Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
I. The first grand principle contained in these words is that faith working by love makes a Christian. (1) Religion is the harmony of the soul with God, and the conformity of the life to His law. (2) If we look backward from character and deed to motive, this harmony with God results from love becoming the ruling power of our lives. (3) The dominion of love to God in our hearts arises from faith.
II. The Apostle's words affirm that in comparison with the essential faith all externals are infinitely unimportant.
III. There is a constant tendency to exalt these unimportant externals into the place of faith.
IV. When an indifferent thing is made into an essential, it ceases to be indifferent, and must be fought against. Whenever parties or Churches insist on external rites as essential or elevate any of the subordinate means of grace into the place of the one bond which fastens our souls to Jesus and is the channel of grace as well as the bond of union, then it is time to arm for the defence of the spirituality of Christ's kingdom and to resist the attempt to bind on free shoulders the iron yoke. Let men and parties do as they like so long as they do not turn their forms into essentials. But "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love."
A. Maclaren, Sermons in Manchester, 3rd series, p. 207.
I. Faith is the foundation of the whole spiritual building, whereby we are built on Christ Jesus. It is the root of the whole spiritual life of grace, the ground whereon the soul rests securely, the beginning of our spiritual existence. Faith goes even before love in thought, but not in deed. It goes before love in thought, for we love because we believe, not believe because we love. To faith which loves things seen fade from sight: things heard fall dull upon the ear; it will be unmoved by all outward things, for it has an inward sight, and an inward hearing, and an inward touch, whereby it beholds Christ dying on the cross for love of us, and in the shadow of His cross feels itself protected and healed. The cross is not far off, not over the seas, in the Holy Land, nor removed by length of time. Faith sees it close at hand, and clasps it, and loves it, and is crucified on it to Him.
II. Love is in all true faith, as light and warmth are in the ray of the sun. So soon as faith is kindled in the heart, there is the glow of love, and both come from the same Sun of righteousness pouring in faith and love together into the heart, and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. With the increase of love, faith increaseth. But love liveth by good works. Love cannot live torpidly. Even in human love, love which never did deeds of love would grow dull and die. We love those most to whom we do most good. Love is perhaps increased more by doing than by receiving good, at least by doing good out of the love of God. "Faith worketh" (literally "inworketh"; the word means, worketh in the very soul itself) "by love."
E. B. Pusey, Sermons from Advent to Whitsuntide, vol. ii., p. 1.
References: Galatians 5:6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1553; vol. xxix., No. 1750; vol. xxii., No. 1280; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 251; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 92; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 8th series, p. 37; J. Clifford, The Dawn of Manhood, p. 152.
Galatians 5:7Spiritual Declension.
I. The first test to which we would bring the professing Christian who is anxious to determine whether he is ceasing to run well is that furnished by secret prayer and the study of God's word. If any one is beginning to abbreviate the seasons of private devotion, reading a chapter or two less of the Bible, spending fewer moments in meditation, in self-examination, and in supplication for others and himself, and all not because he has less time at his disposal, but less will to devote to such occupations, let that man look at once to his state. He did run well; who has hindered him? But take other symptoms, equally decisive, though perhaps more easily overlooked. There is no feeling stronger in the genuine Christian than that of desire to promote God's glory in the salvation of his fellow-men. But suppose him to become comparatively indifferent to the diffusion of the Gospel, who will say that there is no abatement of the running well? who will deny the spiritual declension?
II. Note the dangers of the state which is thus described. We cannot but suppose that the Spirit is more displeased when neglected by one on whom He has effectually wrought, than when resisted by another with whom He has striven in vain. And the lukewarm man is useless to himself and to others: to himself, for such a religion as his will never save him; to others, for such a religion will not enable him to be instrumental in the saving of his fellow-men. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1561.
I. Christendom is full of Christians with no outstanding sin nor yet with one grace; whose whole life is one blank; with whom man finds no fault, and in whom God finds no fruit; who day by day are gaining nothing, and so are day by day losing everything; on whom nothing makes any impression, because they have become dulled to all; unpained, but it is the painlessness of a mortified wound; undisturbed, but it is a death-sleep; in repose, because Satan is no longer restless when he has entered into the house whence he was cast out, and has taken up his abode there.
II. Others, again, lose grace, in that they expose themselves to the temptations of pleasure, wherein they before lost it. Sin finds entrance more easily where it has found it before. The will is weakest there, temptation strongest. People do not mean to fall into the sin of which they have repented, but tinder catches any spark. The soul which knows sin may be kindled by anything which recalls the past sin. It is an awful gift to have recovered grace; it is a precious mercy of God to be again entrusted with that grace which we had before forfeited, but the more precious it is, the more carefully it is to be guarded. Carelessness before a fall may be ignorance, passion, infirmity of nature; carelessness after you have been restored from falling is sin against light: it is to reject the mercy of God in Christ.
III. Another frequent cause of forfeiting the grace of God is that people think that it will abide with them as a matter of course, and are not watchful to retain it; and so, as a matter of course, they lose it. It is part of love to be watchful, not to do what Christ forbids, to be alive to every wile of Satan which might even for a moment separate us from the love of Christ.
E. B. Pusey, Parochial and Cathedral Sermons, 61.
References: Galatians 5:7.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ix., p. 349; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 314; Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 135. Galatians 5:11.—J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 22; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 93. Galatians 5:11-26.—Ibid., vol. iii., p. 80. Galatians 5:12.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 375. Galatians 5:13.—E. Johnson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 324; D. Burns, Ibid., vol. xxv., p. 88; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xxx., p. 56; W. G. Horder, Ibid., vol. xxxiii., p. 24. Galatians 5:13-18.—Ibid., vol. vi., p. 243. Galatians 5:14.—H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. vii., p. 131. Galatians 5:14-16.—Ibid., vol. x., p. 186. Galatians 5:15, Galatians 5:16.—H. Scott-Holland, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 284; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 156; J. Edmunds, Sixty Sermons, p. 359. Galatians 5:16—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. ii. p. 121; C. Kingsley, Village Sermons, p. 43; S. Pearson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 139; H. S. Paterson, Ibid., vol. xv., p. 309; Phillips Brooks, Sermons, p. 353. Galatians 5:16, Galatians 5:17.—E. White, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 157; C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 422; F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i., p. 263; T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 54.
Galatians 5:17The Conflict of the Christian Life.
I. The nature of the conflict. The struggle of the watchful, ever-lusting flesh against the spirit is a matter of the commonest Christian experience. The sense of obligation rouses the spirit of revolt; the knowledge that a thing is forbidden makes us covet it the more. But is it not also a matter of Christian experience that the spirit lusteth against the flesh? Victories that have not been secured by many an hour of thought and watching have been made ours in a flush of enthusiasm. The revolt against command is checked by the passion for submission. They are not altogether sad words in our text, "Ye cannot do the things that ye would," for again and again, when men have resolved upon some wickedness, when they have silenced their scruples and put down conscience, even in the act of executing their sinful purpose, the unquenchable spirit has been known to speak, making them ashamed of their baseness and folly, sending them fleeing from their sin to their Saviour.
II. The purpose of the conflict. Our text is one of those passages on which much light has been thrown by the progress of Greek scholarship since the translation of the Bible into English. Almost all the best commentators are agreed that it should be rendered, not "so that ye cannot," but "in order that ye may not," do the things that ye would. The conjunction is one most forcibly expressive of design; the opposition between the flesh and the spirit is intended by God. He permits the flesh to lust against the spirit; He inspires the lust of the spirit against the flesh, in order that we may not do whatever we may wish, and simply because we wish it. The victory God is giving us is not of reason over natural temperament nor of heart over head; it is the victory of the spirit over the flesh. The new Divine nature, having subdued all lustfulness, reigns supreme by heart and head, by sanctity of thought and impulse, of passion and resolve.
A. Mackennal, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 264.
Galatians 5:17There are three senses in which these words may be taken (1) They may mean generally, There is a spirit in you ruling your whole mind and being; and to the sovereign power of that spirit you are in all things only a passive subject, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would; or (2) we may use them for humiliation and admonition. The nature which still remains in you is too strong to let you live up to all your higher aspirations: "so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." Or (3) if you are a child of God, a Spirit, a Holy Ghost, is in you, and the Spirit is too active and too strong to suffer you to follow your own worst will, so that, though you wish it, you cannot do the things that you would. I believe the last to be the true construing.
I. No one who knows anything of human nature or of his own heart can doubt for a moment that the ninth article of our Church is thoroughly and literally true, and that "the infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated, whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek phronema sarkos, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire of the flesh, is not subject to the law of God." The process of sanctification is not the extirpation of sin at all; it is the subjugation of sin. The Philistines are yet in the land, in their strongholds, though the land belong to the people of God.
II. The way to subdue sin is to introduce a master power. You will never actually destroy the wrong will; but you must neutralise it by another will. You must bring in and cultivate and enlarge the prohibitive and the preventive forces of the heart, till at last you would come to the state that "ye cannot do the things that ye would."
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 212.
References: Galatians 5:17.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 754; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 259; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 601; W. Landels, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 360. Galatians 5:18.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 252. Galatians 5:20.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 10. Galatians 5:22.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 94; vol. iv., p. 124; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii., No. 1582; vol. xxx., No. 1782; Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 313; vol. xxxvi., p. 309; J. N. Norton, The King's Ferry Boat, p. 15.
Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23.
The Fruits of the Spirit.
I. Every tree is known by its fruit. And just so it is with us. The Bible often speaks about men as trees. Our root is the heart; the heart is the root of every man and of every man's life; and according then to what the heart is will be the life. Now what is the fruit of the Spirit? It is the fruit of a heart that has been renewed by the Spirit of God. God does not begin at the outside, at the circumference, but with the heart. He makes the acts and deeds right by making the heart right; He makes and keeps the tongue right by making the heart right. There is the difference between man's way and God's. Man begins at the outside, and tries to work towards the centre; God begins at once in the centre and in the heart, and by changing the heart He changes the life; and so Christ's word to Nicodemus is Christ's word to every man, "Ye must be born again."
II. Notice that in this particular list the fruits of the Spirit are dispositions. Paul in this particular passage is not dealing with actions, with deeds, but with dispositions—love, joy, and so on, till you come to meekness and temperance—dispositions, not activities. Then, further, he is not telling us of all the dispositions that result from the indwelling of the Spirit of God in our breasts, but only of some of them. We are taken by the Apostle into a particular sphere of life, and are shown what the dispositions are belonging to that sphere. He is referring to the Galatian Churches as communities of men and women associated together in the profession of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is taking us into the sphere of Christian fellowship and Christian intercourse; and the dispositions which he names are the dispositions produced by the Spirit among Christian men and women in their social intercourse one with another, in their Church fellowship and Church life.
J. Culross, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 43.
The Fruit of the Spirit.
I. The Holy Spirit always clusters His work; one Christian virtue necessarily raises up another; there is no such thing as sanctification in a single point. But as one berry in a bunch of grapes cannot ripen but that the others ripen too, so it is with the Christian. Try to eradicate one sin of your character, and you will invariably find that in doing it you will weaken, if you do not pull up, another. Cultivate one good trait, and you will be surprised to find how many more seem to grow up, you scarcely know how, at its side. So that often this is the best way to carry on one's own edification: to concentrate one's prayers and self-discipline upon one particular point of attainment, not only because by that fixedness we shall best secure the growth and the attainment which we desire, but also because by cherishing that one excellence we shall promote all.
II. In the outer world, all the vicissitudes of the seasons and the weather go to make the harvest. Do you wonder in the spiritual husbandry, where such fruits as these have to be wrought, that there must be sometimes the bracing cold of a stern adversity, alternating with the warmer rays of summer hours? Can it be but that the sap of the Spirit shall be set free to flow by the winds which blow on us, and that we shall be cleansed by many a storm which is sent, for this very reason, to sweep over us? The wise man prayed that his soul might be subject to the changes of a moral atmosphere: "Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south; blow upon our garden, that the spices thereof may flow out." And then—the far end of all"—Let my beloved come into his garden and eat his pleasant fruits."
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 5th series, p. 26.
References: Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23.—J. H. Thorn, Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, 2nd series, p. 239; A. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, pp. 13-113; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 164; Ibid., vol. xix., p. 169; Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 51. Galatians 5:22-26.—Ibid., vol. vi., p. 83; R. W. Dale, Ibid., vol. xxxv., p. 116. Galatians 5:24.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1239. Galatians 5:25.—Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 262.
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.