"And they that are Christ's have crucified the Flesh, with the Affections and Lusts."
St. Paul is supposed to have been the first herald of gospel grace to the Galatians; and they appear to have rejoiced at the glad tidings, and to have received the bearer with much respect. But after his departure, certain judaizing teachers went among them, and labored but too successfully, to alienate their affections from him, and turn them form the simplicity of the gospel.
The malice and errors of those deceitful workers, and the mischief which they occasioned at Galatia, caused the writing of this epistle: which, like the other writings of this apostle, reflects light on the gospel in general, while it served to correct the mistakes of those professors of Christianity, and guide their erring footsteps into the way of peace and truth.
It is not our design to enter into the controversy between this inspired teacher, and his enemies. We are only concerned to understand him, and shall receive his instructions as communicated from above. The primary design of this epistle was to refute those false teachers who urged circumcision, and the observance of sundry parts of the Levitical code, which had been abrogated by the gospel. This appears to have been a leading error of those anarchists. That the apostle did not lay the intolerable burdens of the Mosaic ritual, on the professors of Christianity, was made the ground of a charge against him. St. Paul defended himself by evincing the errors of his opponents, shewing that Christians are made free from the ceremonial law; and that their justification before God is not in virtue of any obedience of their own, to either the ceremonial, or the moral law, but of grace through faith in Christ.
In the former part of the epistle, he shows the impossibility of justification in any other than the gospel way -- especially in that way, to which those false teachers directed -- shews that they subverted the gospel, and rendered Christ's sufferings of no effect -- "By the works of the law, shall no flesh be justified -- If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." *
* Chapter ii.16, 21.
We conceive these to be obvious truths, and wonder that they should be matter of doubt, or dispute, among those who are favored with revelation, and receive it as given of God. Perfect obedience is evidently the demand of the divine law, and condemnation is denounced against the breakers of it. "This do, and thou shalt live, but the soul that sinneth, it shall die." * But none of our race keep the law. "There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not." The scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise "by faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe." Mankind are "shut up to the faith in Christ.." This is the way in which God "hath mercy on whom he will have mercy. He that believeth shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Therefore the hope of the apostle, in the way of faith, while discarding hope in any other way. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ; even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the Faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law."
* Lev. xviii.5. Ezek. xviii.4.
From the reasoning of the apostle, the false teachers at Galatia seem not to have urged obedience to the whole law. Circumcision they taught to be indispensible. St. Paul allures them, that if they were under obligation to receive circumcision, they were equally obliged to keep the whole law; and that they bound themselves to this by submitting to be circumcised -- that if they reverted to the law, and placed their dependence on their obedience to it, they renounced the grace of Christ, and would not be benefited by it.
"Behold, I Paul, say unto you, that if ye be circumcised. Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that it is circumcised, that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. Christ is become of none effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace,"
While such was the state of those who followed the judaizing teachers, those who retained the gospel as taught by the apostle, had another hope -- a hope which would not make ashamed -- a hope in divine grace through faith in Christ -- "We through the spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love."
Such is every Christian's hope before God. He "counts all things to be loss and dung that he win Christ; but the righteousness which is of God by faith."
But while St. Paul was exhibiting and urging these important truths, on the wavering Galatians, he foresaw, that it would be objected, that the scheme which he advanced, tended to licentiousness -- that if men might be saved by faith without the works of the law, they might indulge themselves in sin -- that this would render Christ the minister of sin. The same objection appears to have been made at Rome, where a faction existed similar to this at Galatia. This consequence the apostle rejected with abhorrence. "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: Yea we establish the law."
The Levitical code included both the ceremonial and the moral law. Though St. Paul declares justification unattainable by obedience to either or to both, he did not set aside the moral law, as no longer obligatory, as he did the ceremonial. This latter had answered the ends of its appointment, and was abolished by fulfillment. It was only a shadow of good things to come, and fled away before that of which it was a shadow. Christ had therefore blotted it out and taken it away. But the moral law was not done away. Christ hath fulfilled it for those who believe on him; but it doth not therefore cease to be obligatory upon them. It is of universal and eternal obligation. The salvation of mankind, doth not, however, depend on their obedience to it. If it did, they could not be saved, because all mankind have broken it. "Salvation is of grace, through faith."
Instead of setting Christians free from obligation to keep the moral law, what Christ hath done for them strengthens their obligations to obey it. An increase of mercies is an increase of obligations to serve the Lord.
But yet more is done to secure obedience from those who are Christ's -- yea enough to secure it. A change passeth on them, when they become his, which reconciles them to the law, and causes them to delight in it, and in the duties which it enjoins. This produces a pleasing conformity to it -- "his commandments are not grievous." Their obedience is sincere and universal. Others may render a partial obedience, out of fear, but the obedience of the renewed flows from love, and hath respect to all God's commandments.
Remains of depravity abide in the Christian, but they do not habitually govern in him. That they are not wholly purged out of his nature, is to him the occasion of grief -- causes him to go sorrowing: But he doth not gain complete deliverance till he puts off the body. He puts on, however, the gospel armor, and maintains a warfare against his own corruptions within, no less than against the powers of darkness without. Though sometimes wounded, and made to go on his way halting, he is in his general course victorious, rising superior to opposition, and living unto God. "Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" -- cannot sin: like others, allowedly and habitually. "How shall he who is dead to sin, live any longer therein?"
Such is the character of the Christian, as drawn in the bible; so that all ground of objection to the gospel scheme, as drawn by St. Paul, is removed. Those who are Christ's instead of taking liberty to sin, because "they are not under the law, but under grace," are of all men most careful to do God's commandments; and from the noblest principles. Their obedience is not servile, but filial.
This is the spirit of the text. They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with the afflictions and lusts -- HAVE crucified. The change which frees from the governing power of indwelling corruption, and disposeth to walk in newness of life, hath already passed upon them. None are Christ's till this change takes place in them.
But while the apostle vindicates the doctrine of grace, and shews its beneficial influence on the morals of men, care is taken to guard against mistakes on the other hand -- not to give occasion to consider renewing grace as wholly eradicating the principles of depravity, and putting an end, at once to the spiritual context. This subject is treated more largely in the epistle to the Romans.* But the opposition of natural and gracious principles, is here mentioned, and some of its effects described. "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."
* Chapter vii.
In every man, whatever may be his character, there are different principles, which, struggle and contend with one another. The natural man feels a bias to wickedness, and wishes to indulge his depraved inclinations. But reason forbids, and conscience remonstrates, and warns him to beware what he doth -- reminds him that to yield to passion is wrong -- to indulge appetite unreasonably is sinful -- that for these things God will bring him into judgment. Thus the principles implanted in the mind, by the God of nature, withstand the sinner in his way, and resist him in his course; they hold him back and restrain him from gratifying his natural desires -- from doing that to which he is inclined, and hath power to do. By this means he is prevented from giving full latitude to his corruptions; yea, he is sometimes influenced to do good. Herod was a vile character; but "he feared John, knowing that he was a just man, and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him he did many things, and heard him gladly." * Many similar instances might be adduced. There is not a sinner who doth not feel the natural bias, and the power of reason and conscience, driving and contending within him; and sometimes the one prevails to influence his conduct, and sometimes the other.
* Mark vi.20.
Neither is the Christian free from similar struggles. Reason and conscience have naturally the same power in him which they have in others. The corrupt bias, is also weakened in renovation; yea receives a deadly wound. But it is not immediately destroyed. Still its influence is felt, and its effects observed. Sometimes it evinceth so much power, that its deadly wound seems to be healed. Reason and conscience, strengthened by renewing grace, ordinarily prevail over indwelling depravity; but not without a struggle, as every Christian can testify -- neither do the better principles always conquer. Sometimes the opposing principles, or powers, prevail, and lead to error and wickedness. Thus "the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh -- so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."
Neither the regenerate, nor the unregenerate, are free to do all that to which the generally governing principle inclines. The difference between the renewed, and the unrenewed, is not that the former is free from temptation, the latter overcome by it, at every attack. Neither is the case. Both meet with temptation, and often that which is severe. Each sometimes overcomes; at other times is overcome by it. But the renewed formed to the habit of attention and watchfulness, and looking to God for help, and acting, in the main, uprightly before God, is usually a conqueror; while the unrenewed, habitually careless, and negligent of watchfulness and prayer, is more often conquered, and hurried into error and wickedness. The renewed are chiefly restrained by love to God and duty; the unrenewed by fear of punishment; Though fear hath a degree of influence on the former; and other considerations, beside fear, are not wholly, devoid of influence on the latter.
How far a Christian may be influenced by remaining corruption, and carried away by the prevalence of temptation; or how far a sinner may be restrained by the influence of those principles and considerations, which withstand him in his course, we are unable to determine. That both feel and are influenced by those opposing principles, is not matter of doubt. We experience it in ourselves, whatever our characters may be; and we observe it in others. None are so moulded into the divine image, as to become perfect -- neither doth depravity attain so complete an ascendant over any who remain in the body, as to divest them of all restraints, and yield them wholly up to the vicious propensity. Restraints, yea inward restraints operate in degree, on the most depraved.
This is a mixed state. The good and the bad are here blended together. "The wheat and the tares must grow together until the harvest" -- yea not only in every field, but in every heart. None are perfectly good, or completely bad, while in this world. The finishing traits of character are referred to that to come. In that world we expect, that both the righteous and the wicked, will be perfect in their kind -- "the spirits of the just be made perfect" -- those of the opposite character put on the full image of their infernal parent.
If those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts, How stands the case with us? Are we thus made to differ from the wicked world? Do we love God -- believe on his Son -- do his commandments, and trust his grace? Then, "to us to live is Christ, and to die gain." Here we must have trials -- this is not our rest. But the time is short. Soon we shall be called "from our labors, and our works will follow us," Soon we shall be with Christ -- behold his glory, and rejoice in his presence. Happy state!
But let us beware deception. Some "hold a lie in their right hands; cry peace when there is no peace to them." Let us commune with our own hearts; attend to our temper and conduct; inquire whether we have taken up our cross, and are following Christ? Whether the spirit of Christ dwelleth in us. If we have not his spirit, we are none of his. "If we have his spirit we walk as he walked." If this is our happy state, we shall ere long hear from our Judge, "come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world." But if found sinners, a very different doom awaits us.