Galatians 5:1-12

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It is well to remark the different way in which the Holy Ghost brings out the liberty which the believer now enjoys. In John 8:3636If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (John 8:36) 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 dishonor 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 only now can be seen 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 there! 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 still 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 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, 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 path 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 called the moral law as the ceremonial. I am aware that many would think the latter much more serious than 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 man, 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 now, 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 enjoy the blessing that is new? But the apostle deals it a death-blow in this epistle. Whatever the use to which God applied circumcision before Christ, it had no value 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 anyone 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 Savior, but He is an exclusive one. The attempt to add to Christ is in fact to destroy salvation by Christ. This 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. The apostle says, 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, 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, dishonor, 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 man;” and the idea of mixing up something done to the old man, 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 fundamentally 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 do the whole law. 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"-not which are 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 true or imaginary perfection. We begin with it: 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 learned his lesson. He has not mastered even what his baptism set forth, the value of having a Savior 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, &c., as he used to have; whereas, the only strength of the Christian is being filled with Christ, and with all that is lovely 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 that 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 Savior. 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: that is 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 from catechisms, books of divinity, 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. Here 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 Rom. 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 enter into this 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 fullness 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. He is rejoiced to have done with that which never wrought anything else, as far as man 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, 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 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. Ile may be as light as a feather, but it is not his own weight that he depends upon, but 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 makes him godly. 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 hath 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 Rom. 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 second, the hope— “the hope of righteousness.” And what is that? That I shall be with Christ in the very same glory that He is in. 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 maketh 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 fullness of the sense of God's love in us; and the effect is, that it enables us to love God and everyone 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 says, “We are in Christ Jesus.” 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 sins, 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. Anyone can understand that. 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 we 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, “You 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 brings out our own 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 they could not receive a word of it that it is all mysticism, &c.: 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 moral corruption, in Galatians characterizes the introduction of the legal system among the children of God? God treats it as a most offensive thing. And 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 blamable 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 to 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 favor. They may have taken advantage of his circumcising Timothy, in order to make a show of inconsistency between his acts and his preaching. But 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 fleshy 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 favor 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 followed 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.