Galatians 5:15
Having shown the magnificence of the gospel system, Paul now proceeds to define that freedom which it secures. It is not licence, but love, which it induces; and love not only fulfils the Law, as legalism does not, but also prevents the bitter strife which legalism ensures. We have the following points suggested: -

I. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN LICENCE AND LIBERTY. (Ver. 13.) The grace which has freed us from the legal spirit has not endowed us with a liberty to live licentiously. The liberty it gives is totally distinct from licence. Licence is liberty to please ourselves, to humour the flesh, to regard liberty as an end and not a means. But God in his gospel gives no such liberty. His liberty is a means and not an end; it is liberty to live as he pleases, liberty to love him and love men, liberty to serve one another by love. We must guard ourselves, then, from the confusion of mistaking licence for liberty.

II. LOVE IS THE REAL LIBERTY. (Ver. 13.) As a matter of experience we never feel free until we have learned to love. When our hearts are going out to God in Christ, when we have at his cross learned the lesson of philanthropy, when we have felt our obligation to God above and to man below, then we are free as air and rejoice in freedom. Then we refuse licence as only freedom's counterfeit, for we have learned a more excellent way. We cannot imagine a loveless spirit to be free. He may achieve an outlawry, but he is not, cannot be, free.

III. LOVE IS THE REAL FULFILMENT OF THE LAW. (Ver. 14.) The legalists in their little system of self-righteousness spent their strength upon the mint, the anise, and the cummin; while the weightier matters of the Law - righteousness, judgment, and faith - were neglected. Ceremonies and not morality became their concern. The tithing of pot-herbs would entitle them to Paradise. In contrast to all this, Paul shows that Christian love, which is another name for liberty, fulfils the demands of Law. The meaning of the commandments published from Sinai was love. Their essence is love to God and love to our neighbour, as well as to our "better self." Hence the gospel throws no slight on Law, but really secures its observance, The whole system turns on love as the duty and the privilege of existence. While the Law is, therefore, rejected as a way of life, it is accepted as a rule. Saved through the merits and grace of Christ, we betake ourselves to Law-keeping con amore. We recognize in God the supreme object of grateful love; we recognize in our neighbour the object of our love for God's sake and for his own sake; and we honour the Law of God as "holy and just and good." The whole difference between the legal spirit and the gospel spirit is that in the one case Law is kept in hope of establishing a claim; in the other it is kept in token of our gratitude. The motive in the one case, being selfish, destroys the high standard of Law. It fancies it can be kept with considerable completeness, whereas it is kept by the best with constant and manifold shortcoming. The motive in the other case, being disinterested, secures such attachment to the Law, because it has been translated into love, that it is kept with increasing ardour and success. Slaves will never honour Law so much as freemen.

IV. LOVE IS THE TRUE ANTIDOTE TO STRIFE AND DIVISION. (Ver. 15.) The ritualistic or legal spirit into which the Galatians had temporally fallen manifested itself in strife and bickerings. This is, in fact, its natural outcome. For if men arc straining every nerve to save themselves by punctilious observance of ceremonies, they will come of necessity into collision. It is an emulation of a selfish character. It cannot be conducted with mutual consideration. As a matter of fact, organizations pervaded by the legal spirit are but the battle-ground of conflicting parties. But love comes to set all right again. Its genial breath makes summer in society and takes wintry isolation and self-seeking all away. Mutual consideration secures harmony and social progress. Instead of religious people becoming then the butt of the world's scorn by reason of their strife and divisions, they become the world's wonder by reason of their unity and peace. It is, love, therefore, we are bound to cultivate. Then shall concord and all its myriad blessings come into the Church of God and the world be subdued before it. - R.M.E.







But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
I. THERE EVER WERE, ARE, AND WILL BE, DIFFERENCES AMONG GOD'S OWN PEOPLE IN THE MATTERS OF RELIGION. Even amongst the Jews, who had such punctual rules prescribed before them, yet the school of Hillel went one way, and the school of Shammai went another; and their contentions sometimes were sprinkled with the blood one of another. And no sooner was the gospel planted, but the professors of it fell at variance about matters of religion: this is plain in the controversies about circumcision, for the quieting whereof that famous council met at Jerusalem (Acts 15.). And the causes hereof are evident: —

1. Our general imperfection in this life. As the best men are imperfect in their holiness, so are they in their knowledge; there will be defects in our understanding, as well as in our will. So that it is scarce possible to prevent all diversity of opinions in religion.

2. Men's education contributes much hereunto. It is manifest how strong an influence this hath upon all people's understandings.

3. Men's capacities are different. Some have a greater sagacity to penetrate into things than others; some have a clearer judgment to weigh and determine of things than others; some have more solid learning by far than others; and these, doubtless, will attain to a higher form and class than others can.

4. Men's natural tempers are different. Some more airy and mercurial, some more stiff and melancholy.

5. Men's interests are different. Not that any good man doth wittingly calculate his profession for his baser ends; but yet they may secretly bias him, especially in more minute and dubious matters belonging to religion.

II. THESE DIFFERENCES MAY AND SHOULD BE MANAGED WITH CHARITY. "Better to have truth without public peace, than peace without saving truth:" so Dr. Gauden. "We must not sail for the commodity of peace beyond the line of truth; we must break the peace in truth's quarrel:" so another learned man. But this is to be understood of necessary and essential truths; in which case, "that man little consults the will and honour of God, who will expose the truth, to obtain," as saith Nazianzen, "the repute of an easy mildness." But when, after all such endeavours have been used as are within the reach of a man's parts and calling, still differences do remain in smaller matters, these ought to be managed with all charity; that is, with true love.

III. THESE DISSENSIONS ARE UNCHARITABLE, WHEN PERSONS BITE AND DEVOUR ONE ANOTHER. The spring of all this poison is in the heart; for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," and the hand acts. There is a defect of real and fervent love, and an excess of selfishness within; self-opinion, self-will, and self-interest: and this arrogance breeds insolence, and all the "biting and devouring" mentioned in this place. Now if these two expressions do bear a distinct signification, then —

1. Men do "bite" one another by keen and venomous words.(1) Sometimes by censuring their brethren.(2) Sometimes men "bite" one another by plain slandering one another, charging them with crimes which they abhor.(3) And sometimes men "bite" by downright railing at, if not cursing, those that differ from them.

2. Men "devour" one another by actual endeavours to injure and hurt one another.

(1)By fraud.

(2)By force.

IV. THESE UNCHARITABLE CONTENTIONS DO PREPARE FOR UTTER DESTRUCTION.

1. So saith Scripture (Hosea 10:2.; Matthew 12:25).

2. "Histories and experience do attest the same. For contentions in general: it is evident that the divisions which were among the Trojans made way for their overthrow by the Greeks; the like animosities among the Greeks brought them under the slavery of Philip. The feuds that were among the Assyrians, brought in the Persians; and the like among the Persians subjected them to the Macedonians; and the contentions among Alexander's successors rendered them up to be swallowed by the Romans, one after another. Yea, the Roman Empire itself, near the tinge when the western and the eastern branches of it were hottest in contention about the supremacy of their bishops and about images, — behold, the Goths and Vandals destroyed the one, and the Saracens and Turks ruined the other. The scandalous discords among the Jews exposed Jerusalem at length to that dreadful desolation by Titus Vespasian. And for this island, it has been still accounted like some great animal, that can only be ruined by its own strength. The contentions of the Britons made the Romans conquerors. Afterwards the Saxons came in upon the divisions of the natives; and the contentions of the Saxons prepared the way for the Normans. And for religious differences: it is known how Julian the Apostate cherished those between the Catholics and the Donatists; saying, that no savage beasts were so cruel against one another as the Christians; so that he expected thereby to ruin them all. It is notorious what famous and numerous churches were once in Africa; but, by the contentions of the Manichees, then of the Donatists, they are now extinguished. The contentions among the Protestants in King Edward the Sixth's reign ended in the persecution by Queen Mary: and if ever the Romans ruin us again, it will be procured by our contentions among ourselves.

3. There is too much reason for it.(1) On the part of the thing itself. These dissensions have a natural tendency to promote our destruction; nothing can more properly bring it to effect.(a) They weaken that confidence that is necessary for the preservation of a people.(b) They destroy that love which is the cement of all societies. As they proceed from a defect of love, so they quite ruin the remainders of it. Now, this love unites, and so strengthens: but when men's hearts are once divided from each other, what care I what becomes of them whom I hate?(c) They prepare for the most desperate actions. For when there is a dislike settled within, and that men's spirits are exasperated by provoking words and actions, there wants nothing but opportunity to produce the most violent effects.(2) On the part of God they deserve destruction; and therefore they plainly prepare for it.

(a)They provoke the wrath of God.

(b)They consume the power and life of godliness. God's grace never thrives in an unquiet spirit. Application:

1. Union is the true means of our preservation. Let us consider(1) how many things we agree in. And if men would begin at this end, and not still at the wrong end — to wit, the few and small things wherein we differ — we could not, for very shame, be so implacable to one another.(2) Consider the imperfections of our human nature. Our understandings were sorely wounded by the fall of Adam; and they are but imperfectly and unequally recovered by all the means which the gospel affords. Why should we condemn every one that is not endowed with our abilities, or advanced to our capacity?(3) Consider, that you, who are so violent, do differ from others just as far as they differ from you.(4) Consider, that there have been greater differences than ours among those that were the true members of Christ's Church. Witness Acts 15:1: "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved:" a material point, and urged, you see, with great confidence; and yet God forbid we should blot these out of the roll of true Christians!(5) Consider your own personal moral failings. Hath not each of us some "right eye"? Are we perfectly good? Are not we all "men of like passions"?

2. If uncharitable contentions do prepare for utter destruction, then woe be to the instruments and bellows of our contentions!

(1)The devil.

(2)Atheistical and debauched persons.

(3)Ignorant and proud people.These are many in number, and generally most conceited and contemptuous. Of such good old Mr. Greenham is to be understood, when, being asked by the lord-treasurer Cecil, where the blame of that great rent lay between the bishops of those times and others, "The fault," said he, "is on both sides, and on neither side: for the godly-wise on both sides bear with each other, and concur in the main; but there be some selfish, peevish spirits on both sides, and these make the quarrel."

3. If these prepare for destruction, then we in this sinful nation are in the ready way to misery. For,

(1)Our differences and contentions are notorious.

(2)We are uncharitable in these contentions.

(3)Too many of those that should quench these flames, exasperate them.

(4)Our common enemy is ready to devour us.

4. Let us all, then, be entreated, conjured, and persuaded to forbear biting and devouring one another. Leave off this brutish behaviour toward one another. To which end consider —(1) The greatness and baseness of the sin.

(a)You break the great commandment of God's law, which is love.

(b)You trample upon the great precept of the gospel, which is love.

(c)These contentions bring great dishonour to Jesus Christ.

(d)They grieve the Holy Spirit of God.

(e)They stir up much corruption, both in the aggressor and in the defendant.

(f)They greatly hinder the conversion of the ungodly, and the progress in holiness of the godly.

(g)These contentions in religion tempt men to be atheists.

(h)These biting and devouring contentions are uncivil, inhuman, and barbarous.(2) The certainty and sadness of the danger. "Lest ye be consumed one of another."

(a)It includes the ruin of our outward comforts.

(b)It threatens the ruin of our religion.

(c)This destruction infers the ruin of our posterity.(3) The best method to cure this great evil, and to prevent this great danger.

(a)Lament your own and others' sin in this particular.

(b)Learn Christian wisdom.

(c)Endeavour for a catholic spirit.

(d)Be clothed with humility. It is pride that begins and maintains our quarrels.

(e)Apply yourselves to the practice of real piety.

(f)Follow after charity. This is the healing grace; and if this be not applied to our bleeding wounds, they will never be cured. It were better, as one says, that Caesar should break all Pollio's curious glasses, than that they should break the bond of charity, or that the breach of them should be the occasion of so much inhumanity of brethren one against another.

(g)Avoid extremes. Do not labour to screw-up one another to the utmost.

(h)Mind every one his own business.

(i)Observe that good old rule, of doing to others as you would be done to. You would have others to bear with you; and why will not you bear with others?

(j)My last advice is, to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." This every one may do, and this every one ought to do: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces" (Psalm 122:6, 7).

(R. Steele, M. A.)

1. Are often due to trivial causes.

2. Are always unreasonable.

3. Are a hindrance to the progress of the gospel.

4. Enfeeble and imperil the Church.

5. Are a cause of rejoicing to the enemies of the truth.

6. Are offensive to God.

(R. A. Bertram.)

A wall having become very feeble by age, a portion of it one day fell down. Great consequences followed the Falling of the piece of the old wall.

1. The sun was able to pour more light into the gardens on either side, which the height of the wall had obstructed, so that the flowers looked to greater advantage; and, owing to their having more air and sunshine, became really more beautiful.

2. The perfume was borne across the breach; so that the gardens were the, sweeter. "What a pity that piece of old wall had not fallen down before," said the flowers.

3. The shrubs looked over to one another, and got into friendly talk; and so they said, "What a good thing that piece of old wall fell down; it is a pity it stood so high so long."

4. The flowers and shrubs of each garden discovered that members of their own families had been living on the other side, and therefore really near to each other, though they had had no communion, owing to the wall between.

5. Finally, so many benefits were seen to be the result of the occurrence that, instead of rebuilding the fallen part, the remainder was pulled down to a low level, that air and sunshine might have freer course, and the gardens a free communication. And not a few afterwards acknowledged that a real good and blessing was the consequence to all parties, by the opportunely falling down of that old dividing wall Party spirit is a wall of separation which the coming and the work of Christ was intended to remove. "For He is our peace, who hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us." Let none now seek to divide Christians by building up a wall of party spirit between them; for, "behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."

(G. Bowden.)

You all profess to have been baptized into the spirit of the gospel; but you do not show it when you bite and snarl at one another. The gospel, which makes wolves and lambs agree, does not teach the lambs to turn wolves and devour each the other. The gospel will not allow us to pay our enemies in their own coin, and give them wrath for wrath; much less will it suffer brethren to spit fire at one another's face. No, when any such embers of contention begin to smoke among Christians, we may know who left the spark; no other but Satan, he is the great kindle-coal of all their contentions. If there be tempest (not in the air) in the spirits of Christians, and the wind of their passions be high and loud, it is easy to tell who is the conjuror; it is the devil that is practising his black art upon their lusts, which yet are so much unmortified, as gives him too great an advantage of raising many times sad storms of division and strife amongst them. There is nothing (next Christ and heaven) that the devil grudges believers more than their peace and mutual love; if he cannot rend them from Christ, or stop them from getting heaven, yet he takes some pleasure to see them go thither in a storm; like a shattered fleet severed one from another, that they may have no assistance from, nor comfort of, each other's company all the way; though, where he can divide, he hopes to ruin also, well knowing this to be the most probable means to effect it; one ship is easier taken than a squadron. A town, if it can be but set on fire, the enemy may hope to take it with more ease. Let it, therefore, be your great care to keep the devil's spark from your powder.

(W. Gurnall.)

Two friends met the other day. One inquired of the other how his Church was prospering. "Not at roll, I am sorry to say," was the answer; "our numbers are diminishing weekly." "Why, how is that? Has the wolf got into the fold?" "Worse than that, I fear. If it was only the wolf that was worrying the flock, we might cherish the hope that we could get him driven out. The fact is, the sheep have taken to worrying each other, and our condition, therefore, could not be worse."

A little boy, seeing two nestling birds pecking at each other, inquired of his elder brother what they were doing. "They are quarrelling," was the answer. "No," replied the child, "that cannot be, for they are brothers." Would that this true and simple and natural logic were always borne in mind; then might the Christian nest be more peaceful, more like a family Divine!

Melancthon mourned in his day the divisions among Christians, and sought to bring them together by the parable of the war between the wolves and the dogs. The wolves were somewhat afraid, for the dogs were many and strong, and therefore they sent out a spy to observe them. On his return the scout said, "It is true the dogs are many, but there are not many mastiffs among them. There are dogs of so many sorts one can hardly count, them; and as for the worst of them," said he, "they are little dogs, which bark loudly, but cannot bite. However, this did not cheer me so much," continued the wolf, "as this, that as they came marching on, I observed they were all snapping right and left at one another, and I could see clearly that though they all hate the wolf, yet each dog hates every other dog with all his heart." Is not this still true — that many professed Christians snap right and left at their own brethren, when they had better save their teeth for the wolves?

They say of bees, that, when they strive among themselves, it is a sign that the queen is about to leave the hive. When the sheep of Christ are malignant one against another, it is a fearful presage of ensuing ruin; when there are tumults in the Church, it may justly be feared that God is about to remove from us.

(Spencer.)

Jars and divisions, wranglings and prejudices, eat out the growth, if not the life, of religion. These are those waters of Marah that embitter our spirits, and quench the Spirit of God. Unity and peace are said to be like the dew of Hermon, that descended upon Sion, where the Lord promised His blessing. Divisions run religions into briars and thorns, contention and parties. Divisions are to Churches like wars in countries; where war is, the ground lieth waste and untilled; none takes care of it. It is love that edifieth, but division pulleth down. Divisions are as the north-east wind to the fruits, which causeth them to dwindle away to nothing; but when the storms are over, everything begins to grow. When men are divided, they seldom speak the truth in love; and then, no marvel, they grow not up to Him in all things which is the Head. It is a sad presage of an approaching famine (as one well observes) — not of bread, nor of water, but of hearing the Word of God — when the thin ears of corn devour the plump full ones; when our controversies about doubtful things, and things of less moment, eat up our zeal for the more indisputable and practical things in religion.

(American.)

Persian Fables.
A young fox asked his father if he could not teach him some trick to defeat the dogs, if he should fall in with them. The father had grown grey in a long life of depredation and danger, and his scars bore witness to his narrow escapes in the chase, or his less honourable encounters with the faithful guardians of the hen roost. He replied with a sigh, "After all my experience, I am forced to confess that the best trick is, to keep out of their way." The safest mode of dealing with a quarrelsome person is to keep out of his way.

(Persian Fables.)

The following incident, respecting two philosophers of old, may well put to the blush Christians who are unwilling to be reconciled, and who consequently have their intercourse with heaven hindered (Matthew 5:24). We are told that, Aristippus and AEschines having differed, the former came to the latter and said — "AEschines, shall we be friends?" "Yes," he replied, "with all my heart." "But, remember," said Aristippus, "that I, being older than you, do make the first motion." "Yes," replied AEschines, "and therefore I conclude that you are the worthiest man: for I began the strife, and you began the peace."

(C. Neil.)

The English ambassador, some years since, prevailed so far with the Turkish emperor as to persuade him to hear some of our English music, from which (as from other liberal sciences) both he and his nation were naturally averse. But it happened that the musicians were so long in tuning their instruments that the great Turk, distasting their tediousness, went away in discontent before the music began. I am afraid that the dissensions betwixt Christian Churches (being so long in reconciling their discords) will breed in pagans such a disrelish of our religion, as they will not be invited to attend thereunto.

(T. Fuller, D. D.)

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