For you, brothers, were called to freedom; but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Rather, serve one another in love.
I. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN LICENCE AND LIBERTY. (Ver. 13.) The grace which has freed us from the legal spirit has not endowed us with a liberty to live licentiously. The liberty it gives is totally distinct from licence. Licence is liberty to please ourselves, to humour the flesh, to regard liberty as an end and not a means. But God in his gospel gives no such liberty. His liberty is a means and not an end; it is liberty to live as he pleases, liberty to love him and love men, liberty to serve one another by love. We must guard ourselves, then, from the confusion of mistaking licence for liberty.
II. LOVE IS THE REAL LIBERTY. (Ver. 13.) As a matter of experience we never feel free until we have learned to love. When our hearts are going out to God in Christ, when we have at his cross learned the lesson of philanthropy, when we have felt our obligation to God above and to man below, then we are free as air and rejoice in freedom. Then we refuse licence as only freedom's counterfeit, for we have learned a more excellent way. We cannot imagine a loveless spirit to be free. He may achieve an outlawry, but he is not, cannot be, free.
III. LOVE IS THE REAL FULFILMENT OF THE LAW. (Ver. 14.) The legalists in their little system of self-righteousness spent their strength upon the mint, the anise, and the cummin; while the weightier matters of the Law - righteousness, judgment, and faith - were neglected. Ceremonies and not morality became their concern. The tithing of pot-herbs would entitle them to Paradise. In contrast to all this, Paul shows that Christian love, which is another name for liberty, fulfils the demands of Law. The meaning of the commandments published from Sinai was love. Their essence is love to God and love to our neighbour, as well as to our "better self." Hence the gospel throws no slight on Law, but really secures its observance, The whole system turns on love as the duty and the privilege of existence. While the Law is, therefore, rejected as a way of life, it is accepted as a rule. Saved through the merits and grace of Christ, we betake ourselves to Law-keeping con amore. We recognize in God the supreme object of grateful love; we recognize in our neighbour the object of our love for God's sake and for his own sake; and we honour the Law of God as "holy and just and good." The whole difference between the legal spirit and the gospel spirit is that in the one case Law is kept in hope of establishing a claim; in the other it is kept in token of our gratitude. The motive in the one case, being selfish, destroys the high standard of Law. It fancies it can be kept with considerable completeness, whereas it is kept by the best with constant and manifold shortcoming. The motive in the other case, being disinterested, secures such attachment to the Law, because it has been translated into love, that it is kept with increasing ardour and success. Slaves will never honour Law so much as freemen.
IV. LOVE IS THE TRUE ANTIDOTE TO STRIFE AND DIVISION. (Ver. 15.) The ritualistic or legal spirit into which the Galatians had temporally fallen manifested itself in strife and bickerings. This is, in fact, its natural outcome. For if men arc straining every nerve to save themselves by punctilious observance of ceremonies, they will come of necessity into collision. It is an emulation of a selfish character. It cannot be conducted with mutual consideration. As a matter of fact, organizations pervaded by the legal spirit are but the battle-ground of conflicting parties. But love comes to set all right again. Its genial breath makes summer in society and takes wintry isolation and self-seeking all away. Mutual consideration secures harmony and social progress. Instead of religious people becoming then the butt of the world's scorn by reason of their strife and divisions, they become the world's wonder by reason of their unity and peace. It is, love, therefore, we are bound to cultivate. Then shall concord and all its myriad blessings come into the Church of God and the world be subdued before it. - R.M.E.
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
Essex Congregational Remembrancer.I. THE NATURE OF THAT LIBERTY OF WHICH THE APOSTLE HERE SPEAKS. There is a charm in the very sound of liberty; it awakens many grateful recollections. But the word is employed in various acceptations. Civil liberty is that freedom which is our birthright as men. Spiritual liberty is that freedom, which belongs to us, not as men, but as Christians.
II. THE GREAT VALUE OF THAT SPIRITUAL LIBERTY TO WHICH ALL BELIEVERS OF GOSPEL TRUTH ARE CALLED. Political freedom, important as it is, may be overrated. It is highly advantageous to a nation, but not essential to the happiness of individuals. Good men have been happy in exile or in prison, and bad men cannot be so under any circumstances however favourable; the cause of the difference is to be referred to the state of the mind.
1. The measure of spiritual liberty, which a Christian even now attains, removes or alleviates some of the keenest and heaviest sorrows to which man is subject.
2. The measure of spiritual liberty, which a Christian now possesses, greatly heightens and refines all his enjoyments. Countermanding the original curse, it brings back some of the productions of paradise. It opens the noblest faculties and animates the best feelings of the mind.
3. It is but the beginning and pledge of that complete deliverance from all sin and sorrow, to which he is looking with lively hope. The best state on earth bears the marks of imperfection. Even where grace reigns, sin, like a rebel dethroned but not destroyed, is too near to leave any long interval of peace. In that kingdom to which we are hastening, no tumults or temptations will rise; no sickness or sighing, death or danger, will be known. No law in the members will be found warring against the law of the mind, or bringing us into captivity to sin. Even creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Romans 8:21).
III. THE WAY IN WHICH THE LIBERTY TO WHICH THE BELIEVER IS CALLED MAY BE DULY IMPROVED. All the principles of our holy religion have a practical bearing. We see a beautiful harmony in its doctrines and precepts. This is one of the great excellencies of Christianity. Paul was a wise master-builder, equally concerned to lay a good foundation, and to carry up the superstructure.
1. He gives a word of salutary warning — "Use not liberty," etc. There is hardly any good but is liable to abuse. Every sacred privilege has been and may be perverted. We must be on our guard against this. To use Christian liberty for an occasion to indulge the flesh is the best thing in the world turned to the worst purpose.
2. The apostle, in our text, gives a suitable word of direction — "By love serve one another." Love is the first and best of all the Christian graces. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc. Love finds out many means of serving our brethren. It prompts and animates the mind-it makes us cheerful, active, tender, kind, forbearing.
(Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
(J. Angell James.)I. WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN CHURCH?
1. Not a club, an association of persons belonging to the same rank in life, but a Divine society embracing all classes.
2. Not a republic where majorities rule, but a society where the will of the Divine Head is the governing power.
3. Two or three, met in Christ's name, and loyal to His will, are sufficient to constitute a Christian Church.
II. WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS OF HAPPY CHURCH LIFE?
1. The root of all is obedience to the law. "Love one another."
2. Love gives rise to mutuality in everything.
3. Mutual feeling branches out in various ways.(1) Where help is wanted — "Bear ye one another's burdens," "Edify one another," "Admonish one another."(2) Where wounded feelings prevail — "Confess to one another," "Pray for one another," "Forbearing one another," "Forgiving one another."
4. From the whole proceeds the Christian law of courtesy and etiquette — "Be subject to one another," "In honour prefering one another," "In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself."
(E. Johnson, M. A.)
(F. W. Robertson.)To preach justification by the law as a covenant is legal, and makes void the death and merits of Jesus Christ. But to preach obedience to the law as a rule is evangelical; and it savours as much of a New Testament spirit to urge the commands of the law as to display the promises of the gospel.
(Bishop Hopkins.)True liberty is only realized in obedience. The abuse of freedom is bondage, from which there is no self-deliverance.
(T. T. Lynch.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Biblical Treasury.A train from the Far West of America was once passing through Saratoga, having among other passengers a man with an infant child. The man's garments showed him to be poor, and the crape on his hat showed the child to be motherless. The infant was restless, and the father handled it clumsily; with all his efforts he could not quiet it. He wiped the tears from its eyes, and then from his own. All who saw him pitied him. At length a richly-dressed lady, whose infant lay in the arms of its nurse, said, with motherly tenderness in her tone, "Give me the child." The poor man gave her his boy, whose coarse and soiled robes rested for once on costly silk; his head disappeared under her shawl, and all was still. She held him mile after mile, and did not relinquish him until her own child required attention.
(Biblical Treasury.)I. THE NATURE OF THIS LIBERTY.
1. This liberty is freedom from the burden of a religion of ordinances.
2. It is liberty from the moral law as the awakener of sin, and from the fear of its punishment, which is death.
II. TO KEEP THIS LIBERTY PURE, WE SHOULD KNOW ITS DANGERS, AND AVOID THEM.
1. It may be so used as, to allow the lower nature to rule — as "an occasion to the flesh."(1) We are freed from ceremonies, but we cannot live without some forms. Spiritual life, left to silence, unsymbolized, unused, fades away.(2) We err if we use liberty to despise those who love ceremonial; or if we bind ourselves never to use it.
2. Our liberty from coercive law is produced in us by a love which obeys the law. If we do not love to obey, we are not in Christian liberty at all. St. Paul calls such despisers of law the servants of sin.
3. The use of freedom must be in subordination to love. It is the habit of many to placard their freedom; to violate the scruples of others. What sort of Christianity is that which uses the freedom of Christ to do violence to the love of Christ? The rule is — Use your liberty, not for your own gratification, but for the good of others. Liberty is not a principle of action; it is a mode of action. Love is its principle, and love is the test which tells whether we are free or enslaved.
(S. A. Brooke, M. A.)
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