SURELY, brethren, if the Apostle in his day could say of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning," we may say the same as to the instruction which is given in the epistles which were written to the Churches of old. There is not a difficulty that was presented to the Christian's mind then that is not felt in the Christian's breast now; there is not a word of instruction or of warning, that was addressed to the Church of God then, that is not needed by the Church of God in our own day.
You have heard the whole of this chapter, from which our text is taken, read to you this evening, and if you have paid attention to the subject-matter of it, you will have observed some of the most solemn contrasts which are presented in any portion of the Word of God. You will have seen, on the one side, the Gospel of liberty, of truth, and of peace; and you will have seen, on the other side, the principle of legal bondage, and of self-righteousness--a spirit which is lodged in the human heart, and which is opposed to Christ and His Gospel. You will have seen the fruits of the Spirit presented to your view--those fruits that ought to be exhibited by every Christian, the things which adorn the doctrine of the Gospel; and you will have seen, in contrast with these fruits of the Spirit, the works of the flesh--the outbreakings and the outgoings of our corrupt and evil nature--those weeds that spring up and grow in the natural soil of the human breast.
I have taken from this chapter for our consideration at this time a passage which presents to us the principle which the Apostle would inculcate upon the people of God, as to their walk and conduct as believing men. You will observe that the exhortation in our text is addressed to men, on the supposition of their having received the truth of God. For, brethren, the natural man has nothing to do with the things of the Spirit.
I purpose speaking to you this evening, first, of this principle of life which the Apostle sets before us, as the living in the Spirit. He says, "If we live in the Spirit."
I would consider, in the second place, the course of conduct that is inculcated as consequent upon, and corresponding with, this principle of life in the soul--"Let us also walk in the Spirit."
We find that throughout this epistle, the Apostle had to combat opposition to the truth of the Gospel in various ways. Here, as in the Epistle to the Romans, his object is to set before men the difference between the spirit of life and the spirit of death, or bondage to legal observances, in order to work out a salvation for ourselves. Now, mark; as soon as the Galatian people had professed to receive the truth of the Gospel, instantly there came assaults upon their minds; and what were they? In the first place, remember, it is impossible to detach a man from that spirit of seeking to justify himself before God by his own works. The Spirit of God alone can do this. Now, when these people became professors of the Gospel, they professed to believe that they could not save themselves, and that they must seek for refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Then there came this assault upon their minds: they began to think that they must attach to the finished work of the Lord Jesus some outward observances, as being indispensable to their salvation. If the devil had not found this temptation ready to his hand, he would have tried something else. But this was not the only assault that they had to encounter. Read the 6th chapter of this epistle, and you will find that they were assailed from another quarter. When they became professors of the truth of the Gospel, there was a stirring up of the flesh. O, brethren, the devil has many temptations to apply to the heart, by which he seeks to damage the cause of Christ in the world. When a Christian man exhibits these works of the flesh, which are the natural product of the human heart, then it is that the world lifts up the finger of scorn at him, and his Christianity is damaged in this world of profession. In order to keep these people right, we find that the Apostle applies a principle, and not the mere ordinary motives of pride, or of high-mindedness, or of interest, or of reputation
Now, we remark upon this head, that there are errors in the human heart, which none but the Spirit of God can overcome. First of all, there is opposition to the truth of the Gospel. It is the hardest thing to detach a man from his desire to justify himself before God by his own doings. You remember the parable of the pharisee and publican, and you remember the story of Saul the pharisee, that man who was afterwards stripped of his self-righteousness, and brought to lie low at the foot of the cross. This spirit of self-righteousness arises from ignorance of God's character--for "Wherewith shall we come before the Lord and bow ourselves before the high God? Shall we come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?" (Micah 6:6) And what else is it, if men are seeking in any way to justify themselves before God by their meritorious workings? The heathen understood something of this; they thought that they must offer up great sacrifices in order to appease an angry deity; and the man who does not believe the Gospel of Christ is not one whit better than the heathen.
But mark you, there is another tendency in the human breast. We know what numbers there are, who take shelter in ritual observances--who do not, perhaps, go into the gross errors into which others fall, but who are still looking to some outward observances in order to make their peace with God.
Now, brethren, the Apostle sets before us the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, in opposition to all this. He calls it living in the Spirit. It is the declaration of salvation through Jesus Christ, freely bestowed by God upon the sinner, which makes the Gospel to be essentially glad tidings, and it is by the power of the Spirit that the Gospel is brought home to the heart; and when it is thus brought home, it is the principle of life. The Apostle says, "If we live in the Spirit;" for it is the first entrance of life into the soul. Before a man can be instructed as to the course of life and conduct that shall glorify God, he must have this spiritual life. This, you will remember, was the commission given to the Apostle Paul--"To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God." (Acts 26:18)
Now, as to the conduct that is inculcated upon such: for I have said that it is only to such that these words can be addressed; and they never would have been addressed to these Galatian people, unless there had been temptation in their way to draw them away from the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ. You may depend upon it, it is not an easy thing to walk as a Christian ought to walk. The road which leadeth unto life is a narrow road, and on every side there are hindrances.
What is meant by walking in the Spirit? In the Epistle to the Colossians the Apostle says, "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him." The meaning of which is, that, having received a certain principle and a certain truth in their souls, they were to walk according to that principle, and in the track of that truth. And it appears to me that when the Apostle here tells the people of God that they should "walk in the Spirit," he means that they should cherish in their hearts, and that they should live abidingly upon, the truth that the Spirit had revealed to their souls. If it is living in the Spirit to be born of God--if it is living in the Spirit to have received the testimony of the Gospel, then it appears to me, that when the Apostle says, "Let us walk in the Spirit," he would have the people of God to live continually in the Spirit; that in all their difficulties, and in all their conflicts, they should live in that principle of liberty, as people who were "accepted in the Beloved." (Eph. 1:6) Now, this is the truth from which the devil tempted the Lord's people to depart, in the Apostle's day. We find, throughout these epistles, that the Apostle continually sets it before the Lord's people that the only thing which could keep their heads above water, was abiding in Christ, as His saved, His justified, His accepted people. It is the spring and energy of the Christian's life never for one moment to lose sight of Christ. Under the sense of our own vileness, are we to depart from the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness? O, brethren, it is the very spring of the Christian's comfort under the feeling of his own unworthiness, to live near to the cross of Christ.
It seems to me that this is what the Apostle means by telling the Lord's people that, if they lived in the Spirit, they should also walk in the Spirit. But there is a practical use that is to be made of this subject; and this exhortation seems to me to comprehend the whole course of the conduct of a Christian man, in all the difficulties of his path. It seems to me to present to him the way in which he is to overcome all his spiritual adversaries. And the first thing that strikes me is, that he would have the Lord's people live on the energetic power of the Spirit of God. See how, throughout this chapter, the Apostle sets before them the difficulties that were in their way. It seems as if they had been asking, What are we to do to overcome those stirrings of the evil one in our breast? He says, in the 16th verse, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." We very often think we can overcome our enemies by our own resolutions; but what does the Lord say? "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." It is as if he told them, Look up for divine power, live in a Gospel spirit, look to Jesus, and expect a supply of the Spirit at every step of your journey.
When the Apostle says, "Walk in the Spirit," it appears to me that he would lead them to see every thing that they needed treasured up for them in Christ. It is the Spirit's work to testify of Christ; and the way in which He enables us to overcome our adversaries, is by showing us the rich provision that is in the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is our wisdom to use this provision--it is our wisdom to look to Jesus, and to see Him in all the offices which he sustains towards His people. I cannot receive any testimony of the Spirit concerning Jesus, but through the Word; and I believe it is in this way that the Spirit bears witness with God's people that they are the children of God. So that, as we read the Word--as we see the offices which Jesus sustains for his people--as we look at the responsibility that has devolved upon Him, the hearts of God's people are strengthened and encouraged; and I believe it is in this way that the Spirit enables them to gain strength over their spiritual adversaries, simply by taking of the things of Christ, and showing these things unto them.
Now, brethren, we think these things are suitable for our own times. The first question for you to ask is, whether you are living in the Spirit? whether you have the life of Christ in your hearts? whether you have been stripped of that legal spirit which dwells in us all by nature? and whether you have been brought to see yourselves as utterly ruined and bankrupt before the Lord? whether you can bear to hear that you stand upon the lowest level? whether you can bear to hear that you are as low as to the scale of human merit as any others in the world? It is very easy to say in our Church services, "There is no health in us." But when a minister presses this home on an individual; when he reminds him that "there is none righteous, no, not one;" that "from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores," we do not find men willing to believe such a truth as this. So long as you are seeking to cover yourselves with one shred of your own righteousness, you have not received the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. If you have believed the Gospel, the principle of life has been implanted in your souls; and you may depend upon it, it is important to bring this before men in the present day. All the systems that are abroad in the world are opposed to the Gospel of the grace of God. All the systems that are abroad in the world would seek to draw men away from the simplicity that is in Christ. Men hear in our churches, Lord's Day after Lord's Day, the declarations of the law of God; they profess to say, "Lord have mercy upon us," as if pleading guilty to the breach of every one of the commandments; but yet, though they admit this in the public worship in the congregation, there are few who understand the opening out of the law as the Lord presents it to us; there are few who have been brought to feel that the sinful look brings a man under condemnation; that the angry thought may be murder, and is murder.
And then, brethren, as a second matter of application to our own times, let us say a word as to this walking in the Spirit. If the Apostle found it necessary to warn the Galatian people against putting themselves under a course of ritual observances, in order to obtain peace in the conscience, so have we need to do the same in our own day.
What is the reason that in the present day there is such an exalting of external ordinances for the saving of the soul? What is the reason that all England is stirred from diocese to diocese with agitation as to the sacrament of justification, as they call it? Men are putting these things in the place of Christ. Brethren, we bless God for His ordinance of baptism; we use it in reverence and in faith; but the Lord is dishonored when that ordinance is put in the place of Christ.
Again, amongst many who profess to know better, what is the reason that, upon a sick bed, when the soul is about to be launched into another world, there is oftentimes such an anxious desire to partake of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Brethren, I judge no man's conscience; but I do say, that I feel greatly disheartened when I find those of whom one had hoped that they had received the Gospel of Christ, unwilling to depart hence without partaking of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. There may be many reasons why a man may wish to have that ordinance administered to him at such a time; I judge no man's conscience; but I think that the work of the Lord Jesus Christ is superseded, when there is such an anxious desire to partake of the Lord's Supper upon a dying bed. No; when men are in health, let them come and feast on those emblems of the body and blood of Christ; let them come before the Lord and say, I am anxious to bear my testimony that I have none other Saviour than Jesus, and I desire also that my own soul may be satisfied with feeding upon that precious provision.
O, brethren, the Gospel is able to bear us through the dark valley of the shadow of death; it is able to put a lamp into that darkest valley through which we can ever pass--the valley of the shadow of death. There is no death to the Christian--it is all life. The Gospel tells us of life, righteousness, acceptance with God, peace--there can be no fear to the Christian.
You may depend upon it, if you do live on the truths of the Gospel, there will be a spiritual mind, and the very thing that you want to enable you to adorn the doctrine of God, your Saviour, you shall receive in living on the fullness which is treasured up in the Lord Jesus Christ.