Galatians 5:12-26

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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. Now, 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 for indifference, or they must fall back upon the righteous curb that God has put upon our nature, and that is only another expression for His 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 that therein is the mold in which God now is fashioning the souls of the saints.
This is the subject that the apostle takes up and handles in the latter part of 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, this 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 tarn 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 neighbor 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 fulfill 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 Corinthians) 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 horridly 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 who 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 bears 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 fulfill 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 fulfill 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 budded 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, he says, “Walk in the Spirit.” He does not say, Walk in the law. On the contrary, he had dealt a blow at the men who were so zealous for that rule. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill 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 the excellence of it, and to defend the common Bible we have got against adversaries who would do it dishonor. 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 am about to state is the true one. There is no doubt 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 he called upon them to walk in the Spirit; and that 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 fulfill 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 that indentifies Himself with the affections of the soul, and gives 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, “you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” Though the lusts of the flesh are there, you have the Spirit, too, in order that you may not fulfill 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, you 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 mere curious questions 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 Rom. 7. But in Rom. 7, after the first six verses, the Holy Ghost is giving 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 chapter and what we have here. There, it is a renewed man-a person 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 he never does. He has learned 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 is 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 of God, 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 Savior, but he does not understand 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?” I 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 chap. viii.— “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 could 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. There is a plain, positive declaration of Scripture against it. What marks a Christian is this—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. There, 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 it. We should have sufficient reliance on His own love, to bring all our 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 it 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 end 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.
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 a man walking as a Christian? It is the power of the Spirit of God revealing Christ. 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 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; and the great test is just this—the Holy Ghost invariably exalts Christ. The object is not to exalt 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 makes 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 spew 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 them know what they are. 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 people. 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 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,” and not, ye are not under the law. 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 cheating 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 nothing about 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 Christian people, as that by which they 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 Spirit say? It kills; but the Spirit gives life. I may take up Ex. 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. I might show how we 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 as 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 and 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 that 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 holiness is very far from impairing holiness. The Holy Ghost brings in a much deeper character of holiness than was even asked 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, 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 holds that because the Lord kept the law, He did nothing else, I pity 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 quite 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. Paul himself refers to this promise, not at all, as it seems to me, as the 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 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, revelings, and such like.” Thus you have human corruption and human violence. You have idolatry and witchcraft brought in, and on the other hand, seditious 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 one 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, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.” Such is the effect produced by God's love— “meekness.” There he gets down to what would more particularly deal with one another. And then he speaks of temperance, because that supposes 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.” The law never produced these. So the law will never condemn those who walk in these things; as he says to the Roman saints, chap. xiii., 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. 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 to the sentence of death on all their nature—they have “crucified the flesh.” We know, of course, that is only really and fully done in Christ—that it is in the cross of Christ that this crucifixion of the flesh, with all its lusts, takes place. Hence, too, it is true of every believer. The flesh, with the affections and lusts, is a thing already done with. 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, I should say he has “crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts.” But it may be asked, Have not I got to crucify it? I answer, it is done already: you have got 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 put upon it! What will strengthen more than this? 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 that be the standard by which you desire to be directed—that you have the Holy Ghost as the One to strengthen you. Let your aim be to walk in that line of things.
The Lord grant us to have wisdom from above, to know what we are, and what not: that we may believe, whatever may 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 the means of self-pleasing God will turn to our chastening. And therefore what a happy privilege that, in submission to God, we should give ourselves to the glory of Christ in everything.