This is a very remarkable passage of God's Word, brethren; and though they are but few words which have been read to you, there is a body of divinity contained in them. Now, I have no doubt that when these words are read in the ears of those who do not study their Bibles, they are ready to say at once, This is a very difficult text of Scripture; and I have no doubt that many amongst us, in the indolence of our natural disposition, would be ready to run away from the examination of it, as being what is called a hard text.
We have an answer, brethren, to make to the men who tell us that such and such texts are very hard, and that it would be much better if a minister of the Gospel were to take a plain, simple passage of the Word, and to preach from that. We answer, in the first place, the texts are generally very hard, when men do not take the trouble of examining them; and, in the next place, we remind you that these letters--for our text is taken from a letter written in apostolic times--were addressed to plain, simple-minded men. Surely, brethren, you do not think that when the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, or the Ephesians, or to the Galatians, that he addressed the doctors of divinity amongst them, and that these were the only people that he considered to be sufficiently wise to understand these things. Now, if the Apostle wrote these letters for simple-minded, poor, and uneducated men, who were not indoctrinated in the truths of the Gospel, but who had only just heard them for the first time, never let men in our day, and who belong to our Christian congregations, say that these are hard things. You are all of you professedly brought up in the school of Christianity, at least outwardly; and are you, brethren, to say of the things which the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatian Church, that they are too hard for you to understand? O, never let us hear of hard texts again.
I said that there is a body of divinity contained in this short verse; and I shall endeavor, the Lord helping me, by the power of the Holy Ghost, to bring before your minds the force and the meaning of this, which I deem to be a very remarkable, though not a very hard saying.
The two truths that the passage throws up, upon its very surface, for us to examine and inquire into, are these:
First--There is the assertion of a fact, whatever it is; and we must try to find out its meaning: "Through the law, am dead to the law."
Secondly--There is the result of that fact: "That I might live unto God.
The first part of our subject is a grand statement of Christian doctrine, which it shall be my business to endeavor to open out to you: "I, through the law, am dead to the law." The second presents to us what is the principle, and the character, and the aim of a Christian's life: "That I might live unto God."
And now, brethren, let me, in the first place, remind you of the fault which the Apostle had discovered in this Galatian Church, and which it was the whole scope of his letter to that Church to counteract. These Galatians had been poor heathen idolaters, who knew nothing of the true God. Not like you, who have professedly learned from your childhood the truths of Christianity. These poor Galatians had been sunk in idolatry; God sends His Gospel amongst them; and a people out of that wide district, through the grace of God, receive that Gospel; they believe a very important truth, upon sound, honest, credible testimony, accompanied by such demonstration of the Holy Ghost as made it clear that God was with the preachers of the Word. Now, it would seem that after these people had received the Gospel, or had received it to a certain extent, false doctrine crept in amongst them. Whenever God does a work, the devil does a work too: whenever God sows the good seed of His truth, then comes the enemy and sows tares; and so it was amongst these Galatian people. The consequence was, that the truth became, if not altogether unprofitable, as it was in the case of many who had never received it faithfully, yet so overlaid with error and false doctrine, even in the hearts of those who had really received it, that the Apostle found it necessary to write a letter to these people, who had become entangled in the meshes of the enemy, in order to bring them back to the very first elements of Gospel truth; and to show them what damage must accrue to the peace, if not to the safety, of a man's soul, by his entertaining such doctrines as these.
I hope, brethren, that you understand this simple statement, with respect to these Galatian people. If you will read over the whole of the epistle, you will find that this was precisely their condition. The Gospel trumpet had sounded in their ears; it had proclaimed to them pardon and peace, through the Lord Jesus Christ. In came the enemy, and began to instill into their minds those doctrines that go with the grain, and these poor people actually became frightened at the simplicity of the truth; they began to fear that it would not do to trust exclusively to the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ; and, therefore, to use a homely expression, they must prop it up by some of the buttresses of their own doings, or by some of the ceremonial observances of the Jewish Church. And, brethren, we cannot throw a stone at the Galatian people; for the fault into which they were entrapped by these wrong teachers, is the very fault and corruption of all of us naturally. You may depend upon it, it is not natural to man to rest implicitly upon the record which God has given of His Son. God has attested it; Jesus Christ has died in proof of it; God sent forth His Apostles, performing miracles as evidences of the truth of that which they proclaimed; and yet the whole current of human feeling, sentiment, and opinion is against the truth of God. God stands alone with His Word, and the world stands opposed to Him.
Now, this feeling which is in the human breast, of an unwillingness to trust Christ, and to look away from self, may show itself in various forms. I believe that that Pharisee whose story is told to us in parable, in the 18th of Luke, was a type of this class. That man goes up into the temple to pray; he stands and he says, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are." I believe it may have been very true, that he was not as other men, in very many respects. He tells before the Lord, what he deems to be his own righteousness. He says, "I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess." I do believe him most implicitly. And moreover, he could look upon the poor publican, who was standing afar off, and he could say, "God, I thank thee that I am not as this publican." I believe that, for the publican may have been a very dishonest man.
Now, I say this man is the type of a class--the type of many of our moralists in the present day. Why, when men begin to enumerate all the good deeds that they have done, I believe them most fully. If a man tells me that he has never put his hand into his neighbor's pocket to rob him, I believe him. If a man tells me he has never gone into a shop to plunder it, I believe him. If a man tells me he has never lifted up his hand to strike or to murder his brother, I believe him. Unless I have some very good evidence to the contrary, why should I not believe him?
Brethren, I do believe that the hope of a large number of men is no better than the hope of that Pharisee. It has been very well and very beautifully remarked, that "It is the very essence of self-righteousness to choose the best here and there, from the field of our own actions, some of the fairer flowers of our life, and to overlook all the rank and poisonous weeds." And there is another great feature in self-righteousness, which is, trying to discover in somebody else some fault from which we believe that we are ourselves exempt. I do verily believe that the hope of a great many men is just this, that they have not done what somebody else has done. O, it is a miserable hope!
If we had time, we could show you that this Pharisee is the type of a large class that is springing up most luxuriantly in our own day, and in our own Church, too. If a man tells me that his hope of salvation is in his fasting, or in his baptism, or anything else but Christ, I say it is a fiction of his own brain; it is a Dagon which he sets up to worship, and it must fall yet, before the truth of Christ.
Now, this principle which is in the human heart, goes under one name in the Scriptures, and that is law. Every man is governed by law; it is the principle of working, in order to get peace in our own breasts. It was the object of the Apostle throughout this letter, to pull down this high spirit that was in the Galatian people, and to teach them that no system of law at all can answer this purpose for which men resort to it; that it cannot save--it cannot justify; but whatever the law be, be the standard higher or be it lower, it may condemn, it will convict, it must kill--it never, never can save.
Now, having gone so far, let us next bring before you this great truth, that this fact of the utter inability of law doings, whatever they may be, to justify, or even to give a feeling of satisfaction to the breast of the sinner, opens out to us the very purport of the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ into this world. Let me give you one or two passages from this letter to the Galatian Church upon this subject.
In order to counteract this feeling in the human breast, that we can do something to justify ourselves before God, the Apostle says, in the 21st verse of this chapter, "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." What was the use of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, if you could save yourselves by your own doings? It is a virtual denial of the Gospel, as the glad tidings of mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ, when a man says, I can save myself in whole, or I can save myself in part.
Again, in the 21st verse of the next chapter, the Apostle says, "If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law." It is as much as to say, What benefit was there in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, if you could have done the matter without Him? Now, there is but one alternative for the man who throws himself upon that as the ground of his salvation: I will tell you what it is. In the 10th verse of the 3rd of Galatians, the Apostle says, "As many as are of the works of the law"--(as many as choose to be saved in that particular way)--"are under the curse." Do what you will, the law holds you in its fangs. How? "For it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." If you will, at your leisure, refer to the 2nd chapter of the Epistle of St. James verse 10, you will find that the Apostle urges this as a great truth. He says, that the Lord who gave the law meant to be complete in all its requirements, and, therefore, if a man break the law in one single point, "he is guilty of all!"
Let me give you an illustration of this truth; you may find it to be a useful one.
Did you ever hear of a man standing in a dock before the judge and the jury, who were to try him by the laws of his country, and pleading as the ground for his acquittal, that he may, it is true, have committed the murder for which he is tried, but he never robbed? Why, brethren, such a plea would be deemed to be an absurdity; but yet this is precisely what the Apostle James thinks it necessary to tell us, because in spiritual things men are a vast deal more absurd than they are in temporal things. They hold it to be common sense in their proceedings; God declares it to be truth in His Word--"Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."
Now, in order to deliver man from this wretched condition in which he is--being in the first place, a criminal, and being in the second place, unable to help himself--the Gospel which reaches that condition, tells the poor, guilty, convicted, condemned sinner, obnoxious to the penalty of a broken law, that the Lord Jesus Christ has paid the debt; so that the man who knows the Gospel will not be afraid of hearing the denunciation of God's law against sin; he says, I know it all, but I have paid the penalty. And this is the point to which we are coming in our consideration of this passage. Now, says the Apostle, the law crushes, the law condemns, the law kills. And what did it do? It laid hold upon sin in its incarnation, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. You do not misunderstand the expression, brethren: there was no sin in Christ; there was all sin upon Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ stood with the whole weight of curse and guilt upon Him, as if He had trampled upon every law of God--as if He had outraged heaven itself, because He stood in His own blessed and holy Person as the Representative of most unholy and most wicked men.
Now, observe, this is the point to which all Scripture directs our attention. Let me give you two passages upon this subject: In the last verse of the 5th chapter of 2nd Corinthians, the Apostle says, "He hath made Him to be sin for us" (to be dealt with as sin must be) "who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Again, in the 3rd of Galatians, 13th verse, we read, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law." How?--"Being made a curse for us." Now, I do verily think, brethren, that such language as this has never been considered by a great many of us. If such a passage were not in the Bible, and if we, preachers, were to stand forth in our pulpits, and to say, "Sirs, Christ has been made a curse for us," men would exclaim, Horrible!--terrible language! God has said it; He has told us, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law;" and in this very way, "being made a curse for us." See the beauty of the truth that comes out here. Here is the glorious deliverance of all the people of God. Every one of God's believing family can say, I have died under the law; it has been my executioner; it has put me to death in my surety--Jesus.
There is a parallel passage in the 6th of Romans. In the 10th and 11th verses of that chapter, the Apostle says, "For in that He died, He died unto sin once" (He died because He was bound to die,) "but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise, reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." If you take these two verses and consider them carefully, you will arrive at the discovery of very false doctrine, which is often put forward in connection with that passage. The explanation that is often given of the 11th verse, forgetting the 10th, is this. Look upon yourselves as men who, by a spiritual regeneration, have no sin dwelling within, sin has been so completely weakened; and look upon yourselves as being, therefore, alive to God. Now, if that is the interpretation of the 11th verse, what is the meaning of the 10th, where it is said that the Lord Jesus Christ died unto sin once? Do they mean to tell us that the Lord Jesus Christ died unto sin by the mortification of His sinful propensities? Was there a particle of evil to sully the fair spirit of the blessed Lord? Then, whatever the 10th verse means, the 11th verse means the same, and the doctrine taught in this passage is this: Christ died as the guilty One. It was necessary and just that He should suffer; He is alive unto God, He cannot die any more because sin has been taken away; therefore, says the Apostle, consider yourselves as dead unto sin; consider yourselves as having paid the penalty, the law having received the utmost of its demands for satisfaction, the law having been honored, the law having been magnified. (Isa. 42:21) This is the Apostle's argument: As Christ died under the crushing weight of the law, and as He rose again, so look at yourselves as identified with Christ, and see yourselves as delivered from the penalty of the law.
It is just the same idea which is set before us in the 3rd of Colossians, where the Apostle says, "Ye are dead." Not dead to the feelings and motions of sin, for this is not fact. Take the oldest Christian--the man who is almost breathing within the precincts of heaven; he will tell you that he feels the stirrings of the flesh as strongly as he did when the Lord, at the first, shed light into his mind. Therefore, it is not true, in this sense, that the man of God is dead; but it is true that "his life is hid with Christ in God;" or, as the Apostle says, in the verse immediately following our text, "I am crucified with Christ." When the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross, His Church died with him; therefore,--we now come to the precious truth which is declared in our text:--I, through the law, am dead to the law;" I have died with Christ; I have done all that is wanting, and I am no longer under the penalty of the law; I have been delivered from its fangs, from its curse. Brethren, this truth is the only solid ground of comfort to the poor sinner; it takes away all fear, all uncertainty, and all self-righteousness.
Now, what is the result of all this? The Apostle tells us, "That I might live unto God"--as in the 6th of Romans, the Lord Jesus Christ is represented as being loosed from the hold of the law; the law having been completely satisfied, He lives, He is free.
This may be an explanation to you of a passage, into the force of which you may, perhaps, never have entered. In the 9th of Hebrews, 28th verse, the Apostle says, "So Christ was once offered, to bear the sins of many, and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation." Sin has nothing whatever to do with Him now. As he walked this earth the Representative of His people, He was gathering upon Himself, step by step, if I may so say, the curse of this world in which He was; when He did, as Luther has said, enwrap Himself in the curse, it crushed Him; He died unto it; He was set free; He lives. This is the Apostle's argument: you have died to the law, through the law. You are at liberty; and now you are to live unto God. This brethren, is the very spring and energy of a Christian's life.
When these glorious doctrines of the Gospel are set forth, how often do we hear it said that they will land men in rank Antinomianism. God tells us that this high principle and standing of a Christian man becomes the most intense spring and motive in his breast, to urge him to such a life as shall give evidence before the world that he is a man of God. I shall give you but one out of numerous other passages of Scripture, upon this point. In the 3rd of Colossians, the Apostle says, "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." It appears to me that privilege cannot be put in stronger language than this; and the consequence is, "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." Now for the Antinomianism: most extraordinary logical inference the Apostle draws from this! "Mortify, therefore, your members, which are upon the earth." Because everything has been done for you--because you are saved, and because you are sure of coming with Christ in His glory, "Mortify therefore." There is apostolical logic, there is evangelical inference. Keep that argument in mind, brethren; learn that passage of Scripture by heart; and if twenty times in a day you hear it said that the declaration of such precious truths opens the door to licentiousness, quote that passage twenty times in a day.
This living unto God is totally different from anything of the morals of the world. I would be the last person to deny that there is a great deal of morality in the world, and among men who do not possess a particle of Christianity. If I see a man walking reputably in the world; if I see that he is benevolent and kind in his actions, I hope I shall ever be one of the first to admit every fact that I see brought out in the history and life of that man. I will not malign him--I will not slander him; but I say, this morality must come very far short of a Christian's morals.
The 13th of 1st Corinthians is a chapter that is a great favorite with the people of the world. That chapter tells us a great deal about charity. If a man has money to spare, and if he is princely in his gifts, but especially, if he exhibits anything of self-denial (and I do wish we all knew more of denying ourselves for the cause of Christ, and the good of our fellow-creatures,) that man is put down as one that is sure to be saved, because he is so charitable. In that 13th of 1st Corinthians, I find the Apostle saying, "Though I bestow all my goods to feed to poor"--there is liberality--and "though I give my body to be burned"--there is self-denial--"and have not dispensing what you want, or what you do not want; but charity is love, springing from fellowship with God--from communion with the Lord Jesus Christ--from the indwelling of the Spirit in the soul; and this is the only love that God recognizes. Therefore, it is possible for a man to be benevolent, useful, self-denying in many respects, and still to be destitute of the principle that makes all this acceptable to God. And what is this principle? It is having God introduced as an element into the man. Whenever you want to know whether a man is a good man, just ascertain whether he knows anything of this godly element; if not, all that you see outwardly is nothing but sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. And what is this godly element?--It is living unto God. It is, in the first place, deliverance from the wrath of God. Before a man can serve God, he must have the spirit of liberty.
What a beautiful illustration of this truth we have in the ordinance of the cleansing of the leper. The leprosy, you know, was a loathsome disease; the person affected with it was excommunicated from the congregation of Israel. When that man was clean, God directed that the priest should take two birds; one of these birds was to be killed over running water. The living bird was to be dipped in the blood of the sacrificed one, and was then to be let loose. Now, whilst this ordinance presented the work of Christ in the double aspect of His death and of His resurrection, as delivered from sin; and whilst it presented the deliverance of the poor leper also--it seems to be a most apt and beautiful illustration of that which we are now considering--that the man who through the law is dead to the law, now lives unto God; he is not afraid of anything being laid to his charge, and he can, therefore, go before the Lord in a spirit of liberty.
Brethren, you cannot serve God without this spirit; you cannot offer up a prayer to Him, unless you believe that you have a right to go unto Him as your Father. This living to God is a divine principle. The Holy Ghost takes of the things of Christ, and shows them to the heart, and this gives a spiritual tone and character to the man. It is the very spiritual appetite of the man. Do not misunderstand me, as if I were laying it down, that this is a divine principle implanted in the heart, and that we are to make the best of it. This divine principle is in heaven. There is a communication of life from Christ to the soul; there is a feeding upon hidden manna; there is a sustenance of the soul under ground; there is an unseen nourishment of the roots. God does not give His people a stock of grace; no such thing. Our life is in Christ. The believer living on the Lord Jesus Christ is brought into fellowship with God. This living to God, as I before said, is a divine principle; it gives a spiritual tone and character to the man. Have you that? All else is but the automaton of mechanism. It may go very well whilst the weights and the springs are in order, and are kept in motion, but it is destitute of life.
Brethren, think of these things, and remember that the first pulsation of this life in the spiritual system, is in the belief of the Gospel; and depend upon it, the more lively faith is in the power of the Holy Ghost, the more it goes out upon the righteousness and the all-sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ,--the more clearly and distinctly will the work of grace appear in the outward walk and conduct of the believing man.