle saith, that by this they made themselves debtors to do the whole law; they were obliged to one part of the law, they must also be obliged to all the other parts of it. Besides that circumcision was an owning and professing subjection to the whole law; as the receiving the sacrament of baptism is a professed subjecting ourselves to the whole gospel.

Objection. But (may some say) ought not then all Christians to observe the law?

Answer.

1. Not the ceremonial and political law, which were peculiar to the Jewish church and state.

2. It is one thing to be under an obligation to our utmost to fulfil the law, another thing to acknowledge ourselves debtors to the law.

Objection. But did not the fathers, then, by being circumcised, acknowledge themselves debtors to the law?

Answer. Yes, they did acknowledge themselves bound to the observation of the law, and to endure (upon the breaking it) the curse of it: but they were discharged from this obligation by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was made a curse for them, that he might redeem them from the curse of the law. But if any disclaimed Christ, (which, whosoever added any thing to his righteousness and to faith in him, as to the justification of the soul, did, as the apostle had said in the former verse), they laid themselves under an obligation to fulfil the whole law of God, if they would be saved.


Verse 4

The word here translated become of no effect, is used Romans 3:3. By those who

are justified by the law, are to be understood such as seek or desire to be justified by the law, for actually none is so justified. The sense is: Whoever seeketh to be justified by the works of the law, he disclaimeth the righteousness of Christ; to him Christ’s death signifieth nothing, nor is of any virtue at all. For he had told us before, Galatians 2:21: If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain: and Romans 8:3,4: What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, & c. The very end of Christ’s coming and dying was to supply us with a righteousness, which (apprehended by faith) should be reckoned to us as ours, wherein we might stand before God. Which end of Christ’s death had been frustrated, if, through our flesh, there had not been such a weakness or impotency in the law as to justification. So as if any still looked for justification by performance of the law, as such made the death of Christ in vain, because if such a thing could have been done that way there had been no need of Christ’s dying; so they also made it, which was not in vain in itself, yet in vain and of no effect to their souls, because Christ would not be a partial cause in the justification of a soul.

Ye are fallen from grace; and they, by this, renounced the grace of God exhibited in the gospel, and fell from the grace of it. For by grace here is not to be understood a state of grace, (from which none can fall totally and finally), but the grace of the gospel; by which is signified the free love of God in it exhibited, offering Christ to sinners for righteousness.


Verse 5

For we; we Christians, who have truly embraced Christ; or, (as others think), we that are turned from Judaism to Christianity, and so are more concerned in the law, which was not given to the Gentiles, but to us Jews: yet,

through the Spirit, by the guidance and direction or the Spirit, or through the operation of the Spirit in us, we wait for the hope of righteousness; that is, we hope for righteousness; that righteousness whereby we shall be made righteous before God; or, (as some will have it), the crown of righteousness: I had rather understand it of righteousness itself, that having been all along the argument of the apostle’s discourse here.

By faith; not by our observance of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.


Verse 6

Under the new testament established in Christ, and confirmed by the death of Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile; there is but one way of justification, one of salvation, for them both; and that is, by believing in Christ Jesus; which faith is not an idle, inactive, inoperative faith, but such a

faith as worketh by love, both towards God and towards men, in an obedience to all the commandments of God: yet is not the soul justified, nor shall it stand righteous before God, in and for this obedience, which neither is faith, nor goeth before it, but followeth it, as the true, proper, and necessary effect of it.


Verse 7

This was once your faith, your profession, and according to this you directed the course of your life and actions; who hath hindered you in your course, or turned you out of your way, or given you a check in your race; and hath made you disobedient to, or to swerve from, the truth which you formerly owned and professed.


Verse 8

This persuasion; this new opinion into which seducers have misled you, which, by embracing it, you have made yours.

Cometh not of him that calleth you; is not from God, who hath called you out of darkness into marvellous light, unto fellowship with himself, into a state of grace and favour with him, and to the hopes of eternal life; and who yet calleth you by his gospel: it must therefore be from the devil and his instruments, who go about to seduce and pervert you.


Verse 9

This is a proverbial expression, which (as others of that nature) is applicable in more cases than one. The apostle made use of it, 1 Corinthians 5:6, to persuade that church to purge their communion, by casting out the incestuous person: he maketh use of it here to persuade them to take heed of admitting any principles of false doctrine, which he compareth to leaven, (as our Saviour does, Matthew 16:6,12), and that very fitly, both in regard of the sour and of the diffusive nature of it; the latter of which is here chiefly intended; the truths of God having such dependence one upon another, that he who erreth in any one doctrine of faith, seldom continueth long sound as to other points.


Verse 10

I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: the apostle (according to his usual method) sweeteneth his sharp reproof of this church for their deviations from the faith of the gospel, with a declaration of his good opinion of them; declaring that he had a confidence in them, that through the grace of God they would be reduced to the truth, or kept from wandering from it, and that in matters of faith they would be all of the same mind.

But he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be; and for those who endeavoured to seduce and pervert them, God should reward them according to their works. He seems to aim at some particular false teacher, (whose name he concealeth), who gave this church this trouble.


Verse 11

It should seem by what the apostle saith in this verse, that some of these false teachers had quoted the apostle for them, as if he himself had preached circumcision; possibly taking advantage from his circumcising Timothy, not distinguishing between what was done by Paul as of liberty, and to avoid the offence of the Jews, and what they pressed as necessary to be done (besides believing in Christ) for justification. Now, (saith the apostle),

if I yet preach up circumision as necessary to be observed,

why do I yet suffer persecution? Why am I then persecuted by the Jews, as one apostatized from their religion?

Then is the offence of the cross ceased: by the cross, he eihter means the cross of Christ; then the sense is: It is my opposing the observance of their law, that more offendeth them than my preaching of Christ crucified. Or else he meaneth the afflictions which he suffered for the sake of Christ and the gospel; (in which sense the term is used, Matthew 16:24 Luke 9:23 14:22); then the sense is, that all sufferings for the owning and preaching of Christ are at an end; let us but yield the Jews that point, (that Christians are obliged to the observance of the law of Moses), the great quarrel between them and us is at an end; but their daily persecuting of me is a sufficient demonstration that I do not preach up circumcision.


Verse 12

I wish that God would some way or other put an end to these that trouble you. This Paul speaketh not out of hatred to their persons, but out of a zeal to the glory of God, and a just indignation against these men, who had so much hindered the salvation of the members of this church. And it is not improbable that the apostle here spake by the Spirit of prophecy, as knowing God would cut them off; so that his and the like imprecations of holy men in Scripture are not to be drawn into precedents, or made matters for our imitation, unless we had the same discerning of spirits which they had, or the same Spirit of prophecy and revelations from God as to future things. But how far it is lawful or unlawful for ordinary persons, whether ministers or private Christians, to pray against God’s or his church’s enemies, is a question for the arguing which this place is too narrow.


Verse 13

Ye have been called unto liberty; a liberty from the covenant of the law, and the curse of the law, as Galatians 3:13; from servile fear, as Luke 1:74; and from sin, Romans 6:7.

Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh; but you must take heed that you do not abuse this liberty by making it an occasion for sin, so as from thence to conclude, that you may give your flesh more liberty in obeying the lusts of it: you must not think, that the gospel hath set you at liberty from the obedience of the law; the gospel liberty to which you are called, doth not set you free from the duty of love, either to God or men. Therefore

by love serve one another. Our Christian liberty neither freeth us from the serving of God, nor from our mutual serving each other by love, according to Romans 8:8: Owe no man any thing, but to love one another.


Verse 14

The whole will of God, containing our duty towards men, is reducible to this one thing, love; for whatsoever God hath commanded us to do towards men, is but a brauch from this root, and must flow from love as its principle. Or, the whole will of God concerning man is fulfilled in this one thing of love; where love to God is not excluded, but supposed, as the root of our love to our neighbour; for our neighbour is to be loved for God. Thus Romans 8:8: He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law: and 1 John 4:20, the apostle proveth, that a man cannot love God unless he loveth his brother: and 1 Timothy 1:5: The end of the commandment is charity. Yet what the papists would conclude from hence, (viz. that it is possible for a man to fulfil the law because it is possible for him to love his neighbour), doth by no means follow; for the apostle {1 Timothy 1:5} telleth us, this love must proceed out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned. Mr. Calvin observeth well, that the apostle here mentioneth love to men as the fulfilling of the law, in opposition to the false teachers; who made the fulfilling of the law to lie in the observance of the ceremonies of the law, whereas the great thing which the law of God requireth is love, out of a pure heart, good conscience, and faith unfeigned. So that he who believeth with a faith unfeigned, and, out of that principle, with a pure heart and a good conscience, loveth his neighbour as himself, shall be by God accounted to have fulfilled the law; for love is the end of the law.


Verse 15

This lets us know, that there were great contentions and divisions amongst the members of this church, whether (which is probable) occasioned by their differences in and about the doctrine of justification, or upon other accounts, we are not told; but upon whatever account they were raised, they were contrary to that serving one another in love, to which the apostle had exhorted them. Nor did they terminate in a mere dislike of and displacency to each other, but broke out into overt acts, more becoming dogs than Christians, and therefore it is expressed under the notion of biting and devouring. The issue of which, the apostle prophesieth would be a consuming one another; they being actions that had a natural tendency to this end.


Verse 16

Walk in the Spirit; the apostle having, Galatians 5:13, cautioned them against turning the grace of God into wantonness, by using their liberty as an occasion to the flesh; here he directeth them to the best means for the avoiding thereof, viz.

walking in the Spirit. Where by Spirit he doth not mean our own spirits, or the guide and conduct of our own reason; for the term Spirit, set (as here) in opposition to the flesh, is in no place of Scripture understood of any other than the Holy Spirit of God, which dwelleth in and influenceth believers, guiding them both by a rule from without, (which is the word of God, given by its inspiration), and by its inward motions and operations. Walking, signifieth the directing of their whole conversations. The phrases

in the Spirit, and after the Spirit, Romans 8:1, seem to be of the same import, uuless the alteration of the preposition signifieth, that Christians are not only to look to the word of God dictated by the Holy Spirit as their rule, and to listen to its dictates, but also to look up to the Holy Spirit for its strength and assistance; and implieth a promise of such assistance. The sense is: Let your whole conversation be according to the external rule of the gospel, and the more inward motions, directions, and inclinations of the Spirit of Christ, dwelling and working in you, and moving you to the obedience of that word.

And ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh; this doing, though the flesh be yet in you, and you will find the lustings and warrings of it, yet you shall not fulfil the sinful desires and lustings of it; that is, sin, though it be in you, shall not be in dominion in you; it shall not reign in your mortal bodies: Romans 6:12: Let not sin reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.


Verse 17

By the flesh and

the Spirit, we cannot so much understand the sensitive and rational appetite; for these two appetites are not so contrary, but that in many things they agree well enough; and we are enemies not only in our sensitive part, to spiritual things, but en th dianoia, in our mind and rational part also, Colossians 1:21. And some of the works of the flesh, which are afterward mentioned, Galatians 5:19-21, (such as idolatry, heresies, & c.), cannot be referred to the sensitive part. But by these terms are either to be understood the unregenerate part of man; or rather, that carnal concupiscence which we derived from Adam, and is seated in our rational as well as sensitive appetite; which opposeth itself to the Divine rule, and to the dictates and motions of the Spirit of God.

The flesh lusteth against the Spirit; this concupiscence moveth strongly against the directions of the Spirit.

And the Spirit against the flesh; and the Holy Spirit of God, dwelling in the saints, moveth us potently against the propensions and inclinations of the flesh.

And these are contrary the one to the other; for they are two contrary principles, and work contrarily in their motions and inclinations.

So that ye cannot do the things that ye would; so that even the best of God’s people cannot at all times do either what they should do, (according to the precept of the word), or what they would do, according to the bent of their regenerate part.


Verse 18

To be led of the Spirit, and to walk in the Spirit, are the same thing; and differ only as the cause and the effect. To be

under the law, is to be under the curse of it, or coaction of it, and an obligation to the performance of the ceremonial law. The reason is, because the Spirit is a Spirit of adoption and liberty; and where it is, it teacheth to serve the Lord without fear from a principle of freedom and ingenuity.


Verse 19

The works of the flesh; the products of the natural inclinations and propensions in the heart of man.

Are manifest, which are these; he saith, these are manifest, the filthiness of them appears by the light of nature, by the checks of conscience men meet with for them; or else, it is manifest that these actions are not from the Spirit of God, (because of their contrariety to the Divine rule), but are from the corrupt part of man. These (he saith) are adultery, or the defiling of our neighbour’s bed; fornication, which is the uncleanness of single persons each with other; and all other species of uncleanness, or unclean conjunctions: lasciviousness; whatsoever wanton carriage, gestures, or behaviour lead to these acts.


Verse 20

Idolatry; either the worshipping of the creature for God, or the worshipping of God in and by the creature, as by images, &c.

Witchcraft; the product of compacts with the devil; by virtue of which, the persons so contracting are assisted by the power of evil spirits to produce effects beside the ordinary course and order of nature, and for the most part mischievous to others. And not these gross crimes only are the fruits of the flesh, but also abiding

hatred of our brethren in our hearts, enmities to others, as the word signifieth. The result of which are,

variance; men’s quarrellings and contendings one with another for little or no cause:

emulations; people’s endeavouring to hinder others of such good things as they see them desirous of:

wrath; heats and immoderate passions of men one against another:

strife; a continual readiness and proneness to quarrelling:

seditions; dividing into parties, which in the state is called sedition, in the church, schism:

heresies; that is, differing and false opinions in the grand doctrine of religion.


Verse 21

Envyings; repinings at that good which is enjoyed by our brethren:

murders; unjust taking away the lives of others, with any actions tending or subservient thereunto: drunkenness; immoderate drinkings:

revellings, and such like; immoderate eatings; all abuses of the creatures of God beyond necessity, or a moderate delight.

Of the which I tell you before; I tell you of it before the day of judgment comes, when you will find that which I tell you to be truth.

As I have also told you in time past; as you know I have in my preaching to you in times past told you.

That they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God; that they who ordinarily do these things, and do not only live in such practices, but die without repentance for them, shall never be saved: see 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 Re 21:7,8.


Verse 22

The fruit of the Spirit; those habits which the Holy Spirit of God produceth in those in whom it dwelleth and worketh, with those acts which flow from them, as naturally as the tree produceth its fruit, are,

love to God, and to our neighbours:

joy; the soul’s satisfaction in its union with God, as the greatest and highest good; with an actual rejoicing in Christ, and in what is for his honour and glory, called a rejoicing in the truth, 1 Corinthians 13:6; and in the good of our brethren, Romans 12:15:

peace; quietude of conscience, or peace with God, (of which peace of conscience is a copy), and a peaceable disposition towards men, opposed to strife, variance, emulations, &c.:

long-suffering; opposed to a hastiness to revenge, and inclining us patiently to bear injuries:

gentleness; sweetness and kindness of temper, by which we accommodate ourselves, and become mutually useful to each other:

goodness; a disposition in us to hurt none, but to do all the good we can to all:

faith; by faith seemeth here to be meant, truth in words, faithfulness in promises, and in dealings one with another.


Verse 23

Meekness; forbearance of passion, rash anger, and hastiness of spirit:

temperance; a sober use of meats, drinks, apparel, or any thing wherein our senses are delighted. Many of these are moral virtues, and such as some have attained to by moral discipline, the cultivating of their natures by education, and moral philosophy: yet they are also the fruits of the Spirit of God; such as it doth always work in the souls wherein it dwelleth (though in different measures and degrees): only the moral man thus comporteth himself from principles of reason, showing him the beauty and comeliness of such a conversation, and aims no Ligher in it, than a happiness of converse in this life, his own honour and reputation. But the spiritual man, doing the same things, aimeth at a higher end (the glorifying of God, and saving his own soul); and doth these things from a fear of God, out of love to him, and out of faith, as seeing in them the will of God.

Against such (saith the apostle) there is no law; no law to accuse or to condemn them; for these are things which the law commandeth to be done, and are acts of obedience to the law. So as those who do these things are led by the Spirit, and are not under the condemning power or curse of the law.


Verse 24

They that are Christ’s; those who are ingrafted into Christ by faith, united to him, and so his members;

have crucified the flesh; by virtue of a power derived from the cross of Christ, have got their unregenerate part in a great measure mortified;

with the affections and lusts; with the inordinate desires, affections, and passions of it: not that they have wholly put off these, (they are men still), but the inordinateness of them is corrected, mortified, and subdued.


Verse 25

If we live in the Spirit; if (as we profess) there is a union between the Holy Spirit of God and us, so as that Holy Spirit is to its the principle of our life, and we live more from him than from any principle in ourselves;

let us also walk in the Spirit; let us manage all our conversation according to the guidance and direction of the same Spirit. Operations naturally follow the principle of life from which they proceed, so that as those who only live in the flesh, walk in and after the flesh, and its inclination; so those who live in the Spirit ought to produce, and will produce, effects suitable to the cause of them, and the principle from which they flow.


Verse 26

Let us not be desirous of vain-glory: ambition or vain-glory is a natural corruption, disposing us to boast and commend ourselves, and to seek the honour and applause of men.

Provoking one another; this is an effect of the former, disposing us, out of hope of victory, to challenge others to a contest with us. Or it may be understood of provoking others by injuries and wrongs done them; which is contrary to the duty of love.

Envying one another; not repining at the good of others; either desiring their portion, or being troubled that they fare so well. Possibly this verse might more properly have been made the first of the next chapter, (as Luther maketh it), where the apostle goeth on, pressing further spiritual duties common to all Christians.

 


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Bibliography Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Galatians 5:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/galatians-5.html. 1685.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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