William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.Galatians Chapter 5
It is well to remark the different way in which the Holy Ghost brings out the liberty which the believer now enjoys. In John 8:32-36, it is attributed to the Son' and the Son of God acting by the truth; and both points of view in contradistinction to the law. The whole chapter, indeed, is most striking in this respect. For we have the case of a woman taken in adultery, in the very act; and man scrupling not to use this for selfish purposes: and, observe, religious man! He puts himself, as he might suppose, on God's side, to judge the, gravest, plainest, most positive guilt, and this without mercy and without self-judgment. Nay, further: he would turn the case of man's sin and shame, and God's law, not only to exalt himself and claim a righteousness which he has not, but to dishonour God's Son. Now this is the thesis of the chapter, and it has brought out triumphantly the glory of Christ. For He never came to sully the law. But then there was a glory that surpassed, and it was come - a glory before which the dignity of the law grew pale; and Christ showed it most clearly. Not that He uttered one word to lower the law, which indeed could not have been of God. But, nevertheless, He proved the utter powerlessness of the law to meet the sinner's case, save only in the way of a destruction which goes much farther than those who cite it expect. Law destroys the guilty hand that wields it, as well as him against whom it is aimed. It is two-edged in its character when Christ speaks; and those were forced to feel its keenness most who appealed to it against the abashed adulteress. Not she, but they, retired in utter confusion from the presence of Christ, - but mark this - of Christ using the law! nay, not this; but Christ, as divine light, dealing with conscience. Nevertheless, He did most completely expose the folly and sin of their recourse to the law. He showed that one without sin could alone righteously throw the first stone. The law never had raised such a question. But Christ brings in a power and comprehensiveness and searching character which never had shone before; and which can be seen now only in and through Him. The law simply said, Thou shalt not do this; but this is not, "He that is without sin." And who was the sinless? He alone who had not come to condemn. The law might denounce, but there was none to execute it. For had its sentence been carried out, they were all dead men - all left equally under the penalty, though from different 'causes. They retire in hopeless confusion; and the woman was left in the presence of the Son, who shines with the word of God as light upon the soul.
In the whole chapter they who stood upon the law are manifested as the slaves of sin. They might boast about being children of Abraham, but they did not his works. And certainly Abraham, who did not even know that law of which they boasted, did know Christ's day. He had seen the light of God, and rejoiced to see that day. So here, when proud, guilty man is banished from His presence, He meets one who was outwardly more guilty, and with nothing but mercy. This flows from His divine rights as Son of God, using the word of God and not the law. The law, on the contrary, always condemns and kills, and can only put bondage on the soul. But it is Christ's prerogative, and Christ's only, to give true liberty. It is the Son who makes free. The liberty we get flows from His word. Hence it is through faith; because "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." These things always go together - the Son of God working by the word, and that received by faith into the soul.
But there is another point of view, which it is especially the Apostle Paul's to bring out, that Christ has wrought a work by virtue of which even those who were under the law are completely brought outside its domain; and those not previously under it, i.e., the Gentiles, are proved to sin against their own mercies, if in any way they pass under its yoke. To this the Apostle Paul has come in our epistle: "Stand fast," he says, "in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Bear in mind this, too, that, among the Galatians, the character of the bondage was not so much what is c ailed the moral law as the ceremonial. I am aware that many would think the latter much more serious shall the former. But, on the contrary, the Christian's subjection to the moral law argues a far deeper departure from the truth than if it were the ceremonial; because the ceremonial law, every Christian must feel, derives its whole meaning and value from being a type of Christ. Not so the ten words, which are not a type of Christ, but the direct demand upon the strength and righteousness of men' if he have any. And, therefore, one can understand a Christian's getting entangled with types and shadows. A reasoning mind might say, Is it possible to believe that circumcision, on which God insisted so much with Israel, is to be given up now? If there were no value in it ever, why was it enjoined on Abraham's seed? And if it were so significant and obligatory then, why not now? Besides, does not Christ teach that it was not of Moses, but of the fathers?
All this might furnish a plausible platform for human feeling and argument; but the apostle was led of the Holy Ghost to deal with the question of introducing the thinnest wedge of the law. Take circumcision, the type of having our nature mortified: every believer has this verified in the death of Christ. But believers might have said, There ought to be the outward acknowledgment of it too: why not retain the rite which connects us with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! We are feeble and forgetful; why should we not keep up that which "the elders" prized so deeply, while we also enjoy the blessing that is new? But the apostle deals with it decisively in this epistle. Whatever the use to which God applied circumcision before Christ, it vanishes now. "Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing" - that is, if you should be circumcised after this: it was not a question of those who had already been. But if they, as Christians, sought it, "Christ shall profit you nothing." He does not mean that, supposing any one had made the gross mistake of being circumcised, this could not be forgiven; but that, if they now passed through that ordinance as necessary to their complete justification, His efficacy was for them made void. Thus, not only is Christ a complete Saviour, but He is an exclusive one. The attempt to add to Christ is in fact to destroy salvation by Christ.
This principle is very important; because you will find it is constantly the resource of ignorance to say, Well, we all hold the same thing to a certain degree; the only difference is, that I believe something more than you do. Yes, but that "something more" is to extinguish faith, and annul the worth of Christ. Bring in anything, no matter what, necessary to be done by you - necessary as a means of "being justified in the sight of God," and I say unto you, warns the apostle, "Christ shall profit you nothing." Nay, look at circumcision, which God once instituted with peculiar solemnity, threatening with death him who did not submit to it; and now see how that same God, having given Christ, puts a stop to it all. It had done its office; and now to bring it in again would be to obscure, dishonour, and even destroy the work of Christ. God had shown by it, in a figure, that the old man was to be treated as a vile and dead thing. But Christ is come; and there is not now a mere disciplinary process on the old man, but a "new creature;" and the idea of mixing up something done to the old, along with the new, as a means of justification, is most offensive to the Spirit of God. "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." You may distinguish between the ceremonial part, that had such a blessed meaning, and the moral part, by which, you allow, man cannot be justified; but you know not what you do. You cannot separate circumcision from the law. God has embodied that rite so formally in the whole structure of the law, that though it had existed before, it became an integral part since, and henceforth amalgamates so intimately that you cannot separate the rite from the entire system. If you acknowledge any portion of the ritual as that under which you are, you are responsible for the universal legal system; you are debtor to all its demands. And I would call your attention solemnly to this - "a debtor to do the whole law."
Is not then every Christian thus a debtor? God forbid! It is false doctrine. If he were, he would be a lost man. I am aware there are those who do not understand this; who think that Christ, besides bringing pardon, is simply a means to strengthen them to keep the law. But this is sad and fundamental ignorance of Christianity. Is a Christian then at liberty to break the law? Still more loudly do I cry, God forbid! It is one thing to be a debtor to do the whole law, and another that God can make light of any breach of the law. Is there then nothing possible between these two conditions - debt to the law and freedom to break it? Neither consists with a Christian. He who is free to do his own will, is a lawless, wicked man. He who is under the law to do it, describes the proper condition of the Jew and nobody else. The Christian stands on an entirely different ground. He is saved by grace and is called to walk in grace; and the character of righteousness that God looks for in him is of another sort altogether; as it is said to the Philippians, "being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are" - not by the law, but - "by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God" - by Christ under grace and not under law. And this is not a question solely of justification. I am speaking now about the walk, about the responsibility of the Christian to do the will of God; and I say that Christ, not the law, is the measure of the Christian's walk; which makes all the difference possible.
It may be said, Was not Christ under the law? Yes, assuredly, but He was above it too. The Christian, the Gentile, never was under it; and being set in Christ, now that he believes, he stands on other ground, to which the law does not apply. For this reason, every Christian (no matter who or what) is regarded by God as alive from the dead, to bring forth fruit unto God. The law only deals with a man as long as he lives; never after he is dead. "But ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." And that, it is remarkable, is not at all what is said of us, after a "second blessing," extreme unction, or any other step of imaginary perfection. We begin with it, and our baptism declares it. What this sets forth is Christ's death and resurrection. And if it has any meaning for me, it says that I am identified with Christ dead and risen. It is no longer the law dealing with me to try if it can get any good out of me. I have relinquished all by receiving Christ, and I take my stand upon Christ dead and risen again, and am baptized into His name, as one alive from the dead, to yield myself to God.
Nor is this some abstruse doctrine that ought to require deep acquaintance with the word of God. It is not hid away in some trope or figure of a hard book, but plainly set forth in the Epistle to the Romans, and this is the invariable doctrine. So, wherever you look, this is the foundation-truth of Christianity, that God has done with mere dealing with the flesh. He has another man, even a new man, Christ risen from the dead; and the Christian has received Him. This is practically what God has to make good in the heart of the Christian. "Walk ye in him." A young Christian may be cast down after receiving Christ, through the sense of evil he finds in himself. He wonders how this can be. He knows how Christ deserves to be served, and is conscious how little he serves Him as he ought: he is filled with sorrow about himself, and perhaps begins to doubt whether he be a Christian at all. He has not yet learnt his lesson. He has not mastered even what his baptism set forth, the value of having a Saviour who is dead and risen. He is occupied still with something of the old man; he looks at it and expects to get better, hoping that his heart will not have so many bad thoughts, etc., as he used to have; whereas the only strength of the Christian is being filled with Christ, with all that is lovely in Him before God. The saint, in proportion as he enjoys Christ, lives above himself. There is the exercise of that by virtue of which the Christian is said to be dead and risen - the new life which the Holy Ghost communicates to all who believe. Only the believer feels what is unlike Christ; but he rests in what Christ is to God, and this makes him happy. When he becomes engrossed with what takes place within him, he is cast down. It is not that he should not judge himself for what is contrary to Christ, but that he should treat it as vile and bad, as that which flows from man and not from Christ; and then, having confessed it to God, he should turn away resolutely from it to the Saviour. The believer has acquired the title in Christ not to be cast down because of what he finds within him; not to be disheartened, because there dwells no good thing in his flesh. Is not this what the revealed word of God tells him so constantly? And yet how many go on months and years, expecting some good thing to come out! I do not, of course, mean that they are not born of God; but they are so under the effect of old thoughts and notions, acquired by catechisms, books of divinity, and sermons, that they do not enter into the full liberty wherewith Christ makes free.
Nothing can be plainer than the Holy Ghost's decision in the matter. He shows that the very smallest insisting on the law, in any shape, brings you in a debtor to do the whole of it; and if so, where are you before God? You are lost and hopeless, if you have a conscience. The question of the law generally comes up now as connected with sanctification. In the case of the Galatians, it came out strongly in the matter of justification. But the Christian has no more to do with it in one form than another. In verses 1-4 it is connected with justification. In the latter part of the chapter its link is with sanctification, which is the connection, and the only connection, in Romans 6, where justification is not touched upon, but only the believer's walk. As to this, he is not under law, but under grace. What a blessed thing it is to stand in this true grace of God! If I look at my salvation, it is all His grace; and if I think what is to give strength to my walk and service, it is just the same. Grace is the spring all through. God does not alter, now that He has revealed, the fulness of grace in Christ. Launched into that ocean, He will not go back into what had to do with exposing and scourging the old man, needful as the task was. Is He not rejoiced to have done with that which never wrought anything else, as far as mall was concerned, but the mere crushing of those that had a conscience, and an opportunity to make out a self-righteousness for those that had none; those, that were conscientious, groaning and miserable; and those that were not, full of themselves and of their fancied goodness? How sad, then, the departure warned of here! "Christ is become of no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." By these last words, he does not mean that they had slipped into immorality, or were openly gone from Christ. But they had joined the law along with Christ as a means of justification; and the moment you have done this, you have let slip the only principle on which God can possibly count you righteous. For God justifies sinners. What a glory of God! "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted to him for righteousness."
How is it, then, one may ask, that any ungodly are not justified? Because they do not believe that God is as good as He is; because the gift of Christ is too great for them; because their confidence is in themselves, or at the least they have no confidence in God. And the reason why they have none is, from not believing what Christ is for the sinner. When I know His glory and His cross - that He has turned it all now into the scale of the poor soul who goes to Him because of his sins, then I see that it is impossible that God could not save him who stands in the same scale with Christ; and this is what the soul does that believes in Christ. He may he as light as a feather, but it is not his own weight that he depends on, but on what Christ is and Christ has done. God has confidence in the work of His Son, and he has; that is faith. A man is a believer who no longer trusts in his own works, nor in his own feelings, but in God's estimate of the cross of His Son, God being not only gracious but righteous in that very thing. I want to know that I have got through Christ that whereby God is glorified in thus blessing me. And therefore He is what He is - righteous in justifying my soul. If I have Christ, God is equally righteous in justifying me, as He would be in condemning me if I had Him not. The righteousness of God that would condemn the sinner is the very thing that in Christ justifies the sinner, but, then, it also secures holiness. It is not merely a robe over him, but there is a new life as well; and I receive that new life in receiving Christ: in a word, we have justification of life in Him. And of what character is this life? Not the same as Adam's. That would not do, because Adam fell after he had life. But Christ laid down His life, that He might take it again in resurrection; and hence we never lose the life that He has given us - a life stamped with His victory over the grave: in fact, our life is Christ risen from the dead. No wonder, then, that it is everlasting, and that we can never perish. It is the life of One risen, over whom death has no more dominion. And such, consequently, is the position of the believer. Of course there may be the physical act of passing through death; but we are speaking about life before God communicated to the soul; and that life is the everlasting life of Christ, after He had put away our sins on the cross.
Accordingly, the apostle concludes the whole matter with, "We, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." It is not that we, through the Spirit, are waiting to be justified, but "we, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." And what is this hope? It is the glory of Christ. We have the righteousness, but not yet the hope of it. We have Christ Himself, but the hope of righteousness is the hope that righteousness in Christ entitles me to. We have become the righteousness of God in Christ. But what is the hope of righteousness? It is the hope of the glory of God: as it is said in Romans 5, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." In the first verse is the righteousness, in the end of the second, the hope - "the hope of righteousness." And what is that? That I shall be with Christ in the very same glory that He has. For this the believer is waiting. And meanwhile he has the Spirit of God, not merely to work in his soul, but that we through Him should wait for the hope of righteousness. We have not that hope seen and possessed yet; and therefore it is entirely a question of faith. But the Spirit of God who dwells in us gives us to know that, possessing the righteousness, being already justified, we shall have a hope suited to that righteousness. As we have the righteousness of God, we shall have the glory of God. So that nothing can be more blessed than the position in which the believer is set here by the apostle. The Galatians were hoping to be justified; but he says, You are justified already; and if you think to make things more sure by circumcision, you lose everything, and become debtors to do that which ensures only a curse: whereas "we, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." We are waiting for glory - the hope of righteousness.
"For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love." Now he shows, just passingly, that there is a very great reality in the believer's moral condition. It is not only that he has justification, and a hope in character with it by and by; but the selfsame faith which makes him know that he is justified, and gives him also to be looking onward to the glory he is destined to, meanwhile works by love, not by law. To this he is going to bring us, the question of practical sanctification; and he shows that the believer has no need of going under the law; because, if his faith works by love, it accomplishes that which the law sought, but never effected or received. He does not at all mean to say that, though the believer is thus justified and waiting for glory, there is nothing meanwhile operating in his soul. It is a mighty and influential thing; but, then, it works by love. Its origin and its rest are in God's love; it knows salvation springing from that love. The love of God shown in Christ fills the believer's heart. He has a hope that makes not ashamed. And why not? Because the love of God is shed abroad in his heart. And I take that love of God in its largest possible meaning first of all, as God's love to us; and next, as ours to Him. It is the fulness of the sense of God's love in us; and the effect is, that it enables us to love God and every one else. If persons are thoroughly happy themselves, they cannot help loving others.
This, then, is the principle upon which the believer stands - he is already justified; he is waiting for the glory; and meanwhile there is faith that worketh by love. Therefore it is no question of circumcision. We are Christians; and the whole basis of the law, therefore, and of these questions, is gone. How comes this to pass? For a very blessed reason. "For," says he, "in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love." The first availed a good deal to the flesh, and there was an important lesson taught by it. But he speaks of what is "in Jesus Christ." That is the position of a Christian. He is not in the flesh: he once was. And "when we were in the flesh, the motions of sin, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death" - an expression that shows as strongly as possible that we are not in the flesh now. Do you not understand this? If you tell a person that you were in the country once, it implies that you are not there now. So, when the apostle says, "when ye were in the flesh," he means that he was in the flesh before he knew Christ: but now he is in the flesh no more, though he has the flesh in him. God views us in another condition. We have the old nature, but we have got another nature, by virtue of which God says, "Ye are not in the flesh." When we were in the flesh, we were not delivered: we had not laid hold of Christ. But now that we are His, we are no longer in the flesh. We ought firmly to hold fast this truth, and to rejoice in it. If a person fails, that is the more reason why he should not yield to the further suggestions of the enemy. We ought always to hold fast to the truth that we are not in the flesh; the more especially as it is not for our own praise. On the contrary, it is the very thing that aggravates our sin, and that makes us the more ashamed of ourselves. If you are in the flesh, no wonder that you act after the flesh. But if you are not in the flesh, then be ashamed when you act as if you were. God presses upon us this blessedness, for the express purpose of making us feel more deeply our failure, if we do fail. We are not in the flesh, and therefore we ought never to give way to the flesh. But when we do, we should feel it, and confess it with humiliation before God, but not let go Christ nor His truth. This is true of every Christian; though I am aware that there are many Christians who would say that they could not receive a word of it - that it is all mysticism, etc.: but it is a comfort to think God says every word of it about them. They may not be able to take the comfort of it for themselves; but what a blessed thing it is that Christians have to do with God, and not with themselves! This is the reason why they are not consumed. We prove ourselves to be just as weak and foolish as Jacob was, giving way to the flesh so often, and allowing our own spirit to work too; but we are, in a still higher sense, Israel. We have prevailed, because of Him in whom we are before God.
"Ye did run well. Who did hinder you, that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you." He reproaches them with having listened to these false teachers, who had pressed circumcision. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." Is it not solemn to find that the very word "leaven" which is used in 1 Corinthians to describe frightful mural corruption, in Galatians characterizes the introduction of the legal system among the children of God? God treats it as a most offensive thing. Indeed, the tone of the Holy Ghost in writing to the Galatians is even more severe than in addressing the Corinthians. Because, although the Corinthians were guilty of what was far more blameable in the sight of men, the Galatians had fallen into an error that struck more deeply at the foundations of God's grace; and a spiritual man invariably judges sin, not by that which man thinks of it, but by what it is in the sight of God. Having brought out the character of it, he says, "I have confidence in you through the Lord that ye will be none otherwise minded." He could not say that about all of them: he says it in a general way; and adds, "But he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be." He wants to separate them and give a sense of horror about those who had misled them. "Faith which worketh by love" does not hesitate to use strong language about the corrupters of the Church of God - denounces them most earnestly, and as a duty to God and man. "I would they were even cut off which trouble you." He that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be." There were several engaged in that bad work. "And I, brethren, if I preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution?" They had made the Apostle Paul to be a sort of evidence in their favour. They may have taken advantage of his circumcising Timothy, in order to make a show of inconsistency between his acts and his preaching. But St. Paul was not acting contrary to these principles when he circumcised Timothy. It was the elasticity of a man who could stop the mouths of objectors; and Paul, to silence Jewish slander, ended that question most unjewishly - by having Timothy circumcised. But he would not suffer it in the case of Titus, (who was a Greek,) whom he took up to Jerusalem with himself. This might appear capricious, but grace knows the time to be firm as well as to bend. There seems here to be an allusion to this, in his argument with the defenders of the law. It requires the wisdom of the Spirit of God giving one to know where one may use our liberty, or where it is a duty to stand as firm as a rock; and Paul did both. If Timothy had been circumcised, it was grace stopping mere fleshly questions, and not law, for his father was a Greek. But as to preaching it, such a thing was far from his mind. Had he ever pressed circumcision, he would have had their favour and countenance in every place that he visited. On the contrary, he was persecuted because he would not allow the flesh nor the title of circumcision.
The latter portion of the chapter takes up the other subject, namely, the law as ruling the walk. What we have had already is the denial of circumcision and of law in every shape as entering into justification. Admit the principle of it in a single particular, and you are a debtor to do the whole law.
At this natural division the Spirit of God recurs to the thought of liberty with which He had opened the chapter. It is put forward in a twofold point of view. Liberty as a question of justification we had in the early part; liberty now we have as that which leads into, and ought always to be connected with, practical holiness. For we must remember that this is the subject-matter of the remainder of the chapter. Now there are many persons who more or less understand that Christ has brought us liberty in the matter of righteousness, or the standing of justified men in the sight of God; but they do not know liberty in the daily walk with God. And when I say "many," I mean many Christians, or real saints. Practical holiness, in such cases, invariably suffers. Where there is, along with this, much conscience, it necessarily takes the legal form of ordinances, restraints, and the like. Or where souls have not the same internal exercises, it takes the shape of laxity to a greater or less extent: that is, they see that they are delivered by the grace of God, and they consider themselves free to use the world, and to allow, to no little a degree, the inclinations of nature; because, as they say, there is evil in the nature, and, as they suppose, God, in His tender mercy, makes allowance for it. Now both these things are totally wrong. One cause of all this mistake lies in the misapprehension of a very important truth - the effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. Yet, in the Acts: and Epistles, all the exhortations, the walk that is set forth, the worship that the New Testament inculcates, the whole experience - in a word, of Christians that is there portrayed and insisted upon - everything is built upon the presence of the Holy Ghost. Where this is not entered into, the consequence is, that children of God must either suppose that there is a certain latitude allowed them by God, which is only another word foe indifference, or they must fall back upon the righteous curb that God has put upon our nature, and that is only another expression for the law of God. Now, the gospel supposes that, good and holy and perfect as the law of God is, it is entirely powerless either to justify or to sanctify. It cannot in any way make the old nature better; neither is it the rule of the new nature. The old man is not subject to it, and the new man does not need it. The new creature has another object before it, and another power that acts upon it, in order to produce what is lovely and acceptable to God - Christ the object, realized by the power of the Holy Ghost. And although, of course, the Spirit can use every bit of the word, (God forbid that I should say that God's righteous law was not brought within the range of the Spirit to turn to account!) I maintain that the law does not give the form, nor the measure, nor the character, any more than the power, of christian Holiness. It is a misunderstanding of God's design in giving it, and of its right present uses, to suppose the therein is the mould in which God now is fashioning the souls of the saints.
This is the subject that the apostle takes up and handles henceforward in our epistle. We have seen the question of justification entirely settled; now we have the walk or practical holiness. Again he insists upon liberty. We might suppose that he had said enough about it, after having charged them to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free, and not to be entangled again with the yoke of bondage. But no. In the domain of holiness this liberty is needed, just as much as for justification; and therefore says he, "Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty." That is, it characterizes our calling. Only, says he, it is not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, or you are not to use license: do not turn this liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. There he showed that there is a faith that works by love, (as said a few verses before;) so now he shows that the object of that love should be the helping one of another. It is not for the purpose of putting you under the law, but that you may serve one another" "for all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Had they not been trying the law? And what had been the result? He says, You have been biting and devouring one another: that is not fulfilling law, but lusts. When persons talk about it, or desire to be its teachers, do they ever fulfil it? It begins with confident words, and ends without deed or truth. Whereas, on the contrary, when Christ is the object of the soul, though the law does not occupy the mind, yet is it fulfilled. Christ is the power of God; the law is the strength of sin. I have exactly the same word of God to tell me of Christ and the law; and both are in the same epistle. (1 Cor.) But it does not matter where the subject is entered into; the great point that the Holy Ghost insists on is, not that the law was not a good thing, but that, our nature being horribly bad, there never can be any good got from bringing the law to bear on our evil nature, save condemning it. The question is, What will strengthen my soul for what is good? The answer is, not the law, but Christ. The law, I admit, is excellent. But you have been talking about the law as a means of walking well: what sort of holiness have you been producing? Biting and devouring one another! This is not love. But it is the effect of your use of the law you boast of. "But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." Such is the result. The law is a killing, destroying power; not because of its being bad, but because our nature is. And remember that the law beared upon our nature. The law was given not to the new man, but to the old.
There was the wisdom of God. Law was for the purpose of provoking the latent sin. But what is to give the new life strength, and draw out its affections? What is to nourish the new creature, and call it into lively exercise? Not the law. But he tells us more. He had shown that love is the sum and substance of the law. If, then, love prevails, the law is fulfilled; but among you, on the contrary, there is contention, strife, and every evil work. What a blow to their legally-engendered self-conceit! Now, going farther, he gives them a positive word. "This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh." The action of the Holy Ghost is not merely as a convincer of sin, nor as the energy of regeneration; all Christians hold this: far as they are parted on other topics, they cannot but hold the same fundamental truth, that all the power of having this new nature communicated to us is by the Holy Ghost. Some may hold the truth more intelligently and carefully as to form; but all necessarily own the Holy Ghost as that which convinces them of their evil and gives them this new life, which is of God.
But this is not the question discussed here. The Galatians had new life, but what was to be the power for producing Christian holiness? They were bringing in the rule of the law as a means of holiness; and the apostle entirely puts this aside "Walk," he says, "in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh." There we have the divine guard; nay, more than that, it is not merely admonition against this or that evil, but what will give us power for what is good. "Walk in the Spirit." The Holy Ghost has been sent down to dwell in the believer. It is not the truth of our being builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit, as in Ephesians, where we have also the body of Christ brought out, the corporate relations of the children of God. The Epistle to the Galatians never gives us what is corporate, but always what is individual. And the walk being an individual thing, or what concerns each soul, if there were not another in the world, this is what you want. The word is, "Walk in the Spirit;" he does not say, Walk in the law. On the contrary, he had dealt sharply with the men who were so zealous for that rule. "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh." You want power against the lusts of the flesh: the Spirit is that power, and there is no other. "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, in order that ye may not do the things that ye would." This, I believe, is what the Holy Ghost wrote and meant. What we have in our version is, as many of us have long known, positively wrong. I wish not to pass it over, nor to bring it in by an underhand way: but wherever there is anything plainly mischievous in this version, which is but a human one, it is a christian duty to call attention to it; and the more so, as I am always ready to maintain its general excellence and to defend the common Bible we have got against adversaries who would do it dishonour. But it is not a friend's part to justify a real mistake that may have slipped in through human infirmity, or worse.
Here, then, is one of the most serious mistakes, practically. When I insist upon this, it is not a matter that I admit to be open to a question, or that there should be any doubt about. No person acquainted at all intimately with the language in which the Holy Ghost wrote, could hesitate, save through the effect of strong prejudice. I would also observe, that the best men - the ablest scholars, who perhaps differ from my own views as to much I deem important - nay, persons who are dignitaries in the very church which had the principal hand in the production of this version, - admit candidly and with one consent, that the version I have just given is the true one. There is no doubt of it on the minds of persons of the most opposite ways of thinking on other matters, as to what is the true meaning of this verse. The Holy Ghost, then, says, "In order that ye may not do the things that ye would," The very point of the verse is this. He was showing them why they were called upon to walk in the Spirit; and what was the true preservative against the lusts of the flesh. For the two are totally opposed: they are contrary to one another in every way. It is not said, You have got the law that you may not fulfil the lusts of the flesh; but, having a nature that will always be prone to do its own will, you have not merely the law to restrain it, but the Holy Ghost is given; not like the law, a thing outside one; but the Holy Ghost is an inward power, identifying Himself with the affections of the soul, and giving strength to desires after what is good, and against natural lusts, or any way in which the flesh may show itself.
He quite admits that there was the flesh - pride, vanity, everything that is evil, at work. But, as Christians, you have the Holy Ghost, and walking in the Spirit, "ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh." Though the lusts of the flesh are there, you have the Spirit, too, in order that you may not fulfil those lusts. If what we have in our version, "so that ye cannot do the things that ye would," were correct, it would be like blowing hot in the one verse and cold in the other. He would be telling them in one verse that they must walk in the Spirit, and in the next that they cannot do it after all. Such a rendering carries its own refutation on its face. I press this the more strongly, because it is a practical point to christian people. On mere critical questions, I should never think of disturbing people's minds. There is so much of the deepest moment for our souls with God every day, that the less we have to do with points of curious learning the better. But when it comes to be a matter of correcting what every christian scholar knows to be an error, it is evident that I should be guilty of keeping up a serious mistake if such a point as the present were slurred over.
One thing that has led, I apprehend, to the confusion on the subject, is that many have assumed the doctrine to be the same as in Romans 7. But in that chapter, after the first six verses, the Holy Ghost gives us the experience of a person troubled under law. Accordingly we have not there the Spirit of God introduced at all. This is a remarkable fact, which accounts for the difference between that scripture and what we have here. There, it is a renewed man - a soul really born of God, but one who, while he hates sin as no unconverted man does, loves righteousness because it is of God, has a horror of evil; yet, spite of all, the evil that he would not he does; and the good he desires is never done. He has learnt the evil of sin, and sees the good of righteousness, but he is utterly powerless. What is the cause? The Holy Ghost shows the reason to be this - he has only the law before him. It is a man converted, but struggling under law; and the effect is that it entirely unnerves the man. So far from giving him courage, and drawing out what is in Christ, it is merely detecting him here and there, putting in a probe in one part and stabbing him in another so that he is bewildered to find in himself such an amount of evil as he never thought could be in the heart of a converted person. We all know something of this. We have not been long following Christ if we have not known some bitter struggles. The consequence is that all the poor soul is able to say is, "O wretched man that I am: who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" We might have thought that a Christian would have said, I have been delivered long ago. But observe this - he is not resting with his eye upon the Deliverer. He is converted, but he does not know liberty. He has faith in the Saviour, but he does not uncle. stand the application of His death and resurrection to his condition. He does not know that he is no longer viewed in the flesh, but in the Spirit - that he is entitled to have done with his old nature altogether, and to see himself in Christ before God The moment he comes to this discovery, that it is a mistake to apply the law to his soul, he gives thanks. Before this, he cries out in the intensity of his agony, "O wretched man that I am!" And yet, just then comes this new thought from God, "Who shall deliver me?" 1 have got it now; I see that it is not my own struggling with the law to overcome the evil; I see there is another, a Deliverer. - Therefore he can turn with thankfulness to God the very next moment, and say, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." After this he is happy, perfectly happy, spite of the consciousness that there is the old nature still within him. What makes him happy? He sees that there are two distinct things - the old nature which, if it is allowed to work, always serves the law of sin, and the new nature, which always seeks the will of God, whatever it may be. Now, then, he is enabled to enter into the great truths of Romans 8: "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus;" and intelligently, too, "for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." He does not leave it in the vague way, "made all free," but it "hath made me free." It is not a general creed, but the truth is applied in the most positive manner to the personal need of the once struggling soul. There is no longer any bondage, now that he sees Christ is risen. What is He risen for? As the head of a family, risen to give me a new name and standing altogether. He has gone down under the sea of my sins, and he is risen above them. What was of mine led Him below; and if He is risen above, it is to raise me with Him too. The resurrection of Christ was not to give Him a standing, but to give us, to give me, a standing. The death of Christ was for us, to put away our sin; the resurrection of Christ was to bring in a blessing that nothing can touch. The effect of the first coming of Christ is, that our souls enter into this; the effect of His second coming will be, that our bodies, free from every trace of sin, will enter into it perfectly, as our souls should now. If we rest upon Him, we ought not to have a single doubt. It is not at all a question whether I find any flesh in me; it would be rather a proof that I was not a Christian if I did not. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." This is a darker case, because there is a plain, positive declaration of Scripture against it.
What marks a Christian is, then, not that he has not sin within, but that he has a new nature, which none has except he that believes in Jesus by the Holy Ghost. In virtue of Christ, God regards him as one who has entirely done with sin as a matter of divine judgment on us. God has quite closed with it thus; not as a dealing with us day by day. There is where confession of failure comes in; and thus, it is a good and right thing for a Christian to judge and confess his evil. A man's being entirely forgiven all trespasses does not put aside the need and duty and privilege of confessing the truth about ourselves to God, day by day. It is a very blessed thing that we may do it with the confidence that God is interested in us - that God loves we should go to Him about all. We should have sufficient reliance on His own love, to bring out our every failure, and tell it out before Him.
The law said, Stand back. If even a poor brute touched the mountain, it was to be stoned or thrust through with a dart. What the law said to one, it said to all. It did not say, Any of you that are believers can come near. The law does not draw distinctions between believers and unbelievers. It does not make allowance for human infirmity. Are people sinners? If so, then they are cursed. There is the sentence of the law. It never made a man righteous, any more than a human law produces honesty. There never was a man made honest by an act of parliament since the world began What makes people obey is Christ entirely above the law. The just dread of wrath may awaken, but it gives no power. So, in earthly things, there must be a principle above the fear of being sent to the house of correction. If it be only that dread which keeps a man from stealing, he is a rogue. So it is precisely with the believer. What makes a man a Christian, keeps him walking as a Christian. It is the power of the Spirit of God revealing Christ. Are you going back to the law to keep your soul in order?
It would have been much better that you had been filled with Christ, walking in the Spirit. For what does the Spirit do? He is glorifying Christ. This is always the true test. The power of a thing is not the test of it. If a man talked a great deal about the Spirit, and at the same time was serving sin, and not Christ, who could have confidence in the case? He might be self-deceived. A man may make the most exorbitant pretensions to have the power of the Holy Ghost acting in him or the body; but how am I to know that the claim is a real one? Let us look at the Epistles of John, who tells us to try the spirits. The great criterion is just this - the Holy Ghost invariably exalts Christ. The object is not to aggrandise the Church or a minister. All these things flow from man's misuse of the things of God. I am not denying that the Church has a most important place; but it is as being the subject vessel of the Spirit of God - the scene where the Holy Ghost sets forth Christ. If human pretensions are allowed, or the world made much of, it is not the Church of God led of the Spirit. It may be man's church, or the world-church, but it is not the Church of God. What characterizes the Church is the owned, recognized, carried-out truth of the Spirit's presence.
There may be failure, as there is in an individual Christian man, who may show temper, pride, or vanity; still he will feel it, when he is brought to his senses, though the Lord may have to break a person's bones sometimes, like Job, to make him know what he is. The true action of the Holy Ghost, whether in the individual or in the body, is in the exaltation of Christ. And if you have the individual failing, or the Church, it will come to the same thing. God will never allow an assembly that He owns to go on in evil. He knows how to chastise a Christian assembly as well as a Christian man. He will deal with them if they are honest. We ought to be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication make our requests known unto God. We need not be restless and tried about this or that. We often fail in thinking what we may do in talking to people; whereas if we spoke a good deal more to God, and less to man, others would not be losers, and we should be gainers, and God would be far more glorified.
However that may be, what we find here is that the Spirit of truth is the power of holiness - that the Spirit of God it is which enables a Christian man to walk aright, not the law. That is the point he brings them to: and so he concludes the matter, "If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law." It is plain that if to be under the law were the means of Christian holiness, it would have been said, "If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are under the law," rather than, ye are not under the law."
But men are blinded. Though they constantly take up the commandments, repeat them and teach them, yet they say they are not under the law! How could persons be more under the law than when they adopt the language of the Ten Commandments, as the expression of their own relationship before God? It is done as literally and definitely by Christian people, at the present-day, as it ever was even by the children of Israel themselves. For persons to say that while acting and speaking thus in their public worship, they are at the same time not under the law, is evidently to cheat their souls in a very fearful manner. What is meant by being under the law? That I acknowledge myself under that rule as what God has given me, the rule by which I have to live. If a person were to use the law for the purpose of convincing a poor, ungodly man of his sins, that is not to be under the law. But if I take up the ten words, and ask God to enable me to keep each, this is to confess myself under the law.
Then may I break the law? God forbid. Such an alternative could only emanate from one who understands little indeed of the grace of Christ. All admit that the law is good and righteous. The question is, whether the God that gave the law to Israel has given the same to Christians, as the rule by which they - we - are to live? I deny it. He gave it to Israel. What He has given to the Church is Christ. Christ is unfolded in the whole word of God; and what the Christian has to walk by, is the entire word of God; and so taught as to manifest Christ. If it is taken up in mere letter, what does the Scripture say? It kills; but the Spirit gives life. One may take up Exodus 20 and draw from part of that chapter a statement of the grace of God. When God gives the law, He tells them that He was the God that brought them out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage. One might show how we, too, are delivered out of our bondage. This is quite grace, as far as it goes. But the moment you put Christians under the law as that which they have to walk by, like an Israelite of old, you are doing the very evil that the Epistle to the Galatians was intended to correct, and what the Holy Ghost says those led by the Spirit do not. "If ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law." So men are doing at the present time - taking up the language of the commandments that were intended for Israel, and this not merely to convict of sin; but they undertake them as the directory of their own obedience to God every day. Yet they are obliged to explain away a great deal of the law; for instance, the sabbath-day. They keep, and very properly, the Lord's-day; and I keep it too. But I deny it to be the sabbath-day, and maintain that the first day and the seventh day are not the same thing. Scripture always contrasts the first day with the seventh. The one is the first, the other is the last day of the week. The first day is a new thing, altogether apart from the law. People think that the keeping of a seventh day is the important thing. But this is not what God says, but the seventh day; and we are not at liberty to alter Scripture. This is not hearing the law, but destroying it. Who gave any man liberty to change the for a? specially as the change makes an all-important difference. Let us only beware of tradition and seek to understand the word of God.
The denial that the law is the Christian's rule of walk is far from impairing holiness. The Holy Ghost brings in a deeper character of holiness than was even tasked in the Ten Commandments. When our Lord said, "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees," He did not mean righteousness imputed to us, but practically true. The Christian has a righteousness that is real. It is true that we become the righteousness of God in Christ, but that this is the only righteousness of the believer, I dispute. The Holy Ghost produces a real work in his soul, founded upon the work of Christ - separation from the world, devotedness to God, obedience, and love; and all these things, not merely according to the Ten Commandments, but according to the will of God as it was fully displayed in Christ. If any man hold that because the Lord kept the law, He did nothing else, one pities him. The keeping of the law was a small part of His obedience; and we are called to be like Christ in His devotedness to God at all cost. A first principle of practical Christianity runs thus: "If when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." This is a thing guise unknown to the legal system. In the Ten Commandments we find, if a man obeyed his parents, he should live long on the earth. That this is not the principle on which God now deals is most evident; for we have all known most obedient children taken away in early days. Am I denying that there is an important spiritual truth for me to gather from that very word? Quite the contrary. St. Paul himself refers to this promise, not at all, as it seems to me, as a motive why a christian child should obey its parents, but as the general indication of God's mind. It was the first commandment with promise.
The spiritual instincts of Christians, let me add, are beyond their system; and although they are doctrinally under the law, they desire to walk in the Spirit. I have not a single unkind feeling against those who maintain that state of things. But the Spirit of God does speak of it as a very great error and peril. What we have to do, then, is to understand the mind of God, to give utterance to it and obey. "If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law." The Jews were. Whenever we see the people of God in Scripture under the law, it always means Israel. If a man now puts himself in a Jewish position, he takes upon himself that responsibility. In his faith he may be a Christian; but in outward forms and ordinances he is at least half a Jew,. We ought to seek that they may be Christians, and nothing else - to have done with that which covers and obscures the character of Christ, and for which they have to pay the sad penalty either of carelessness of life, or of having their hearts cast down and doubting, instead of enjoying the liberty with which Christ has made us free.
After this the apostle draws out the contrast of the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit.
"Now the works of the flesh are manifest" - there was no difficulty to discern them - "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like." Thus you have human corruption and human violence. You have idolatry and witchcraft brought in, and on the other hand, seditions and heresies, which refer to the party-spirit that might be at work even under a christian profession. A child of God might slip into any of these evil things for a time; but there is a solemn sentence pronounced upon them - "Of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in times past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." He warns them now, as he had while he was with them, "that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Whatever the difficulty may be, let us never doubt, but most firmly receive it as from God, that Christ is the power of God to every one that believes. He is the power of God not merely to justification, but to salvation; and salvation, while it includes justification, goes far beyond it, because it takes in all the course of a christian man till he is actually in the resurrection state along with Christ. This is the meaning of the verse, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" - not your own forgiveness, but your own salvation. It is said to those who were already forgiven. Thus, salvation, in the sense spoken of there, implies the whole conflict with the power of evil we are passing through. We know that we have to do with the common enemy; but God is at work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. We know the deep concern and regard which God feels for us, as committed to this conflict. We are fighting under His orders - doing His will in that thing as well as in others. So far is God from leaving us in any way, that He assures our soul He is pledged to see us through to the end; but He will have a solemn sense of the war with Satan in which we are engaged.
Then we have, on the other side, "the fruit of the Spirit is love." He begins with love - that which is of God, and flows directly from God, and which is the knowledge of God's character more than any other thing. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith." Such are the first and weightiest effects produced by God's love. Then he gets down to what would more particularly deal with one another: "meekness, temperance," because these suppose the bridle put upon the evil nature - the self-control which the Holy Ghost works in the soul for the Lord's sake, as evidently being set in this world to be an epistle of Christ, so that we should not give a false character to Him whose name we bear. But all these are the fruits of the Spirit; and he adds, "against such there is no law." When did law ever produce these? So the law will never condemn those who walk in these things; as he says to the Roman saints, Romans 13, speaking of governors and rulers, "Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same; for he is the minister of God to thee for good." So here, "against such there is no law." If you are producing these fruits of the Spirit, there is no condemnation against them.
Is the old nature then forgotten? Or is the law needed. for disciplining it? The belief so thinks; but the word says, on the contrary, "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." He shows that all that are Christ's have gone through the great question of what was not His: they have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. They have submitted, by faith, to the sentence of death on all their nature - they have "crucified the flesh." We know, of course, that it is only really and fully done in Christ - that it is in the cross of Christ that the crucifixion of the flesh, with all its lusts, has taken place. Hence, too, it is true of every believer. The flesh, with the affections and lusts, is a thing already done with in God's sight. If we are Christians at all, we have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts If it were only a person just born of God, he might say he has "crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts."
But it may be asked, Have not I the flesh to crucify? I answer, it is done already: you have to believe it, and to walk in the strength that faith gives you. What a comfort to know that the flesh is a judged thing - that sentence of death has been executed on it! What will strengthen more than, that you are not alive in the flesh now, but living in the Spirit? And "if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." Let this be the standard by which you desire to be directed - that you have the Holy Ghost dwelling in you, and willing to strengthen you in Christ. Let your aim be to walk in that fire of things.
The Lord grant us to have wisdom from above, to know what we are, and what we are not: that we may believe, whatever be the evil, whatever its strength or tendencies, there is the power of the Holy Ghost to strengthen us against and above every evil thing. But the Holy Ghost will not put forth His power, except as Christ is before us. If we seek to please self in anything, we shall only find that God will turn the self-pleasing we choose to our chastening. And therefore what a happy privilege that, in submission to God, we may, as we should, give ourselves to the glory of Christ in everything.
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.
For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.
A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.
And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.
I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
For, 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, even in this; 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 of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
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 have 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.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.