Gal 5:1 VERSE 1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.
“Be steadfast, not careless. Lie not down and sleep, but stand up. Be watchful. Hold fast the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free.” Those who loll cannot keep this liberty. Satan hates the light of the Gospel. When it begins to shine a little he fights against it with might and main.
What liberty does Paul mean? Not civil liberty (for which we have the government to thank), but the liberty which Christ has procured for us.
At one time the emperor was compelled to grant to the bishop of Rome certain immunities and privileges. This is civil liberty. That liberty exempts the clergy from certain public charges. Then there is also another kind of “liberty,” when people obey neither the laws of God nor the laws of men, but do as they please. This carnal liberty the people want in our day. We are not now speaking of this liberty. Neither are we speaking of civil liberty.
Paul is speaking of a far better liberty, the liberty “wherewith Christ hath made us free,” not from material bonds, not from the Babylonian captivity, not from the tyranny of the Turks, but from the eternal wrath of God.
Where is this liberty?
In the conscience.
Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon that comes to a person when he has the heart-assurance that God will nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to him for Christ’s sake? This is indeed a marvelous liberty, to have the sovereign God for our Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in this life and in the life to come.
As an outgrowth of this liberty, we are at the same time free from the Law, sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, etc. Since the wrath of God has been assuaged by Christ no Law, sin, or death may now accuse and condemn us. These foes of ours will continue to frighten us, but not too much. The worth of our Christian liberty cannot be exaggerated.
Our conscience must he trained to fall back on the freedom purchased for us by Christ. Though the fears of the Law, the terrors of sin, the horror of death assail us occasionally, we know that these feelings shall not endure, because the prophet quotes God as saying: “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment: but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.” (Isa_54:8.)
We shall appreciate this liberty all the more when we bear in mind that it was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who purchased it with His own blood. Hence, Christ’s liberty is given us not by the Law, or for our own righteousness, but freely for Christ’s sake. In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Jesus declares: “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” He only stands between us and the evils which trouble and afflict us and which He has overcome for us.
Reason cannot properly evaluate this gift. Who can fully appreciate the blessing of the forgiveness of sins and of everlasting life? Our opponents claim that they also possess this liberty. But they do not. When they are put to the test all their self-confidence slips from them. What else can they expect when they trust in works and not in the Word of God?
Our liberty is founded on Christ Himself, who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Therefore our liberty is sure and valid as long as we believe in Christ. As long as we cling to Him with a steadfast faith we possess His priceless gifts. But if we are careless and indifferent we shall lose them. It is not without good reason that Paul urges us to watch and to stand fast. He knew that the devil delights in taking this liberty away from us.
VERSE 1. And be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Because reason prefers the righteousness of the Law to the righteousness of faith, Paul calls the Law a yoke, a yoke of bondage. Peter also calls it a yoke. “Why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Act_15:10.)
In this passage Paul again disparages the pernicious notion that the Law is able to make men righteous before God, a notion deeply rooted in man’s reason. All mankind is so wrapped up in this idea that it is hard to drag it out of people. Paul compares those who seek to be justified by the Law to oxen that are hitched to the yoke. Like oxen that toil in the yoke all day, and in the evening are turned out to graze along the dusty road, and at last are marked for slaughter when they no longer can draw the burden, so those who seek to be justified by the Law are “entangled with the yoke of bondage,” and when they have grown old and broken-down in the service of the Law they have earned for their perpetual reward God’s wrath and everlasting torment.
We are not now treating of an unimportant matter. It is a matter that involves everlasting liberty or everlasting slavery. For as a liberation from God’s wrath through the kind office of Christ is not a passing boon, but a permanent blessing, so also the yoke of the Law is not a temporary but an everlasting affliction.
Rightly are the doers of the Law called devil’s martyrs. They take more pains to earn hell than the martyrs of Christ to obtain heaven. Theirs is a double misfortune. First they torture themselves on earth with self- inflicted penances and finally when they die they gain the reward of eternal damnation.
1.Stand fast therefore. After having told them that they are the children of the free woman,he now reminds them that they ought not lightly to despise a freedom so precious. And certainly it is an invaluable blessing, in defense of which it is our duty to fight, even to death; since not only the highest temporal considerations, but our eternal interests also, animate us to the contest. Many persons, having never viewed the subject in this light, charge us with excessive zeal, when they see us so warmly and earnestly contending for freedom of faith as to outward matters, in opposition to the tyranny of the Pope. Under this cloak, our adversaries raise a prejudice against us among ignorant people, as if the whole object of our pursuit were licentiousness, which is the relaxation of all discipline. But wise and skillful persons are aware that this is one of the most important doctrines connected with salvation. This is not a question whether you shall eat this or that food, — whether you shall observe or neglect a particular day, (which is the foolish notion entertained by many, and the slander uttered by some,) but what is your positive duty before God, what is necessary to salvation, and what cannot be omitted without sin. In short, the controversy relates to the liberty of conscience, when placed before the tribunal of God.
The liberty of which Paul speaks is exemption from the ceremonies of the law, the observance of which was demanded by the false apostles as necessary. But let the reader, at the same time, remember, that such liberty is only a part of that which Christ has procured for us: for how small a matter would it be, if he had only freed us from ceremonies? This is but a stream, which must be traced to a higher source. It is because “Christ was made a curse, that he might redeem us from the curse of the law,” (Gal_3:13;) because he has revolted the power of the law” so far as it held us liable to the judgment of God under the penalty of eternal death; because, in a word, he has rescued us from the tyranny of sin, Satan, and death. Thus, under one department is included the whole class; but on this subject we shall speak more fully on the Epistle to the Colossians.
This liberty was procured for us by Christ on the cross: the fruit and possession of it are bestowed upon us through the Gospel. Well does Paul, then, warn the Galatians, not to be entangled again with the yoke of bondage, — that is, not to allow a snare to be laid for their consciences. For if men lay upon our shoulders an unjust burden, it may be borne; but if they endeavor to bring our consciences into bondage, we must resist valiantly, even to death. If men be permitted to bind our consciences, we shall be deprived of an invaluable blessing, and an insult will be, at the same time, offered to Christ, the Author of our freedom. But what is the force of the word again, in the exhortation, “and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage?” for the Galatians had never lived under the law. It simply means that they were not to be entangled, as if they had not been redeemed by the grace of Christ. Although the law was given to Jews, not to Gentiles, yet, apart from Christ, neither the one nor the other enjoys any freedom, but absolute bondage.
Gal 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty,…. There is the liberty of grace, and the liberty of glory; the former of these is here meant, and lies in a freedom from sin; not from the indwelling of it, but from the dominion, guilt, and damning power of it; from the captivity and tyranny of Satan, though not from his temptations and insults; from the law, the ceremonial law, as an handwriting of ordinances, a rigid severe schoolmaster, and a middle wall of partition, and from all its burdensome rites and institutions; from the moral law as a covenant of works, and as administered by Moses; and from the curse and condemnation of it, its bondage and rigorous exaction, and from all expectation of life and righteousness by the deeds of it; but not from obedience to it, as held forth by Christ, and as a rule of walk and conversation; and from the judicial law, or those laws which concerned the Jews as Jews: moreover, this liberty lies in the free use of things indifferent, as eating any sort of food without distinction, so that it be done in faith, with thankfulness to God, in moderation, and with temperance, and so as that the peace and edification of fellow Christians are not hurt; also in the free use of Gospel ordinances, which they that are fellow citizens with the saints have a right unto, but not to lay aside or neglect at pleasure; which is not to use, but to abuse their liberty: again, another branch of it is access to God, with freedom and boldness at the throne of grace, through the Mediator, under the influences of the divine Spirit; to which may be added, a deliverance from the fears of death corporeal, who is a king of terrors to Christless sinners, and which kept Old Testament saints, all their lifetime subject to bondage and eternal, or the second death, by which Christ’s freemen are assured they shall not be hurt: now, in this liberty, the children of the free woman, believers under the Gospel dispensation, are very pertinently exhorted to stand fast, in consequence and consideration of their character; that is, they should highly prize and esteem it, as men do their civil liberty; and maintain it and defend it, at all hazards; abide by the doctrine of it without wavering, and with intrepidity; not giving up anyone part of it, however, and by whomsoever, it may be opposed, maligned, and reproached; and keep up the practice of it, by obeying from the heart the doctrine of it, by becoming the servants of righteousness, by frequent attendance at the throne of grace, and continual observance of the ordinances of Christ; and then should take heed of everything that tends to break in upon it, as any doctrine or commandment of men; particularly the doctrine of justification by works, and all sorts of superstition and will worship: and the rather, because of the concern Christ has in this liberty, it is that
wherewith Christ hath made us free; we are not free born, but on the contrary homeborn slaves, as Ephraim was; nor could this liberty in any of its branches be obtained by us, by any merit, righteousness, act, or acts of ours, but is wholly of Christ’s procuring for us, both by price and power; whereby he has ransomed and delivered us out of the hands of all our spiritual enemies, sin, Satan, the law, and death; and it is of his proclaiming in the Gospel, and of his applying by his Spirit, whom he sends down into our hearts as a free Spirit, to acquaint us with it, and lead us into it, who works faith in us to lay hold upon, and receive this blessing of grace as others:
and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. The metaphor is taken from oxen put under a yoke, and implicated with it, from which they cannot disengage themselves: some of the members of this church had been Jews, who had formerly been under the yoke of the law, and seemed desirous to return to their former state of bondage, from which the apostle dissuades, and therefore uses the word again: or else he may refer to the bondage of corruption and idolatry, which they as Gentiles were in, before their conversion; and intimates, that to give into the observance of; Jewish rites and ceremonies would be involving themselves in a state of bondage again; for by “the yoke of bandage” he means the law, which the Jews frequently call עול מצות “the yoke of the commandments” (l); particularly the ceremonial law, as circumcision; which Peter, Act_15:10 represents as a yoke intolerable; the observation of days, months, times, and years; the multitude of sacrifices, and which could not take away sin; but proclaimed their guilt and obligation to punishment, and were an handwriting of ordinances against them, and thereby they were held and kept in bondage, and such a yoke is the moral law as delivered by Moses, requiring perfect obedience, but giving no strength to perform, nor pointing where any is to be had; showing a man his sin and misery, and so working wrath in his conscience, but giving not the least intimation of a Saviour, or of life and righteousness by another; accusing, pronouncing guilty, cursing, and condemning; hence such as seek for righteousness by it are in a miserable subjection to it, and are sadly implicated and entangled with the yoke of it: every doctrine and ordinance of men is a yoke of bondage which should not be submitted to; nay, any action whatever, performed in a religious way and in order for a man’s acceptance with God, and to obtain his favour, and according to his observance of which he judges of his state, and speaks peace and comfort to himself, or the reverse, is a yoke of bondage: as, for instance prayer at such and so many times a day, reading such a number of chapters in the Bible every day, fasting so many times in the week, and the like; so that what are branches of Christian liberty, such as frequent prayer to God, reading the sacred writings for instruction and comfort, and the free use of the creatures, are turned into a yoke of bondage, which should be guarded against.
(l) Misn. Beracot, c. 2. sect. 2. T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 4. 2.
Gal 5:2 VERSE 2. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
Paul is incensed at the thought of the tyranny of the Law. His antagonism to the Law is a personal matter with him. “Behold, I, Paul,” he says, “I who have received the Gospel not from men, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ: I who have been commissioned from above to preach the Gospel to you: I Paul say to you, If you submit to circumcision Christ will profit you nothing.” Paul emphatically declares that for the Galatians to be circumcised would mean for them to lose the benefits of Christ’s suffering and death. This passage may well serve as a criterion for all the religions. To teach that besides faith in Christ other devices like works, or the observance of rules, traditions, or ceremonies are necessary for the attainment of righteousness and everlasting life, is to make Christ and His salvation of no benefit to anybody.
This passage is an indictment of the whole papacy. All priests, monks, and nuns–and I am now speaking of the best of them–who repose their hope for salvation in their own works, and not in Christ, whom they imagine to he an angry judge, hear this sentence pronounced against them that Christ shall profit them nothing. If one can earn the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life through one’s own efforts to what purpose was Christ born? What was the purpose of His suffering and death, His resurrection, His victory over sin, death, and the devil, if men may overcome these evils by their own endeavor? Tongue cannot express, nor heart conceive what a terrible thing it is to make Christ worthless.
The person who is not moved by these considerations to leave the Law and the confidence in his own righteousness for the liberty in Christ, has a heart that is harder than stone and iron.
Paul does not condemn circumcision in itself. Circumcision is not injurious to the person who does not ascribe any particular importance to it. Neither are works injurious provided a person does not attach any saving value to them. The Apostle does not say that works are objectionable, but to build one’s hopes for righteousness on works is disastrous, for that makes Christ good for nothing.
Let us bear this in mind when the devil accuses our conscience. When that dragon accuses us of having done no good at all, but only evil, say to him: “You trouble me with the remembrance of my past sins; you remind me that I have done no good. But this does not bother me, because if I were to trust in my own good deeds, or despair because I have done no good deeds, Christ would profit me neither way. I am not going to make him unprofitable to me. This I would do, if I should presume to purchase for myself the favor of God and everlasting life by my good deeds, or if I should despair of my salvation because of my sins.”
2.Behold, I Paul. He could not have pronounced a severer threatening than that it would exclude them entirely from the grace of Christ. But what is the meaning of this, that Christ will profit nothing to all who are circumcised? Did Christ profit nothing to Abraham? Nay, it was in order that Christ might profit him that he received circumcision. If we say that it was in force till the coming of Christ, what reply shall we make to the case of Timothy? We must observe, that Paul’s reasoning is directed not so properly against the outward rite or ceremony, as against the wicked doctrine of the false apostles, who pretended that it was a necessary part of the worship of God, and at the same time made it a ground of confidence as a meritorious work. These diabolical contrivances made Christ to profit nothing; not that the false apostles denied Christ, or wished him to be entirely set aside, but that they made such a division between his grace and the works of the law as to leave not more than the half of salvation due to Christ. The apostle contends that Christ cannot be divided in this way, and that he “profiteth nothing,” unless he is wholly embraced.
And what else do our modern Papists but thrust upon us, in place of circumcision, trifles of their own invention? The tendency of their whole doctrine is to blend the grace of Christ with the merit of works, which is impossible. Whoever wishes to have the half of Christ, loses the whole. And yet the Papists think themselves exceedingly acute when they tell us that they ascribe nothing to works, except through the influence of the grace of Christ, as if this were a different error from what was charged on the Galatians. They did not believe that they had departed from Christ, or relinquished his grace; and yet they lost Christ entirely, when that important part of evangelical doctrine was corrupted.
The expression Behold, I Paul, is very emphatic; for he places himself before them, and gives his name, to remove all appearance of hesitation. And though his authority had begun to be less regarded among the Galatians, he asserts that it is sufficient to put down every adversary.
If ye be circumcised – By circumcision you take on you the whole obligation of the Jewish law, and consequently profess to seek salvation by means of its observances; and therefore Christ can profit you nothing; for, by seeking justification by the works of the law, you renounce justification by faith in Christ.
“He who is circumcised [for justification] is so as fearing the law, and he who fears, disbelieves the power of grace, and he who disbelieves can profit nothing by that grace which he disbelieves”
Gal 5:3 VERSE 3. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
The first fault with circumcision is that it makes Christ unprofitable. The second fault is that it obligates those who are circumcised to observe the whole Law. Paul is so very much in earnest about this matter that he confirms it with an oath. “I testify,” he says, “I swear by the living God.” Paul’s statement may be explained negatively to mean: “I testify to every man who is being circumcised that he cannot perform the Law in any point. In the very act of circumcision he is not being circumcised, and in the very act of fulfilling the Law he fulfills it not.” This seems to be the simple meaning of Paul’s statement. Later on in the sixth chapter he explicitly states, “They themselves which are circumcised keep not the law. The fact that you are circumcised does not mean you are righteous and free from the Law. The truth is that by circumcision you have become debtors and servants of the Law. The more you endeavor to perform the Law, the more you will become tangled up in the yoke of the Law.”
The truth of this I have experienced in myself and in others. I have seen many work themselves down to the bones in their hungry effort to obtain peace of conscience. But the harder they tried the more they worried. Especially in the presence of death they were so uneasy that I have seen murderers die with better grace and courage.
This holds true also in regard to the church regulations. When I was a monk I tried ever so hard to live up to the strict rules of my order. I used to make a list of my sins, and I was always on the way to confession, and whatever penances were enjoined upon me I performed religiously. In spite of it all, my conscience was always in a fever of doubt. The more I sought to help my poor stricken conscience the worse it got. The more I paid attention to the regulations the more I transgressed them.
Hence those that seek to be justified by the Law are much further away from the righteousness of life than the publicans, sinners, and harlots. They know better than to trust in their own works. They know that they cannot ever hope to obtain forgiveness by their sins.
Paul’s statement in this verse may be taken to mean that those who submit to circumcision are thereby submitting to the whole Law. To obey Moses in one point requires obedience to him in all points. It does no good to say that only circumcision is necessary, and not the rest of Moses’ laws. The same reasons that obligate a person to accept circumcision also obligate a person to accept the whole Law. Thus to acknowledge the Law is tantamount to declaring that Christ is not yet come. And if Christ is not yet come, then all the Jewish ceremonies and laws concerning meats, places, and times are still in force, and Christ must be awaited as one who is still to come. The whole Scripture, however, testifies that Christ has come, that by His death He has abolished the Law, and that He has fulfilled all things which the prophets have foretold about Him.
Some would like to subjugate us to certain parts of the Mosaic Law. But this is not to be permitted under any circumstances. If we permit Moses to rule over us in one thing, we must obey him in all things.
3.For I testify again. What he now advances is proved by the contradiction involved in the opposite statement. He who is a debtor to do the whole law will never escape death, but will always continue to be held as guilty; for no man will ever be found who satisfies the law. Such being the obligation, the man must unavoidably be condemned, and Christ can render him no service. We see then the contradictory nature of the two propositions, that we are partakers of the grace of Christ, and yet that we are bound to fulfill the whole law. But will it not then follow, that none of the fathers were saved? Will it not also follow that Timothy was ruined, since Paul caused him to be circumcised? (Act_16:3.) Wo to us then, till we have been emancipated from the law, for subjection is inseparable from circumcision!
It ought to be observed that Paul is accustomed to view circumcision in two different aspects, as every person who has best, owed a moderate degree of attention on his writings will easily perceive. In the Epistle to the Romans, (Rom_4:11,) he calls it “a seal of the righteousness of faith;” and there, under circumcision, he includes Christ and the free promise of salvation. But here he contrasts it with Christ, and faith, and the gospel, and grace, — viewing it simply as a legal covenant, founded on the merit of works.
The consequence is, as we have already said, that he does not always speak about circumcision in the same way; but the reason of the difference must be taken into account. When he views circumcision in its own nature, he properly makes it to be a symbol of grace, because such was the appointment of God. But when he is dealing with the false apostles, who abused circumcision by making it an instrument for destroying the Gospel, he does not there consider the purpose for which it was appointed by the Lord, but attacks the corruption which has proceeded from men.
A very striking example occurs in this passage. When Abraham had received a promise concerning Christ, and justification by free grace, and eternal salvation, circumcision was added, in order to confirm the promise; and thus it became, by the appointment of God, a sacrament, which was subservient to faith. Next come the false apostles, who pretend that it is a meritorious work, and recommend the observance of the law, making a profession of obedience to it to be signified by circumcision as an initiatory rite. Paul makes no reference here to the appointment of God, but attacks the unscriptural views of the false apostles.
It will be objected, that the abuses, whatever they may be, which wicked men commit, do not at all impair the sacred ordinances of God. I reply, the Divine appointment of circumcision was only for a time. After the coming of Christ, it ceased to be a Divine institution, because baptism had suceeeded in its room. Why, then, was Timothy circumcised? Not certainly on his own account, but for the sake of weak brethren, to whom that point was yielded. To show more fully the agreement between the doctrine of the Papists and that which Paul opposes, it must be observed, that the sacraments, when we partake of them in a sincere manner, are not the works of men, but of God. In baptism or the Lord’s supper, we do nothing but present ourselves to God, in order to receive his grace. Baptism, viewed in regard to us, is a passive work: we bring nothing to it but faith; and all that belongs to it is laid up in Christ. But what are the views of the Papists? They contrive the opus operatum, (84) by which men merit the grace of God; and what is this, but to extinguish utterly the truth of the sacrament? Baptism and the Lord’s supper are retained by us, because it was the will of Christ that the use of them should be perpetual; but those wicked and foolish notions are rejected by us with the strong abhorrence which they deserve.
(84) ‘Thus the Council of Trent has decreed: “If any man shall say that the sacraments of the new law do not contain the grace which they signify, or do not confer grace upon those who do not oppose an obstacle to it, as if external signs of grace or righteousness received by faith, let him be accursed.” — Sessio 7. De Sacramentis in genere, Canon vi. Again, “If any man shall say, that grace is not confered by the sacraments of the new law themselves, ex opere operato, but that faith alone in the divine promise is sufficient to obtain grace, let him be accursed. — Sessio vii. De Sacramentis in genere, Canon viii. The translator subjoins a few observations, by the late Rev. Dr. Dick, on a phrase which appears to defy translation. “This barbarous phrase opus operatum, which is utterly unintelligible without an explanation, signifies the external celebration of the sacraments. It has been defined by Popish writers to be the performance of the external work without any internal motion; and sacraments have been said to confer grace ex opere operato, because, besides the exhibition and application of the sign, no good motion is necessary in the receiver. All that is required is, that no obstacle shall be opposed to the reception of grace, and the only obstacle is mortal sin.” — Lectares on Theology, volume 4.
Gal 5:4 VERSE 4. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Paul in this verse discloses that he is not speaking so much of circumcision as the trust which men repose in the outward act. We can hear him say: “I do not condemn the Law in itself; what I condemn is that men seek to be justified by the Law, as if Christ were still to come, or as if He alone were unable to justify sinners. It is this that I condemn, because it makes Christ of no effect. It makes you void of Christ so that Christ is not in you, nor can you be partakers of the knowledge, the spirit, the fellowship, the liberty, the life, or the achievements of Christ. You are completely separated from Him, so much so that He has nothing to do with you any more, or for that matter you with Him.” Can anything worse be said against the Law? If you think Christ and the Law can dwell together in your heart, you may be sure that Christ dwells not in your heart. For if Christ is in your heart He neither condemns you, nor does He ever bid you to trust in your own good works. If you know Christ at all, you know that good works do not serve unto righteousness, nor evil works unto condemnation. I do not want to withhold from good works their due praise, nor do I wish to encourage evil works. But when it comes to justification, I say, we must concentrate upon Christ alone, or else we make Him non-effective .You must choose between Christ and the righteousness of the Law. If you choose Christ you are righteous before God. If you stick to the Law, Christ is of no use to you.
VERSE 4. Ye are fallen from grace.
That means you are no longer in the kingdom or condition of grace. When a person on board ship falls into the sea and is drowned it makes no difference from which end or side of the ship he falls into the water. Those who fall from grace perish no matter how they go about it. Those who seek to be justified by the Law are fallen from grace and are in grave danger of eternal death. If this holds true in the case of those who seek to be justified by the moral Law, what will become of those, I should like to know, who endeavor to be justified by their own regulations and vows? They will fall to the very bottom of hell. “Oh, no,” they say, “we will fly straight into heaven. If you live according to the rules of Saint Francis, Saint Dominick, Saint Benedict, you will obtain the peace and mercy of God. If you perform the vows of chastity, obedience, etc., you will be rewarded with everlasting life.” Let these playthings of the devil go to the place where they came from and listen to what Paul has to say in this verse in accordance with Christ’s own teaching: “He that believeth in the Son of God, hath everlasting life; but he that believeth not in the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth in him.”
The words, “Ye are fallen from grace,” must not be taken lightly. They are important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has merited for us by His death and resurrection. To lose the grace of God means to gain the wrath and judgment of God, death, the bondage of the devil, and everlasting condemnation.
Christ is become of no effect unto you – You will derive no advantage from Christ. His work in regard to you is needless and vain. If you can be justified in any other way than by him, then of course you do not need him, and your adoption of the other mode is in fact a renunciation of him. Tyndale renders this: “Ye are gone quite from Christ.” The word here used (καταργέω katargeō), means properly, to render inactive, idle, useless; to do away, to put an end to; and here it means that they had withdrawn from Christ, if they attempted to be justified by the Law. They would not need him if they could be thus justified; and they could derive no benefit from him. A man who can be justified by his own obedience, does not need the aid or the merit of another; and if it was true, as they seemed to suppose, that they could be justified by the Law, it followed that the work of Christ was in vain so far as they were concerned.
Whosoever of you are justified by the law – On the supposition that any of you are justified by the Law; or if, as you seem to suppose, any are justified by the Law. The apostle does not say that this had in fact ever occurred; but he merely makes a supposition. If such a thing should or could occur, it would follow that you had fallen from grace.
Ye are fallen from grace – That is, this would amount to apostasy from the religion of the Redeemer, and would be in fact a rejection of the grace of the gospel. That this had ever in fact occurred among true Christians the apostle does not affirm unless he affirmed that people can in fact be justified by the Law, since he makes the falling from grace a consequence of that. But did Paul mean to teach that? Did he mean to affirm that any man in fact had been, or could be justified by his own obedience to the Law? Let his own writings answer; see, especially, Rom_3:20. But unless he held that, then this passage does not prove that anyone who has ever been a true Christian has fallen away. The fair interpretation of the passage does not demand that. Its simple and obvious meaning is, that if a man who has been a professed Christian should be justified by his own conformity to the Law, and adopt that mode of justification, then that would amount to a rejection of the mode of salvation by Christ, and would be a renouncing of the plan of justification by grace. The two systems cannot be united. The adoption of the one is, in fact, a rejection of the other. Christ will be “a whole Saviour,” or none. This passage, therefore. cannot be adduced to prove that any true Christian has in fact fallen away from grace, unless it proves also that man may be justified by the deeds of the Law, contrary to the repeated declarations of Paul himself. The word “grace” here, does not mean grace in the sense of personal religion, it means the “system” of salvation by grace, in contradistinction from that by merit or by works – the system of the gospel.
Gal 5:5 VERSE 5. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
Paul concludes the whole matter with the above statement. “You want to be justified by the Law, by circumcision, and by works. We cannot see it. To be justified by such means would make Christ of no value to us. We would be obliged to perform the whole law. We rather through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness.” The Apostle is not satisfied to say “justified by faith.” He adds hope to faith.
Holy Writ speaks of hope in two ways: as the object of the emotion, and hope as the emotion itself. In the first chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians we have an instance of its first use: “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven,” i.e., the thing hoped for. In the sense of emotion we quote the passage from the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: “For we are saved by hope.” As Paul uses the term “hope” here in writing to the Galatians, we may take it in either of its two meanings. We may understand Paul to say, “We wait in spirit, through faith, for the righteousness that we hope for, which in due time will be revealed to us.” Or we may understand Paul to say: “We wait in Spirit, by faith for righteousness with great hope and desire.” True, we are righteous, but our righteousness is not yet revealed; as long as we live here sin stays with us, not to forget the law in our members striving against the law of our mind. When sin rages in our body and we through the Spirit wrestle against it, then we have cause for hope. We are not yet perfectly righteous. Perfect righteousness is still to be attained. Hence we hope for it.
This is sweet comfort for us. And we are to make use of it in comforting the afflicted. We are to say to them: “Brother, you would like to feel God’s favor as you feel your sin. But you are asking too much. Your righteousness rests on something much better than feelings. Wait and hope until it will be revealed to you in the Lord’s own time. Don’t go by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you.”
The question occurs to us, What difference is there between faith and hope? We find it difficult to see any difference. Faith and hope are so closely linked that they cannot be separated. Still there is a difference between them.
First, hope and faith differ in regard to their sources. Faith originates in the understanding, while hope rises in the will.
Secondly, they differ in regard to their functions. Faith says what is to be done. Faith teaches, describes, directs. Hope exhorts the mind to be strong and courageous.
Thirdly, they differ in regard to their objectives. Faith concentrates on the truth. Hope looks to the goodness of God.
Fourthly, they differ in sequence. Faith is the beginning of life before tribulation. (Hebrews 11.) Hope comes later and is born of tribulation. (Romans 5.)
Fifthly, they differ in regard to their effects. Faith is a judge. It judges errors. Hope is a soldier. It fights against tribulations, the Cross, despondency, despair, and waits for better things to come in the midst of evil.
Without hope faith cannot endure. On the other hand, hope without faith is blind rashness and arrogance because it lacks knowledge. Before anything else a Christian must have the insight of faith, so that the intellect may know its directions in the day of trouble and the heart may hope for better things. By faith we begin, by hope we continue.
This passage contains excellent doctrine and much comfort. It declares that we are justified not by works, sacrifices, or ceremonies, but by Christ alone. The world may judge certain things to be ever so good; without Christ they are all wrong. Circumcision and the law and good works are carnal. “We,” says Paul, “are above such things. We possess Christ by faith and in the midst of our afflictions we hopefully wait for the consummation of our righteousness.”
You may say, “The trouble is I don’t feel as if I am righteous.” You must not feel, but believe. Unless you believe that you are righteous, you do Christ a great wrong, for He has cleansed you by the washing of regeneration, He died for you so that through Him you may obtain righteousness and everlasting life.
5.For we through the Spirit. He now anticipates an objection that, might readily occur. “Will circumcision then be of no use?” In Jesus Christ, he replies, it availeth nothing. Righteousness, therefore, depends on faith, and is obtained, through the Spirit, without ceremonies. To wait for the hope of righteousness, is to place our confidence in this or that object, or, to decide from what quarter righteousness is to be expected; though the words probably contain the exhortation, “Let us continue steadfastly in the hope of righteousness which we obtain by faith.” When he says that we obtain righteousness by faith, this applies equally to us and to our fathers. All of them, as Scripture testifies, (Heb_11:5,) “pleased God;” but their faith was concealed by the veil of ceremonies, and therefore he distinguishes us from them by the word Spirit, which is contrasted with outward shadows. His meaning therefore is, that all that is now necessary for obtaining righteousness is a simple faith, which declines the aid of splendid ceremonies, and is satisfied with the spiritual worship of God.
For we, Christians, through the Spirit – Through the operation of the Holy Ghost, under this spiritual dispensation of the Gospel, wait for the hope of righteousness – expect that which is the object of our hope, on our being justified by faith in Christ. Righteousness, δικαιοσυνη, may here, as in many other places of St. Paul’s epistles, mean justification, and the hope of justification, or the hope excited and inspired by it, is the possession of eternal glory; for, says the apostle, Rom_5:1, Rom_5:2, Being justified by faith, we have peace with God – and rejoice in Hope of the Glory of God. But, as this glory is necessarily future, it is to be waited for; but this waiting, in a thorough Christian, is not only a blessed expectation, but also a continual anticipation of it; and therefore the apostle says, απεκδεχομεθα, we receive out if it, from απο, from εκ, out of, and δεχομαι, I receive. This is no fanciful derivation; it exists in the experience of every genuine Christian; he is continually anticipating or receiving foretastes of that glory, the fullness of which he expects after death. Thus they are receiving the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls. 1Pe_1:9.
That they could not have the Holy Spirit without faith, was a doctrine also of the Jews; hence it is said, Mechilta, fol. 52: “That faith was of great consequence with which the Israelites believed in Him who, with one word, created the universe; and because the Israelites believed in God, the Holy Spirit dwelt in them; so that, being filled with God, they sang praises to him.” Cicero, De Nat. Deor., lib. ii., has said: Nemo vir magnus sine aliquo afflatu divino unquam fuit: “There never was a great man who had not some measure of the Divine influence.” However true this may be with respect to the great men of the Roman orator, we may safely assert there never was a true Christian who had not the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
For — proof of the assertion, “fallen from grace,” by contrasting with the case of legalists, the “hope” of Christians.
through the Spirit — Greek, rather, “by the Spirit”: in opposition to by the flesh (Gal_4:29), or fleshly ways of justification, as circumcision and legal ordinances. “We” is emphatical, and contrasted with “whosoever of you would be justified by the law” (Gal_5:4).
the hope of righteousness — “We wait for the (realization of the) hope (which is the fruit) of the righteousness (that is, justification which comes) by (literally, ‘from – out of’) faith,” Rom_5:1, Rom_5:4, Rom_5:5; Rom_8:24, Rom_8:25, “Hope … we with patience wait for it.” This is a farther step than being “justified”; not only are we this, but “wait for the hope” which is connected with it, and is its full consummation. “Righteousness,” in the sense of justification, is by the believer once for all already attained: but the consummation of it in future perfection above is the object of hope to be waited for: “the crown of righteousness laid up” (2Ti_4:8): “the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col_1:5; 1Pe_1:3).
Gal 5:6 VERSE 6. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.
Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides. He declares on the one hand, “In Christ Jesus circumcision availeth nothing,” i.e., works avail nothing, but faith alone, and that without any merit whatever, avails before God. On the other hand, the Apostle declares that without fruits faith serves no purpose. To think, “If faith justifies without works, let us work nothing,” is to despise the grace of God. Idle faith is not justifying faith. In this terse manner Paul presents the whole life of a Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our fellow-men.
6.For in Jesus Christ. The reason why believers now wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit is, that in Christ, that is, in the kingdom of Christ, or in the Christian church, circumcision with its appendages is abolished; for, by a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, the word Circumcision is put for ceremonies. While he declares that they no longer possess any influence, he does not admit that they were always useless; for he does not maintain that they were repealed till after the revelation of Christ. This enables us to answer another question, Why does he here speak so contemptuously of circumcision, as if it had been of no advantage? The rank which circumcision once held as a sacrament is not now considered. The question is not what was its value before it had been abolished. But under the kingdom of Christ, he pronounces it to be on a level with uncircumcision, because the coming of Christ has put an end to legal ceremonies.
But faith, which worketh by love.The contrast here introduced, between ceremonies and the exercise of love, was intended to prevent the Jews from thinking too highly of themselves, and imagining that they were entitled to some superiority; for towards the close of the Epistle, instead of this clause, he uses the words, a new creature. (Gal_6:15.) As if he had said, Ceremonies are no longer enjoined by Divine authority; and, if we abound in the exercise of love, all is well. Meanwhile, this does not set aside our sacraments, which are aids to faith but is merely a short announcement of what he had formerly taught as to the spiritual worship of God.
There would be no difficulty in this passage, were it not for the dishonest manner in which it has been tortured by the Papists to uphold the righteousness of works. When they attempt to refute our doctrine, that we are justified by faith alone, they take this line of argument. If the faith which justifies us be that “which worketh by love,” then faith alone does not justify. I answer, they do not comprehend their own silly talk; still less do they comprehend our statements. It is not our doctrine that the faith which justifies is alone; we maintain that it is invariably accompanied by good works; only we contend that faith alone is sufficient for justification. The Papists themselves are accustomed to tear faith after a murderous fashion, sometimes presenting it out of all shape and unaccompanied by love, and at other times, in its true character. We, again, refuse to admit that, in any case, faith can be separated from the Spirit of regeneration; but when the question comes to be in what manner we are justified, we then set aside all works.
With respect to the present passage, Paul enters into no dispute whether love cooperates with faith in justification; but, in order to avoid the appearance of representing Christians as idle and as resembling blocks of wood, he points out what are the true exercises of believers. When you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or of works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle. Paul does not here treat of justification, or assign any part of the praise of it to love. Had he done so, the same argument would prove that circumcision and ceremonies, at a former period, had some share in justifying a sinner. As in Christ Jesus he commends faith accompanied by love, so before the coming of Christ ceremonies were required. But this has nothing to do with obtaining righteousness, as the Papists themselves allow; and neither must it be supposed that love possesses any such influence.
For in Jesus Christ – In the religion which Christ came to establish.
Neither circumcision … – It makes no difference whether a man is circumcised or not. He is not saved because he is circumcised, nor is he condemned because he is not. The design of Christianity is to abolish these rites and ceremonies, and to introduce a way of salvation that shall be applicable to all mankind alike; see the Gal_3:28, note; 1Co_7:19, note; compare Rom_2:29.
But faith which worketh by love – Faith that evinces its existence by love to God, and benevolence to people. It is not a mere intellectual belief, but it is that which reaches the heart, and controls the affections. It is not a dead faith, but it is that which is operative, and which is seen in Christian kindness and affection. It is not mere belief of the truth, or mere orthodoxy, but it is that which produces trite attachment to others. A mere intellectual assent to the truth may leave the heart cold and unaffected; mere orthodoxy, however bold and self-confident, and “sound,” may not be inconsistent with contentions, and strifes, and logomachies, and divisions. The true faith is that which is seen in benevolence, in love to God, in love to all who bear the Christian name; in a readiness to do good to all mankind. This shows that the heart is affected by the faith that is held; and this is the nature and design of all genuine religion. Tyndale renders this, “faith, which by love is mighty in operation.”
Gal 5:7 VERSE 7. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
This is plain speaking. Paul asserts that he teaches the same truth now which he has always taught, and that the Galatians ran well as long as they obeyed the truth. But now, misled by the false apostles, they no longer run. He compares the Christian life to a race. When everything runs along smoothly the Hebrews spoke of it as a race. “Ye did run well,” means that everything went along smoothly and happily with the Galatians. They lived a Christian life and were on the right way to everlasting life. The words, “Ye did run well,” are encouraging indeed. Often our lives seem to creep rather than to run. But if we abide in the true doctrine and walk in the spirit, we have nothing to worry about. God judges our lives differently. What may seem to us a life slow in Christian development may seem to God a life of rapid progression in grace.
VERSE 7. Who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
The Galatians were hindered in the Christian life when they turned from faith and grace to the Law. Covertly the Apostle blames the false apostles for impeding the Christian progress of the Galatians. The false apostles persuaded the Galatians to believe that they were in error and that they had made little or no progress under the influence of Paul. Under the baneful influence of the false apostles the Galatians thought they were well off and advancing rapidly in Christian knowledge and living.
Ye did run well – The Christian life is often represented as a race; see the notes at 1Co_9:24-26. Paul means here, that they began the Christian life with ardour and zeal; compare Gal_4:15.
Who did hinder you – Margin, “Drive you back.” The word used here (ἀνακόπτω anakoptō) means properly to beat or drive back. Hence, it means to hinder, check, or retard. Dr. Doddridge remarks that this is “an Olympic expression, and properly signifies “coming across the course” while a person is running in it, in such a manner as to jostle, and throw him out of the way.” Paul asks, with emphasis, who it could have been that retarded them in their Christian course, implying that it could have been done only by their own consent, or that there was really no cause why they should not have continued as they began.
That ye should not obey the truth – The true system of justification by faith in the Redeemer. That you should have turned aside, and embraced the dangerous errors in regard to the necessity of obeying the laws of Moses.
Gal 5:8 VERSE 8. This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.
Paul explains how those who had been deceived by false teachers may be restored to spiritual health. The false apostles were amiable fellows. Apparently they surpassed Paul in learning and godliness. The Galatians were easily deceived by outward appearances. They supposed they were being taught by Christ Himself. Paul proved to them that their new doctrine was not of Christ, but of the devil. In this way he succeeded in regaining many. We also are able to win back many from the errors into which they were seduced by showing that their beliefs are imaginary, wicked, and contrary to the Word of God.
The devil is a cunning persuader. He knows how to enlarge the smallest sin into a mountain until we think we have committed the worst crime ever committed on earth. Such stricken consciences must be comforted and set straight as Paul corrected the Galatians by showing them that their opinion is not of Christ because it runs counter to the Gospel, which describes Christ as a meek and merciful Savior.
Satan will circumvent the Gospel and explain Christ in this his own diabolical way: “Indeed Christ is meek, gentle, and merciful, but only to those who are holy and righteous. If you are a sinner you stand no chance. Did not Christ say that unbelievers are already damned? And did not Christ perform many good deeds, and suffer many evils patiently, bidding us to follow His example? You do not mean to say that your life is in accord with Christ’s precepts or example? You are a sinner. You are no good at all.”
Satan is to be answered in this way: The Scriptures present Christ in a twofold aspect. First, as a gift. “He of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.” (1Co_1:30.) Hence my many and grievous sins are nullified if I believe in Him. Secondly, the Scriptures present Christ for our example. As an exemplar He is to be placed before me only at certain times. In times of joy and gladness that l may have Him as a mirror to reflect upon my shortcomings. But in the day of trouble I will have Christ only as a gift. I will not listen to anything else, except that Christ died for my sins.
To those that are cast down on account of their sins Christ must be introduced as a Savior and Gift, and not as an example. But to sinners who live in a false assurance, Christ must be introduced as an example. The hard sayings of Scripture and the awful judgments of God upon sin must be impressed upon them. Defy Satan in times of despair. Say: “O cursed Satan, you choose a nice time to talk to me about doing and working when you know very well that I am in trouble over my sins. I will not listen to you. I will listen to Christ, who says that He came into the world to save sinners. This is the true Christ and there is none other. I can find plenty of examples for a holy life in Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and other saints. But they cannot forgive my sins. They cannot save me. They cannot procure for me everlasting life. Therefore I will not have you for my teacher, O Satan.”
8.This persuasion cometh not. Having formerly combated them by arguments, he at length pronounces, with a voice of authority, that their persuasion came not from God. Such an admonition would not be entitled to much regard, were it not supported by the authority of the speaker. But Paul, to whom the Galatians had been indebted for the announcement of their Divine calling, was well entitled to address them in this confident language. This is the reason why he does not directly say, from God, but expresses it by a circumlocution, him that hath called you As if he had said, “God is never inconsistent with himself, and he it is who by my preaching called you to salvation. This new persuasion then has come from some other quarter; and if you wish to have it thought that your calling is from God, beware of lending an ear to those who thrust upon you their new inventions.” Though the Greek participle καλοῦντος, I acknowledge, is in the present tense, I have preferred translating, who hath called you, in order to remove the ambiguity.
This persuasion – Of the necessity of your being circumcised and obeying the law of Moses, is not of him that calleth you. I never preached such a doctrine to you; I called you out of bondage to liberty, from a galling yoke to a cheerful service. Some translate πεισμονη, obedience or subjection. This subjection of yours to the Mosaic law is opposed to the will of God, and never was preached by me.
This persuasion – This belief that it is necessary to obey the laws of Moses, and to intermingle the observance of Jewish rites with the belief of the Christian doctrines in order to be saved.
Not of him that calleth you – That is, of God, who had called them into his kingdom. That it refers to God and not to Paul is plain. They knew well enough that Paul had not persuaded them to it, and it was important now to show them that it could not be traced to God, though they who taught it pretended to be commissioned by him.
Gal 5:9 VERSE 9. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Paul’s concern for them meant nothing to some of the Galatians. Many had disowned him as their teacher and gone over to the false apostles. No doubt the false apostles took every occasion to defame Paul as a stubborn and contemptuous fellow who thought nothing of disrupting the unity of the churches for no other reason than his selfish pride and jealousy.
Others of the Galatians perhaps saw no harm in deviating a trifle from the doctrine of justification and faith. When they noticed that Paul made so much ado about a matter that seemed of no particular importance to them they raised their eyebrows and thought within themselves: “What if we did deviate a little from the doctrine of Paul? What if we are a little to blame? He ought to overlook the whole matter, and not make such an issue out of it, lest the unity of the churches be disturbed.” To this Paul replies: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”
Our opponents record the same complaints about us. They put us down as contentious, ill-tempered faultfinders. But these are the crafty passes of the devil, with which he seeks to overthrow our faith. We answer with Paul: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”
Small faults grow into big faults. To tolerate a trifling error inevitably leads to crass heresy. The doctrine of the Bible is not ours to take or to allow liberties with. We have no right to change even a tittle of it. When it comes to life we are ready to do, to suffer, to forgive anything our opponents demand as long as faith and doctrine remain pure and uncorrupt. The Apostle James says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” This passage supports us over against our critics who claim that we disregard all charity to the great injury of the churches. We protest we desire nothing more than peace with all men. If they would only permit us to keep our doctrine of faith! The pure doctrine takes precedence before charity, apostles, or an angel from heaven.
Let others praise charity and concord to the skies; we magnify the authority of the Word and faith. Charity may be neglected at times without peril, but not the Word and faith. Charity suffers all things, it gives in. Faith suffers nothing; it never yields. Charity is often deceived but is never put out because it lies nothing to lose; it continues to do well even to the ungrateful. When it comes to faith and salvation in the midst of lies and errors that parade as truth and deceive many, charity has no voice or vote. Let us not be influenced by the popular cry for charity and unity. If we do not love God and His Word what difference does it make if we love anything at all?
Paul, therefore, admonishes both teachers and hearers not to esteem lightly the doctrine of faith as if it were a toy with which to amuse oneself in idle hours.
9.A little leaven. This refers, I think, to doctrine, not to men. It guards them against the mischievous consequences which arise from corruption of doctrine, and warns them not to consider it, as is commonly done, to be a matter attended by little or no danger. Satan’s stratagem is, that he does not attempt an avowed destruction of the whole gospel, but he taints its purity by introducing false and corrupt opinions. Many persons are thus led to overlook the seriousness of the injury done, and therefore make a less determined resistance. The apostle proclaims aloud that, after the truth of God has been corrupted, we are no longer safe. He employs the metaphor of leaven, which, however small in quantity, communicates its sourness to the whole mass. We must exercise the utmost caution lest we allow any counterfeit to be substituted for the pure doctrine of the gospel.
A little leaven … – This is evidently a proverbial expression; see it explained in the notes at 1Co_5:6. Its meaning here is, that the embracing of the errors which they had adopted was to be traced to some influence existing among themselves, and acting like leaven. It may either mean that there was existing among them from the first a slight tendency to conform to rites and customs, and that this had now like leaven pervaded the mass; or it may mean that the false teachers there might be compared to leaven, whose doctrines, though they were few in number, had pervaded the mass of Christians; or it may mean, as many have supposed, that any conformity to the Jewish law was like leaven. If they practiced circumcision, it would not stop there. The tendency to conform to Jewish rites would spread from that until it would infect all the doctrines of religion, and they would fall into the observance of all the rites of the Jewish law. It seems to me that the second interpretation referred to above is the correct one; and that the apostle means to say, that the influence which had brought this change about was at first small and unimportant; that there might have been but a few teachers of that kind, and it might have not been deemed worthy of particular attention or alarm; but that the doctrines thus infused into the churches, had spread like leaven, until the whole mass had become affected.
Gal 5:10 VERSE 10. l have confidence in you through the Lord.
“I have taught, admonished, and reproved you enough. I hope the best for you.”
The question occurs to us whether Paul did well to trust the Galatians. Does not Holy Writ forbid us to trust in men? Faith trusts in God and is never wrong. Charity trusts in men and is often wrong. This charitable trust in man is necessary to life. Without it life would be impossible in the world. What kind of life would ours be if nobody could trust anybody else? True Christians are more ready to believe in men than the children of this world. Such charitable confidence is the fruit of the Spirit. Paul had such trust in the Galatians although they had forsaken his doctrine. He trusts them “through the Lord,” insofar as they were in Christ and Christ in them. Once they had forsaken Christ altogether, the Apostle will trust the Galatians no longer.
VERSE 10. That ye will be none otherwise minded.
“Not minded otherwise than I have taught you. In other words, I have confidence that you will accept no doctrine that is contrary to the one you have learned from me.”
VERSE 10. But be that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.
Paul assumes the role of a judge and condemns the false apostles as troublers of the Galatians. He wants to frighten the Galatians with his severe judgments of the false apostles into avoiding false doctrine like a contagious disease. We can hear him say to the Galatians: “Why do you give these pestilent fellows a hearing in the first place? They only trouble you. The doctrine they bring causes your conscience only trouble.”
The clause, “whosoever he be,” seems to indicate that the false apostles in outward appearance at least were very good and devout men. It may be that among them was some outstanding disciple of the apostles, a man of fame and authority. The Apostle must have been faced by this very situation, otherwise his vehemence would have been uncalled for. No doubt many of the Galatians were taken back with the vehemency of the Apostle. They perhaps thought: why should he be so stubborn in such small matters? Why is he so quick to pronounce damnation upon his brethren in the ministry?
I cannot say it often enough, that we must carefully differentiate between doctrine and life. Doctrine is a piece of heaven, life is a piece of earth. Life is sin, error, uncleanness, misery, and charity must forbear, believe, hope, and suffer all things. Forgiveness of sins must be continuous so that sin and error may not be defended and sustained. But with doctrine there must be no error, no need of pardon. There can be no comparison between doctrine and life. The least little point of doctrine is of greater importance than heaven and earth. Therefore we cannot allow the least jot of doctrine to be corrupted. We may overlook the offenses and errors of life, for we daily sin much. Even the saints sin, as they themselves confess in the Lord’s Prayer and in the Creed. But our doctrine, God be praised, is pure, because all the articles of our faith are grounded on the Holy Scriptures.
10.I have confidence in you. All his fierceness is again directed against the false apostles. To them the evil is traced, and on them the punishment is threatened. Good hopes are expressed regarding the Galatians, that they will quickly and readily return to a sincere belief. It gives us courage to learn that good hopes are entertained about us; for we reckon it shameful to disappoint those whose feelings towards us are kind and friendly. But to bring back the Galatians to the pure doctrine of faith, from which they had turned aside, was the work of God. The apostle says that he has confidence in them, ἐν Κυρίῳ, through the Lord, by which he reminds them that repentance is a heavenly gift, and that they must ask it from God.
He that troubleth you The sentiment which he had just delivered is confirmed by thus indirectly imputing the greater part of the blame to those impostors by whom the Galatians had been deceived. From the punishment denounced against them, the Galatians are very nearly exempted. Let all who introduce confusion into churches, who break the unity of faith, who destroy their harmony, lend an ear to this; and if they have any right feeling, let them tremble at this word. God declares, by the mouth of Paul, that none “through whom such offenses come” (Luk_17:1 ) will pass unpunished. The phrase, whosoever he be, is emphatic; for the high sounding language of the false apostles had terrified the ignorant multitude. It became necessary for Paul to defend his doctrine with corresponding warmth and energy, and not to spare any one who dared to raise his voice against it, however eminent or however distinguished.
Gal 5:11 The scandal of the cross is therefore made void. The sense is, according to St. Jerome, that the Jews’ greatest objection against St. Paul used to be, because he preached that circumcision and the law of Moses need not be observed: another objection against him was, that he preached Jesus, who was crucified on an infamous cross, to be their great Messias. He reasons then in this manner, that if the Jews think he again preacheth the necessity of circumcision and the precepts of the old law, they will no longer be offended that he preacheth Christ crucified, because they were not so much offended with the latter as with the first. Thus also St. John Chrysostom on this verse. Others expound it thus: If I preach circumcision and the ceremonies of the law, therefore according to my doctrine, the cross of Christ, and justification by the merits of Christ crucified, is abolished, because justification is still to be sought for by the works of the law.
Gal 5:11 VERSE 11. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offense of the cross ceased.
In his great desire to recall the Galatians, Paul draws himself into the argument. He says: “Because I refuse to recognize circumcision as a factor in our salvation, I have brought upon myself the hatred and persecution of my whole nation. If I were to acknowledge circumcision the Jews would cease to persecute me; in fact they would love and praise me. But because I preach the Gospel of Christ and the righteousness of faith I must suffer persecution. The false apostles know how to avoid the Cross and the deadly hatred of the Jewish nation. They preach circumcision and thus retain the favor of the Jews. If they had their way they would ignore all differences in doctrine and preserve unity at all cost. But their unionistic dreams cannot be realized without loss to the pure doctrine of the Cross. It would be too bad if the offense of the Cross were to cease.” To the Corinthians he expressed the same conviction: “Christ sent me. . .to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” (1Co_1:17.)
Here someone may be tempted to call the Christians crazy. Deliberately to court danger by preaching and confessing the truth, and thus to bring upon ourselves the hatred and enmity of the whole world, is this not madness? But Paul does not mind the enmity of the world. It made him all the bolder to confess Christ. The enmity of the world in his estimation augurs well for the success and growth of the Church, which fares best in times of persecution. When the offense of the Cross ceases, when the rage of the enemies of the Cross abates, when everything is quiet, it is a sign that the devil is the door-keeper of the Church and that the pure doctrine of God’s Word has been lost.
Saint Bernard observed that the Church is in best shape when Satan assaults it on every side by trickery and violence; and in worst shape when it is at peace. In support of his statement he quotes the passage from the song of Hezekiah: “Behold, for peace I had great bitterness.” Paul looks with suspicion upon any doctrine that does not provoke antagonism.
Persecution always follows on the heels of the Word of God as the Psalmist experienced. “I believe, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted.” (Psa_116:10.) The Christians are accused and slandered without mercy. Murderers and thieves receive better treatment than Christians. The world regards true Christians as the worst offenders, for whom no punishment can be too severe. The world hates the Christians with amazing brutality, and without compunction commits them to the most shameful death, congratulating itself that it has rendered God and the cause of peace a distinct service by ridding the world of the undesired presence of these Christians. We are not to let such treatment cause us to falter in our adherence to Christ. As long as we experience such persecutions we know all is well with the Gospel.
Jesus held out the same comfort to His disciples in the fifth chapter of St. Matthew. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven.” The Church must not come short of this joy. I would not want to be at peace with the pope, the bishops, the princes, and the sectarians, unless they consent to our doctrine. Unity with them would be an unmistakable sign that we have lost the true doctrine. Briefly, as long as the Church proclaims the doctrine she must suffer persecution, because the Gospel declares the mercy and glory of God. This in turn stirs up the devil, because the Gospel shows him up for what he is, the devil, and not God. Therefore as long as the Gospel holds sway persecution plays the accompaniment, or else there is something the matter with the devil. When he is hit you will know it by the havoc he raises everywhere.
So do not be surprised or offended when hell breaks loose. Look upon it as a happy indication that all is well with the Gospel of the Cross. God forbid that the offense of the Cross should ever be removed. This would be the case if we were to preach what the prince of this world and his followers would be only too glad to hear, the righteousness of works. You would never know the devil could be so gentle, the world so sweet, the Pope so gracious, and the princes so charming. But because we seek the advantage and honor of Christ, they persecute us all around.
11.And I, brethren. This argument, is drawn from the final cause. “It would be completely in my power,” he says, “to avoid the displeasure of men, and every kind of danger and persecution, were I only to mix ceremonies with Christ. The earnestness with which I oppose them is not on my own account, nor for my own advantage.” But does it therefore follow that his doctrine is true? I answer, proper feelings and pure conscience, when manifested by a teacher, have no small share in obtaining confidence. Besides, it cannot be believed that any man would be so mad as to take measures, of his own accord, for bringing distress upon himself. Lastly, he throws upon his adversaries the suspicion, that, in preaching circumcision, they were more disposed to consult their own ease than to be faithful in the service of Christ. In short, Paul was at the farthest remove from ambition, covetousness, or regard to personal interest, since he despised favor and applause, and exposed himself to the persecutions and fury of the multitude rather than swerve a hair’s-breadth from the purity of the gospel.
Then is the offense of the cross ceased. Willingly does Paul, in speaking of the gospel, call it the cross, or the preaching of the cross, when he wishes to bring its poor, simple style, into contrast with the “great swelling words” (Jud_1:16 ) of human wisdom or righteousness. For the Jews, puffed up with an ill-founded confidence in their righteousness, and the Greeks, with a foolish belief of their wisdom, despised the meanness of the gospel. When therefore he says that now, If the preaching of circumcision be admitted, the offense of the cross will no longer exist, he means that the gospel will meet with no annoyance from the Jews, but will be taught with their entire concurrence. And why? Because they will no longer take offense at a pretended and spurious gospel, gathered out of Moses and out of Christ, but will look with greater indulgence on that mixture which will leave them in possession of their former superiority.
Gal 5:12 I would that they were even cut off which trouble you. Cut off from the Church and your fellowship, lest they corrupt the whole. Cf. 1Co_5:3. This is the obvious meaning, and one befitting the dignity of an apostolic writer. However, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Jerome, Augustine, and others understand it of the total deprivation of the organ to which circumcision is applied, so as to bring it more closely within the scope of the whole passage, in which circumcision is the main topic.
It may be asked how the Apostle can rightly imprecate a curse on the Judaisers, since this is opposed to charity, and is a mark of impatience and of a revengeful temper. “So detestable,” says Jerome, “is the act of castration, that whoever inflicts it on a man against his will, or on himself, ought to be accounted infamous.”
1. Jerome replies that the Apostle said this as a man and in passion; but God forbid that an Apostle, and one especially who was moved by the Holy Spirit, should so speak. Accordingly, Jerome gives another answer, according to which, like Peter to Simon Magus (Act_8:20), and Elisha to the children who mocked him (2Ki_2:24), he spoke, not in anger, but partly in zeal for righteousness, partly in love, and entreated that they might be punished through their sin, i.e., through circumcision, and so, when punished, be purged of their shame.
2. Chrysostom and Theophylact say that the Apostle is not imprecating a curse, but speaking jestingly, as much as to say, If they insist on it, let them be not only circumcised, but wholly cut off.
3. S. Augustine and Anselm think that there is no curse here but a blessing, as if he were to say, Would that the Jews would become spiritual eunuchs by chastity for the kingdom of heaven’s sake, and cease to preach Jewish circumcision, fixing their thoughts instead on heavenly things, and on the law of Christ, as the way to attain them. Of these three explanations the second of Jerome’s is the best.
Origen castrated himself to prevent the motions of lust disturbing his chastity, but, as Chrysostom rightly says, wrongly; for this is not taught by the Apostle, nor is it the members of the body but our vices that are to be cut off, otherwise it would be lawful to destroy our eyes, ears, and tongue. Moreover, castration does not destroy lust, but sometimes increases it, as S. Basil says in his treatise on Virginity. Cf. Ecclus. 20:2, and Ecclus 30:21.
Which trouble you. Who would rob you of your evangelical liberty.
Gal 5:12 VERSE 12. I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
It hardly seems befitting an apostle, not only to denounce the false apostles as troublers of the Church, and to consign them to the devil, but also to wish that they were utterly cut off–what else would you call it but plain cursing? Paul, I suppose, is alluding to the rite of circumcision. As if he were saying to the Galatians: “The false apostles compel you to cut off the foreskin of your flesh. Well, I wish they themselves were utterly cut off by the roots.”
We had better answer at once the question, whether it is right for Christians to curse. Certainly not always, nor for every little cause. But when things have come to such a pass that God and His Word are openly blasphemed, then we must say: “Blessed be God and His Word, and cursed be everything that is contrary to God and His Word, even though it should be an apostle, or an angel from heaven.”
This goes to show again how much importance Paul attached to the least points of Christian doctrine, that he dared to curse the false apostles, evidently men of great popularity and influence. What right, then, have we to make little of doctrine? No matter how nonessential a point of doctrine may seem, if slighted it may prove the gradual disintegration of the truths of our salvation.
Let us do everything to advance the glory and authority of God’s Word. Every tittle of it is greater than heaven and earth. Christian charity and unity have nothing to do with the Word of God. We are bold to curse and condemn all men who in the least point corrupt the Word of God, “for a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”
Paul does right to curse these troublers of the Galatians, wishing that they were cut off and rooted out of the Church of God and that their doctrine might perish forever. Such cursing is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Thus Peter cursed Simon the sorcerer, “Thy money perish with thee.” Many instances of this holy cursing are recorded in the sacred Scriptures, especially in the Psalms, e.g., “Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell.” (Psa_55:15.)
THE DOCTRINE OF GOOD WORKS
Now come all kinds of admonitions and precepts. It was the custom of the apostles that after they had taught faith and instructed the conscience they followed it up with admonitions unto good works, that the believers might manifest the duties of love toward each other. In order to avoid the appearance as if Christianity militated against good works or opposed civil government, the Apostle also urges us to give ourselves unto good works, to lead an honest life, and to keep faith and love with one another. This will give the lie to the accusations of the world that we Christians are the enemies of decency and of public peace. The fact is we Christians know better what constitutes a truly good work than all the philosophers and legislators of the world because we link believing with doing.
12.Would that they were even cut off. His indignation proceeds still farther, and he prays for destruction on those impostors by whom the Galatians had been deceived. The word, “cut off,” appears to be employed in allusion to the circumcision which they pressed. “They tear the church for the sake of circumcision: I wish they were entirely cut off.” Chrysostom favors this opinion. But how can such an imprecation be reconciled with the mildness of an apostle, who ought to wish that all should be saved, and that not a single person should perish? So far as men are concerned, I admit the force of this argument; for it is the will of God that we should seek the salvation of all men without exception, as Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world. But devout minds are sometimes carried beyond the consideration of men, and led to fix their eye on the glory of God, and the kingdom of Christ. The glory of God, which is in itself more excellent than the salvation of men, ought to receive from us a higher degree of esteem and regard. Believers earnestly desirous that the glory of God should be promoted, forget men, and forget the world, and would rather choose that the whole world should perish, than that the smallest portion of the glory of God should be withdrawn.
Let us remember, however, that such a prayer as this proceeds from leaving men wholly out of view, and fixing our attention on God alone. Paul cannot be accused of cruelty, as if he were opposed to the law of love. Besides, if a single man or a few persons be brought into comparison, how immensely must the church preponderate! It is a cruel kind of mercy which prefers a single man to the whole church. “On one side, I see the flock of God in danger; on the other, I see a wolf “seeking,” like Satan, “whom he may devour.” (1Pe_5:8.) Ought not my care of the church to swallow up all my thoughts, and lead me to desire that its salvation should be purchased by the destruction of the wolf? And yet I would not wish that a single individual should perish in this way; but my love of the church and my anxiety about her interests carry me away into a sort of ecstasy, so that I can think of nothing else.” With such zeal as this, every true pastor of the church will burn. The Greek word translated “who trouble you,” signifies to remove from a certain rank or station. By using the word καὶ, even, he expresses more strongly his desire that the impostors should not merely be degraded, but entirely separated and cut off.
Gal 5:12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you. These words are a solemn wish of the apostle’s with respect to the false teachers, or an imprecation of the judgment of God upon them; that they might be cut off out of the land of the living by the immediate hand of God, that they might do no more mischief to the churches of Christ: this he said not out of hatred to their persons, but from a concern for the glory of God, and the good of his people. The word here used answers to the Hebrew word קפח, and which is often made use of by the Jews in solemn imprecations; we read (o) of a righteous man, מקפח את בניו, “that cut off his children”: the gloss upon it is,
“he used to say, when he made any imprecation, אקפח את בני, “may I cut off my children”;”
that is, may they die, may they be cut off by the hand of God, and I bury them;
“says R. Tarphon (p), may my children be “cut off”, if these books of heretics come into my hands, that I will burn them;”
and says the same Rabbi (q) may I “cut off” my children, or may my children be cut off, if this sentence or constitution is cut off, or should perish. There is another use of this word, which may have a place here, for it sometimes signifies to confute a person, or refute his notion (r).
“It is a tradition of the Rabbius, that after the departure of R. Meir, R. Judah said to his disciples, let not the disciples of R. Meir come in hither, for they are contentious; and not to learn the law do they come, but לקפחני בהלכות, “to cut me off”; (i.e. as the gloss says, to show how sharp they are that none can stand against them;) to confute and overcome me, by their sentences, or constitutions.”
So the apostle here might wish that the mouths of these false teachers were stopped, their notions refuted, that they might give them no more trouble; to which agrees the Arabic version; “they that trouble you I wish they were dumb”; or that their mouths were stopped, as such vain talkers should be; see Tit_1:10 or the sense of the apostle is, that it was his will and desire that these men should be cut off from the communion of the church; with which views he mentions the proverbial expression in Gal_5:9 with which compare 1Co_5:6 or that they would cut themselves off, by withdrawing from them, going out from among them, and leaving them as these men sometimes did.
(o) T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 85. 1. (p) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol, 116. 1. (q) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 17. 1. Misn. Oholot, c. 16. sect. 1. & Maimon, in Bartenora in ib. (r) T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 52. 2. Nazir, fol. 49. 2.
Gal 5:13 VERSE 13. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
In other words: “You have gained liberty through Christ, i.e., You are above all laws as far as conscience is concerned. You are saved. Christ is your liberty and life. Therefore law, sin, and death may not hurt you or drive you to despair. This is the constitution of your priceless liberty. Now take care that you do not use your wonderful liberty for an occasion of the flesh.”
Satan likes to turn this liberty which Christ has gotten for us into licentiousness. Already the Apostle Jude complained in his day: “There are certain men crept in unawares. . .turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness.” (Jud_1:4.) The flesh reasons: “If we are without the law, we may as well indulge ourselves. Why do good, why give alms, why suffer evil when there is no law to force us to do so?”
This attitude is common enough. People talk about Christian liberty and then go and cater to the desires of covetousness, pleasure, pride, envy, and other vices. Nobody wants to fulfill his duties. Nobody wants to help out a brother in distress. This sort of thing makes me so impatient at times that I wish the swine who trampled precious pearls under foot were back once again under the tyranny of the Pope. You cannot wake up the people of Gomorrah with the gospel of peace.
Even we creatures of the world do not perform our duties as zealously in the light of the Gospel as we did before in the darkness of ignorance, because the surer we are of the liberty purchased for us by Christ, the more we neglect the Word, prayer, well-doing, and suffering. If Satan were not continually molesting us with trials, with the persecution of our enemies, and the ingratitude of our brethren, we would become so careless and indifferent to all good works that in time we would lose our faith in Christ, resign the ministry of the Word, and look for an easier life. Many of our ministers are beginning to do that very thing. They complain about the ministry, they maintain they cannot live on their salaries, they whimper about the miserable treatment they receive at the hand of those whom they delivered from the servitude of the law by the preaching of the Gospel. These ministers desert our poor and maligned Christ, involve themselves in the affairs of the world, seek advantages for themselves and not for Christ. With what results they shall presently find out.
Since the devil lies in ambush for those in particular who hate the world, and seeks to deprive us of our liberty of the spirit or to brutalize it into the liberty of the flesh, we plead with our brethren after the manner of Paul, that they may never use this liberty of the spirit purchased for us by Christ as an excuse for carnal living, or as Peter expresses it, 1Pe_2:16, “for a cloak of maliciousness.”
In order that Christians may not abuse their liberty the Apostle encumbers them with the rule of mutual love that they should serve each other in love. Let everybody perform the duties of his station and vocation diligently and help his neighbor to the limit of his capacity.
Christians are glad to hear and obey this teaching of love. When others hear about this Christian liberty of ours they at once infer, “If I am free, I may do what I like. If salvation is not a matter of doing why should we do anything for the poor?” In this crude manner they turn the liberty of the spirit into wantonness and licentiousness. We want them to know, however, that if they use their lives and possessions after their own pleasure, if they do not help the poor, if they cheat their fellow-men in business and snatch and scrape by hook and by crook everything they can lay their hands on, we want to tell them that they are not free, no matter how much they think they are, but they are the dirty slaves of the devil, and are seven times worse than they ever were as the slaves of the Pope.
As for us, we are obliged to preach the Gospel which offers to all men liberty from the Law, sin, death, and God’s wrath. We have no right to conceal or revoke this liberty proclaimed by the Gospel. And so we cannot do anything with the swine who dive headlong into the filth of licentiousness. We do what we can, we diligently admonish them to love and to help their fellow-men. If our admonitions bear no fruit, we leave them to God, who will in His own good time take care of these disrespecters of His goodness. In the meanwhile we comfort ourselves with the thought that our labors are not lost upon the true believers. They appreciate this spiritual liberty and stand ready to serve others in love and, though their number is small, the satisfaction they give us far outweighs the discouragement which we receive at the hands of the large number of those who misuse this liberty.
Paul cannot possibly be misunderstood for he says: “Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty.” In order that nobody might mistake the liberty of which he speaks for the liberty of the flesh, the Apostle adds the explanatory note, “only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Paul now explains at the hand of the Ten Commandments what it means to serve one another in love.
13.Ye have been called to liberty. He now proceeds to show in what way liberty must be used. In the course of expounding the First Epistle to the Corinthians, we have pointed out that liberty is one thing, and that the use of it is another thing. Liberty lies in the conscience, and looks to God; the use of it lies in outward matters, and deals not with God only, but with men. Having exhorted the Galatians to suffer no diminution of their liberty, he now enjoins them to be moderate in the use of it, and lays down as a rule for the lawful use, that it shall not be turned into pretext or occasion for licentiousness. Liberty is not granted to the flesh, which ought rather to be held captive under the yoke, but is a spiritual benefit, which none but pious minds are capable of enjoying.
But by love. The method here explained of restraining liberty from breaking out into wide and licentious abuse is, to have it regulated by love. Let us always remember that the present question is not, in what manner we are free before God, but in what manner we may use our liberty in our intercourse with men. A good conscience submits to no slavery; but to practice outward slavery, or to abstain from the use of liberty, is attended by no danger. In a word, if “by love we serve one another,” we shall always have regard to edification, so that we shall not grow wanton, but use the grace of God for his honor and the salvation of our neighbors.
Ye have been called unto liberty – A total freedom from all the burthensome rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Only use not that liberty for an occasion to the flesh. By flesh, here, we may understand all the unrenewed desires and propensities of the mind; whatsoever is not under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit of God. Your liberty is from that which would oppress the spirit; not from that which would lay restraints on the flesh. The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law: but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty – Freedom from Jewish rites and ceremonies; see the notes at Gal_3:28; Gal_4:9, note, Gal_4:21-31, note. The meaning here is, that Paul wished the false teachers removed because true Christians had been called unto liberty, and they were abridging and destroying that liberty. They were not in subjection to the Law of Moses, or to anything else that savored of bondage. They were free; free from the servitude of sin, and free from subjection to expensive and burdensome rites and customs. They were to remember this as a great and settled principle; and so vital a truth was this, and so important that it should be maintained, and so great the evil of forgetting it, that Paul says he earnestly wishes Gal_5:12 that all who would reduce them to that state of servitude were cut off from the Christian church.
Only use not liberty … – The word use here introduced by our translators, obscures the sense. The idea is, “You are called to liberty, but it is not liberty for an occasion to the flesh. It is not freedom from virtuous restraints, and from the laws of God. It is liberty from the servitude of sin, and religious rites and ceremonies, not freedom from the necessary restraints of virtue.” It was necessary to give this caution, because:
(1) There was a strong tendency in all converts from paganism to relapse again into their former habits. Licentiousness abounded, and where they had been addicted to it before their conversion, and where they were surrounded by it on every hand, they were in constant danger of falling into it again. A bare and naked declaration, therefore, that they had been called to liberty, to freedom from restraint, might have been misunderstood, and some might have supposed that they were free from all restraints.
(2) it is needful to guard the doctrine from abuse at all times. There has been a strong tendency, as the history of the church has shown, to abuse the doctrine of grace. The doctrine that Christians are “free;” that there is liberty to them from restraint, has been perverted always by Antinomians, and been made the occasion of their indulging freely in sin. And the result has shown that nothing was more important than to guard the doctrine of Christian liberty, and to show exactly what Christians are freed from, and what laws are still binding on them. Paul is, therefore, at great pains to show that the doctrines which he had maintained did not lead to licentiousness, and did not allow the indulgence of sinful and corrupt passions.
An occasion – As allowing indulgence to the flesh, or as a furtherance or help to corrupt passions; see the word explained in the notes at Rom_7:8.
To the flesh – The word flesh is often used in the writings of Paul to denote corrupt and gross passions and affections; see the notes at Rom_7:18; Rom_8:1, note.
But by love serve one another – By the proper manifestation of love one to another strive to promote each other’s welfare. To do this will not be inconsistent with the freedom of the gospel. When there is love there is no servitude. Duty is pleasant, and offices of kindness agreeable. Paul does not consider them as freed from all law and all restraint; but they are to be governed by the law of love. They were not to feel that they were so free that they might lawfully give indulgence to the desires of the flesh, but they were to regard themselves as under the law to love one another; and thus they would fulfil the law of Christian freedom.
Gal 5:14 VERSE 14. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
It is customary with Paul to lay the doctrinal foundation first and then to build on it the gold, silver, and gems of good deeds. Now there is no other foundation than Jesus Christ. Upon this foundation the Apostle erects the structure of good works which he defines in this one sentence: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
In adding such precepts of love the Apostle embarrasses the false apostles very much, as if he were saying to the Galatians: “I have described to you what spiritual life is. Now I will also teach you what truly good works are. I am doing this in order that you may understand that the silly ceremonies of which the false apostles make so much are far inferior to the works of Christian love.” This is the hall-mark of all false teachers, that they not only pervert the pure doctrine but also fail in doing good. Their foundation vitiated, they can only build wood, hay, and stubble. Oddly enough, the false apostles who were such earnest champions of good works never required the work of charity, such as Christian love and the practical charity of a helpful tongue, hand, and heart. Their only requirement was that circumcision, days, months, years, and times should be observed. They could not think of any other good works.
The Apostle exhorts all Christians to practice good works after they have embraced the pure doctrine of faith, because even though they have been justified they still have the old flesh to refrain them from doing good. Therefore it becomes necessary that sincere preachers cultivate the doctrine of good works as diligently as the doctrine of faith, for Satan is a deadly enemy of both. Nevertheless faith must come first because without faith it is impossible to know what a God-pleasing deed is.
Let nobody think that he knows all about this commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” It sounds short and easy, but show me the man who can teach, learn, and do this commandment perfectly. None of us heed, or urge, or practice this commandment properly. Though the conscience hurts when we fail to fulfill this commandment in every respect we are not overwhelmed by our failure to bear our neighbor sincere and brotherly love.
The words, “for all the law is fulfilled in one word,” entail a criticism of the Galatians. “You are so taken up by your superstitions and ceremonies that serve no good purpose, that you neglect the most important thing, love.” St. Jerome says: “We wear our bodies out with watching, fasting, and labor and neglect charity, the queen of all good works.” Look at the monks, who meticulously fast, watch, etc. To skip the least requirement of their order would be a crime of the first magnitude. At the same time they blithely ignored the duties of charity and hated each other to death. That is no sin, they think.
The Old Testament is replete with examples that indicate how much God prizes charity. When David and his companions had no food with which to still their hunger they ate the showbread which lay-people were forbidden to eat. Christ’s disciples broke the Sabbath law when they plucked the ears of corn. Christ himself broke the Sabbath (as the Jews claimed) by healing the sick on the Sabbath. These incidents indicate that love ought to be given consideration above all laws and ceremonies.
VERSE 14. For all the Law is fulfilled in one word.
We can imagine the Apostle saying to the Galatians: “Why do you get so worked up over ceremonies, meats, days, places, and such things? Leave off this foolishness and listen to me. The whole Law is comprehended in this one sentence, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ God is not particularly interested in ceremonies, nor has He any use for them. The one thing He requires of you is that you believe in Christ whom He hath sent. If in addition to faith, which comes first as the most acceptable service unto God, you want to add laws, then you want to know that all laws are comprehended in this short commandment, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ ”
Paul knows how to explain the law of God. He condenses all the laws of Moses into one brief sentence. Reason takes offense at the brevity with which Paul treats the Law. Therefore reason looks down upon the doctrine of faith and its truly good works. To serve one another in love, i.e., to instruct the erring, to comfort the afflicted, to raise the fallen, to help one’s neighbor in every possible way, to bear with his infirmities, to endure hardships, toil, ingratitude in the Church and in the world, and on the other hand to obey government, to honor one’s parents, to be patient at home with a nagging wife and an unruly family, these things are not at all regarded as good works. The fact is, they are such excellent works that the world cannot possibly estimate them at their true value.
It is tersely spoken: “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” But what more needs to be said? You cannot find a better or nearer example than your own. If you want to know how you ought to love your neighbor, ask yourself how much you love yourself. If you were to get into trouble or danger, you would be glad to have the love and help of all men. You do not need any book of instructions to teach you how to love your neighbor. All you have to do is to look into your own heart, and it will tell you how you ought to love your neighbor as yourself.
My neighbor is every person, especially those who need my help, as Christ explained in the tenth chapter of Luke. Even if a person has done me some wrong, or has hurt me in any way, he is still a human being with flesh and blood. As long as a person remains a human being, so long is he to be an object of our love.
Paul therefore urges his Galatians and, incidentally, all believers to serve each other in love. “You Galatians do not have to accept circumcision. If you are so anxious to do good works, I will tell you in one word how you can fulfill all laws. ‘By love serve one another.’ You will never lack people to whom you may do good. The world is full of people who need your help.”
14.For all the law. There is a contrast in this verse, though not plainly stated, yet evidently to be understood, between Paul’s exhortation and the doctrine of the false apostles. While they insisted on ceremonies alone, Paul takes a passing glance of the actual duties and exercises of Christians. The present commendation of love is intended to inform the Galatians, that love forms the chief part of Christian perfection. But we must inquire in to the reason why all the precepts of the law are included under love. The law consists of two tables, the first of which instructs us concerning the worship of God and the duties of piety, and the second instructs us concerning the love of our neighbor; for it is ridiculous to make a part the same with the whole. Some avoid this difficulty by reminding us that the first table contains nothing more than to love God with our whole heart. But Paul makes express mention of love to our neighbor, and therefore a more satisfactory solution must be sought.
Piety to God, I acknowledge, ranks higher than love of the brethren; and therefore the observance of the first table is more valuable in the sight of God than the observance of the second. But as God himself is invisible, so piety is a thing hidden from the eyes of men; and, though the manifestation of it was the purpose for which ceremonies were appointed, they are not certain proofs of its existence. It frequently happens, that none are more zealous and regular in observing ceremonies than hypocrites. God therefore chooses to make trial of our love to himself by that love of our brother, which he enjoins us to cultivate. This is the reason why, not here only, but in the Epistle to the Romans, (Rom_8:8,) love is called “the fulfilling of the law;” not that it excels, but that it proves the worship of God to be real. God, I have said, is invisible; but he represents himself to us in the brethren, and in their persons demands what is due to himself. Love to men springs only from the fear and love of God; and therefore we need not wonder if, by a figure of speech, in which a part is taken for the whole, the effect include under it the cause of which it is the sign. But it would be wrong in any person to attempt to separate our love of God from our love of men.
Thou shalt love thy neighbor. He who loves will render to every man his right, will do injury or harm to no man, will do good, as far as lies in his power, to all; for what else is included in the whole of the second table? This, too, is the argument employed by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (Rom_13:10.) The word, neighbor, includes all men living; for we are linked together by a common nature, as Isaiah reminds us, “that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh” (Isa_58:7.) The image of God ought to be particularly regarded as a sacred bond of union; but, for that very reason, no distinction is here made between friend and foe, nor can the wickedness of men set aside the right of nature.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. The love which men naturally cherish toward themselves ought to regulate our love of our neighbor. All the doctors of the Sorbonne are in the habit of arguing that, as the rule is superior to what it directs, the love of ourselves must always hold the first rank. This is not to interpret, but to subvert our Lord’s words. They are asses, and have not even a spark of the love of their neighhour; for if the love of ourselves were the rule, it would follow that it is proper and holy, and is the object of the divine approbation. But we shall never love our neighbors with sincerity, according to our Lord’s intention, till we have corrected the love of ourselves. The two affections are opposite and contradictory; for the love of ourselves leads us to neglect and despise others, — produces cruelty, covetousness, violence, deceit, and all kindred vices, — drives us to impatience, and arms us with the desire of revenge. Our Lord therefore enjoins that it be changed into the love of our neighbor.
Gal 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word,…. Not the ceremonial law, to which acts of mercy, kindness, and love are opposed, and from which they are distinguished; but the law of the decalogue given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and by him to the people of the Jews; and intends either only the second table of it, since only love to the neighbour is mentioned; or else the whole of it, both tables, since it is said, “all the law”; which by Christ is reduced to two heads, love to God, and love to the neighbour; and though the former is not here expressed, it is implied as a cause in the effect, for the love of God is the cause, and so the evidence of love to the neighbour; nor can there be the one without the other. The two tables of the law consist of עשרת הדברים, “ten words”; as the (s) Jews commonly call them, and we the decalogue, and yet they are fulfilled in one; that is, they are to be brought into such a compendium, reduced to such an head; or as the apostle in a parallel place says, they may briefly be comprehended in this saying, Rom_13:9. The Jews make the commandments of the law to be a very large number indeed, but at last reduce them to one, as the apostle here does,
“six hundred and thirteen commandments (they say (t)) were given to Moses—-David came and reduced them to eleven, Psalm xv, Isaiah came and reduced them to six, Isa_33:15 Micah came and reduced them to three, Mic_6:8 Isaiah came and reduced them to two, Isa_56:1, Amos came and reduced them to one, Amo_5:4 but this being objected to, it is observed that Habakkuk came, וחעמידן על אחת, “and reduced them to one”, Hab_2:4 that is faith, as here the apostle reduces them to love:”
even in this, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: these words are taken out of Lev_19:18 and which R. Akiba says (u), agreeably with the apostle, whose contemporary he was, is כלל גדול בתורה, “the grand general rule in the law”; or the grand comprehensive of the law: the object of love, the “neighbour”, signifies not only, as there the Jews explain it, those of their own people, or proselytes to their religion; but all sorts of men, whether in a natural, civil, or spiritual relation; and whether those that do us good or do us ill, friends or enemies: the measure or rule of love is, “as thyself”; and designs not an equality of affection, but a likeness of effects; that is, to do the same kind acts of love to others, one would choose to have done to ourselves: and this is the fulfilling of the law; that is, so far as a man loves aright, so far he fulfils the law; not that he does it perfectly, for man in his fallen state is unable to do that, for the law is exceeding broad, and reaches to thoughts, desires, and inclinations, as well as to words and deeds; and besides, love said to be the fulfilling of it, is imperfect; hence then there can be no justification by works of charity, nor by any services of men, which at best are imperfect; nor are they done in their own strength, and without the grace of God; nor is there any that can be said to have fulfilled the law perfectly but Christ, and to him must we look for a justifying righteousness. These words contain a reason engaging to love one another, and to do all kind of offices of love to each other; since it is a main and principal thing contained in the law, and to which that may be reduced.
(s) Exod. xxxiv. 28. Vid. Targum Onk. & Jon. in ib. (t) T. Bab. Maccot, fol. 23. 2. & 24. 1. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 151. 1. (u) In Jarchi in Lev. xix. 18.
Gal 5:15 VERSE 15. But if ye bite and devour one another take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
When faith in Christ is overthrown peace and unity come to an end in the church. Diverse opinions and dissensions about doctrine and life spring up, and one member bites and devours the other, i.e., they condemn each other until they are consumed. To this the Scriptures and the experience of all times bear witness. The many sects at present have come into being because one sect condemns the other. When the unity of the spirit has been lost there can be no agreement in doctrine or life. New errors must appear without measure and without end.
For the avoidance of discord Paul lays down the principle: “Let every person do his duty in the station of life into which God has called him. No person is to vaunt himself above others or find fault with the efforts of others while lauding his own. Let everybody serve in love.”
It is not an easy matter to teach faith without works, and still to require works. Unless the ministers of Christ are wise in handling the mysteries of God and rightly divide the word, faith and good works may easily be confused. Both the doctrine of faith and the doctrine of good works must be diligently taught, and yet in such a way that both the doctrines stay within their God-given sphere. If we teach only words, as our opponents do, we shall lose the faith. If we only teach faith people will come to think that good works are superfluous.
John Calvin Gal 5:15
15.But if ye bite and devour one another. From the nature of the subject, as well as from the language employed, we may conjecture that the Galatians had disputes among themselves; for they differed about doctrine. The apostle now demonstrates, from the result, how destructive such proceedings in the church must ultimately prove to be. False doctrine was probably a judgment from heaven upon their ambition, pride, and other offenses. This may be concluded from what frequently happens in the divine dispensations, as well as from an express declaration by the hand of Moses.
“Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul.” (Deu_13:3.)
By biting and devouring(89) he means, I think, slanders, accusations, reproaches, and every other kind of offensive language, as well as acts of injustice arising either from fraud or violence. And what is the end of them? To be consumed, while the tendency of brotherly love is to produce mutual protection and kindness. I wish we could always remember, when the devil tempts us to disputes, that the disagreement of members within the church can lead to nothing else than the ruin and consumption of the whole body. How distressing, how mad is it, that we, who are members of the same body, should be leagued together, of our own accord, for mutual destruction!
(89)“These words are used by him emphatically; for he did not merely say ‘Bite,’ which denotes an angry person, but likewise, ‘Devour,’ which denotes one who persists in wickedness. He who ‘bites’ has exhausted his angry passion, but he who ‘devours’ has given a demonstration of extreme cruelty.” — Chrysostom.
If ye bite and devour one another – These Churches seem to have been in a state of great distraction; there were continual altercations among them. They had fallen from the grace of the Gospel; and, as Christ no longer dwelt in their hearts by faith, pride, anger, ill-will, and all unkind and uncharitable tempers, took possession of their souls, and they were in consequence alternately destroying each other. Nothing is so destructive to the peace of man, and to the peace of the soul, as religious disputes; where they prevail, religion in general has little place.
But if ye bite – The word used here (δάκνω dakno), means, properly, to bite, to sting; and here seems to be used in the sense of contending and striving – a metaphor not improbably taken from dogs and wild beasts.
And devour one another – As wild beasts do. The sense is, “if you contend with each other;” and the reference is, probably, to the strifes which would arise between the two parties in the churches – the Jewish and the Gentile converts.
Take heed that ye be not consumed … – As wild beasts contend sometimes until both are slain. Thus, the idea is, in their contentions they would destroy the spirituality and happiness of each other; their characters would be ruined; and the church be overthrown. The readiest way to destroy the spirituality of a church, and to annihilate the influence of religion, is to excite a spirit of contention.