1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
1. In libertate igitur, qua Christus nos liberavit, state; et ne rursum jugo servitutis implicemini.
2. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
2. Ecee, ego Paulus denuncio vobis, quod, si circumcidamini, Christus vobis nihil proderit.
3. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
3. Testificor enim rursum cuivis homini, qui circumciditur, quod debitor sit totius Legis faciendae.
4. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
4. Exinaniti estis a Christo, quicunque per Legem justificamini, a gratia excidistis.
5. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
5. Nos enim Spiritu, ex fide, spem justitiae expectamus.
6. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
6. Nam in Christo Iesu neque Circumcisio quicquam valet, neque Praeputium; sed fides per dilectionero operans.
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,| (Galatians 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.
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.
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? (Acts 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, (Romans 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, 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.
4. Christ has become of no effect unto you. |If ye seek any part of righteousness in the works of the law, Christ has no concern with you, and ye are fallen from grace.| They were not so grossly mistaken as to believe that by the observance of the law alone they were justified, but attempted to mix Christ with the law. In any other point of view, Paul's threatenings would have utterly failed to produce alarm. |What are you doing? You deprive yourselves of every advantage from Christ, and treat his grace as if it were of no value whatever.| We see then that the smallest part of justification cannot be attributed to the law without renouncing Christ and his grace.
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, (Hebrews 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.
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. (Galatians 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.