Galatians 5


The apostle exhorts the Galatians to stand fast in the liberty

of the Gospel, and not by receiving circumcision bring

themselves into a yoke of bondage, 1-4.

Shows the superior excellence of Christianity, 5, 6.

Mentions their former steadiness, and warns them against the

bad doctrine which was then preached among them, 7-9.

Expresses his confidence that they will yet return; and shows

that he who perverted them shall bear his own punishment,


States that they are called to liberty, and that love is the

fulfilling of the law, 13, 14.

Warns them against dissensions, and enumerates the fruits of the

flesh, which exclude those who bear them from the kingdom of

God, 15-21.

Enumerates also the fruits of the Spirit, which characterize the

disciples of Christ, 22-24.

Exhorts them to live in the Spirit, and not provoke each other,

25, 26.


Verse 1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty] This is

intimately connected with the preceding chapter: the apostle

having said, just before, So then, brethren, we are not children

of the bond woman, but of the free, immediately adds, Stand fast

therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. Hold

fast your Christian profession; it brings spiritual liberty: on

the contrary, Judaism brings spiritual bondage. Among the Jews,

the Messiah's reign was to be a reign of liberty, and hence the

Targum, on La 2:22, says: "Liberty shall be publicly proclaimed

to thy people of the house of Israel, al yad Mashicha,

by the hand of the Messiah, such as was granted to them by Moses

and Aaron at the time of the passover."

The liberty mentioned by the apostle is freedom from Jewish

rites and ceremonies, called properly here the yoke of bondage;

and also liberty from the power and guilt of sin, which nothing

but the grace of Christ can take away.

Verse 2. If ye be circumcised] By circumcision you take on you

the whole obligation of the Jewish law, and consequently profess

to seek salvation by means of its observances; and therefore

Christ can profit you nothing; for, by seeking justification by

the works of the law, you renounce justification by faith in


Verse 3. He is a debtor to do the whole law.] Lays himself, by

receiving circumcision, under the obligation to fulfil all its

precepts, ordinances, &c.

Verse 4. Christ is become of no effect unto you] It is vain

for you to attempt to unite the two systems. You must have the

law and no Christ, or Christ and no law, for your justification.

Ye are fallen from grace.] From the Gospel. They had been

brought into the grace of the Gospel; and now, by readopting the

Mosaic ordinances, they had apostatized from the Gospel as a

system of religion, and had lost the grace communicated to their

souls, by which they were preserved in a state of salvation. The

peace and love of God, received by Jesus Christ, could not remain

in the hearts of those who had rejected Christ. They had,

therefore, in every sense of the word, fallen from grace; and

whether some of them ever rose again is more than we can tell.

Verse 5. For we, Christians, through the Spirit] Through the

operation of the Holy Ghost, under this spiritual dispensation of

the Gospel, wait for the hope of righteousness-expect that which

is the object of our hope, on our being justified by faith in

Christ. Righteousness, δικαιοσυνη, may here, as in many other

places of St. Paul's epistles, mean justification, and the hope of

justification, or the hope excited and inspired by it, is the

possession of eternal glory; for, says the apostle, Ro 5:1, 2,

Being justified by faith, we have peace with God-and rejoice in

HOPE of the GLORY of GOD. But, as this glory is necessarily

future, it is to be waited for; but this waiting, in a thorough

Christian, is not only a blessed expectation, but also a continual

anticipation of it; and therefore the apostle says, απεκδεχομεθα,

we receive out if it, from απο, from εκ, out of, and

δεχομαι, I receive. This is no fanciful derivation; it exists in

the experience of every genuine Christian; he is continually

anticipating or receiving foretastes of that glory, the fulness of

which he expects after death. Thus they are receiving the end of

their faith, the salvation of their souls. 1Pe 1:9.

That they could not have the Holy Spirit without faith, was a

doctrine also of the Jews; hence it is said, Mechilta, fol. 52:

"That faith was of great consequence with which the Israelites

believed in Him who, with one word, created the universe; and

because the Israelites believed in God, the Holy Spirit dwelt in

them; so that, being filled with God, they sang praises to him."

Cicero, De Nat. Deor., lib. ii., has said: Nemo vir magnus sine

aliquo afflatu divino unquam fuit: "There never was a great man

who had not some measure of the Divine influence." However true

this may be with respect to the great men of the Roman orator, we

may safely assert there never was a true Christian who had not the

inspiration of God's Holy Spirit.

Verse 6. For in Jesus Christ] By the dispensation of the

Gospel all legal observances, as essential to salvation, are done

away; and uncircumcision, or the Gentile state, contributes as

much to salvation as circumcision or the Jewish state; they are

both equally ineffectual; and nothing now avails in the sight of

God but that faith διαγαπηςενεργουμενη, which is made active,

or energetic, by love. God acknowledges no faith, as of the

operation of his Spirit, that is not active or obedient; but the

principle of all obedience to God, and beneficence to man, is

love; therefore faith cannot work unless it be associated with

love. Love to God produces obedience to his will: love to man

worketh no ill; but, on the contrary, every act of kindness.

Faith which does not work by love is either circumcision or

uncircumcision, or whatever its possessor may please to call it;

it is, however, nothing that will stand him in stead when God

comes to take away his soul. It availeth nothing. This humble,

holy, operative, obedient LOVE, is the grand touchstone of all

human creeds and confessions of faith. Faith without this has

neither soul nor operation; in the language of the Apostle James,

it is dead, and can perform no function of the spiritual life, no

more than a dead man can perform the duties of animal or civil


Verse 7. Ye did run well] Ye once had the faith that worked by

love-ye were genuine, active, useful Christians.

Who doth hinder] Who prevented you from continuing to obey the

truth? Ye could only be turned aside by your own consent. St.

Paul here, as in 1Co 9:24,

compares Christianity to a race. See the notes on the above text.

Verse 8. This persuasion] Of the necessity of your being

circumcised and obeying the law of Moses, is not of him that

calleth you. I never preached such a doctrine to you; I called

you out of bondage to liberty, from a galling yoke to a cheerful

service. Some translate πεισμονη, obedience or subjection.

This subjection of yours to the Mosaic law is opposed to the will

of God, and never was preached by me.

Verse 9. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.] A

proverbial expression, see 1Co 5:6, very aptly applied to those

who receive the smallest tincture of false doctrine, relative to

the things essential to salvation, which soon influences the whole

conduct, so that the man becomes totally perverted. They might

have argued, "It is a small thing, and should not be made a

subject of serious controversy, whether we be circumcised or not."

Granted, that in itself it is a small matter; but, as every man

who is circumcised is a debtor to do the whole law, Ga 5:3, then

your circumcision leads necessarily to your total perversion; as

the little portion of leaven, mixed with the batch, soon leavens

the whole lump.

Verse 10. I have confidence in you] I now feel a persuasion

from the Lord that I shall not be permitted to expostulate with

you in vain; that ye will be none otherwise minded-that ye will be

aware of the danger to which ye are exposed, that ye will retreat

in time, and recover the grace which ye have lost.

But he that troubleth you] The false teacher, who sowed

doubtful disputations among you, and thus has troubled the repose

of the whole Church, shall bear his judgment-shall meet with the

punishment he deserves, for having sown his tares among God's


Verse 11. If I yet preach circumcision] it is very likely that

some of the false apostles, hearing of Paul's having circumcised

Timothy, Ac 16:3,

which must have been done about this time, reported him as being

an advocate for circumcision, and by this means endeavoured to

sanction their own doctrine. To this the apostle replies: Were it

so, that I am a friend to this measure, is it likely that I should

suffer persecution from the Jews? But I am every where persecuted

by them, and I am persecuted because I am known to be an enemy to

circumcision; were I a friend to this doctrine, the offence of the

cross-preaching salvation only through the sacrifice of Christ,

would soon cease; because, to be consistent with myself, if I

preached the necessity of circumcision I must soon cease to preach

Christ crucified, and then the Jews would be no longer my enemies.

Verse 12. I would they were even cut off which trouble you.]

This saying has puzzled many, and different interpretations of the

place have been proposed by learned men.

At first sight it seems as if the apostle was praying for the

destruction of the false teachers who had perverted the Churches

of Galatia. Mr. Wakefield thought οφελοναποκοψονται might be

translated, I wish that they were made to weep; and in his

translation of the New Testament the passage stands thus: "I wish

that they who are unsettling you may lament it." I believe the

apostle never meant any such thing. As the persons who were

breeding all this confusion in the Churches of Galatia were

members of that Church, the apostle appears to me to be simply

expressing his desire that they might be cut off or excommunicated

from the Church. Kypke has given an abundance of examples where

the word is used to signify amputating; cutting off from society,

office, &c.; excluding. In opposition to the notion of

excommunication, it might be asked: "Why should the apostle wish

these to be excommunicated when it was his own office to do it?"

To this it may be answered: The apostle's authority was greatly

weakened among that people by the influence of the false teachers,

so that in all probability he could exercise no ecclesiastical

function; he could therefore only express his wish. And the whole

passage is so parallel to that, 1Co 5:6, 7, that I think there

can be no reasonable doubt of the apostle's meaning: Let those

who are unsettling the Church of Christ in your district be

excommunicated; this is my wish, that they should no longer have

any place among you."

Verse 13. Ye have been called unto liberty] A total freedom

from all the burthensome rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law.

Only use not that liberty for an occasion to the flesh. By flesh,

here, we may understand all the unrenewed desires and propensities

of the mind; whatsoever is not under the influence and guidance of

the Holy Spirit of God. Your liberty is from that which would

oppress the spirit; not from that which would lay restraints on

the flesh. The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law:

but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from

the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from

the moral law is Antinomianism.

By love serve one another.] Having that faith which worketh by

love, serve each other to the uttermost of your power: δουλευετε,

serve each other, when necessary, as slaves serve their masters.

Several excellent MSS. and versions, instead of διατηςαγαπης, by

love, have τηαγαπητουπνευματος, in the love of the Spirit serve

one another.

Verse 14. For all the law] Which respects our duty to our

fellows, is fulfilled-is comprehended, in one word: Thou shalt

love thy neighbour as thyself. See Clarke on Mt 19:19,

and "Ro 13:9".

Verse 15. If ye bite and devour one another] These Churches

seem to have been in a state of great distraction; there were

continual altercations among them. They had fallen from the grace

of the Gospel; and, as Christ no longer dwelt in their hearts by

faith, pride, anger, ill-will, and all unkind and uncharitable

tempers, took possession of their souls, and they were in

consequence alternately destroying each other. Nothing is so

destructive to the peace of man, and to the peace of the soul, as

religious disputes; where they prevail, religion in general has

little place.

Verse 16. Walk in the Spirit] Get back that Spirit of God

which you have grieved and lost; take up that spiritual religion

which you have abandoned.

Ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.] If the Spirit of

God dwell in and rule your heart, the whole carnal mind will be

destroyed; and then, not only carnal ordinances will be abandoned,

but also the works and propensities of the flesh.

Verse 17. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit] God still

continues to strive with you, notwithstanding your apostasy,

showing you whence you have fallen, and exciting you to return to

him; but your own obstinacy renders all ineffectual; and through

the influence of these different principles, you are kept in a

state of self-opposition and self-distraction, so that you cannot

do the things that ye would. You are convinced of what is right,

and ye wish to do it; but, having abandoned the Gospel and the

grace of Christ, the law and its ordinances which ye have chosen

in their place afford you no power to conquer your evil

propensities. It was on this ground that the apostle exhorted

them, Ga 5:16,

to walk in the Spirit, that they might not fulfil the lust of the

flesh; as without the grace of God they could do nothing. Who can

suppose that he speaks this of adult Christians?

Verse 18. But, if ye be led of the Spirit] If ye receive again

the Gospel and the grace of Christ, and permit yourselves to be

influenced by the Holy Spirit whom you are now grieving, ye are

not under the law-ye will not feel those evil propensities which

now disgrace and torment you; but they must prevail while you are

not under the influence of the grace and Spirit of Christ.

Verse 19. Now the works of the flesh are manifest] By flesh we

are to understand the evil and fallen state of the soul, no longer

under the guidance of God's Spirit and right reason, but under the

animal passions; and they are even rendered more irregular and

turbulent by the influence of sin; so that man is in a worse state

than the brute: and so all-commanding is this evil nature that it

leads men into all kinds of crimes; and among them the following,

which are manifest-known to all, and most prevalent; and, though

these are most solemnly forbidden by your law, the observance of

its ordinances gives no power to overcome them, and provides no

pardon for the guilt and condemnation produced by them.

Adultery] μοιχεια. Illicit connection with a married person.

This word is wanting in this place in the best MSS., versions, and

fathers; the next term often comprehending both.

Fornication] πορνεια. Illicit connection between single or

unmarried persons; yet often signifying adultery also.

Uncleanness] ακαθαπσια. Whatever is opposite to purity;

probably meaning here, as in Ro 1:24; 2Co 12:21,

unnatural practices; sodomy, bestiality.

Lasciviousness] ασελγεια. Whatever is contrary to chastity;

all lewdness.

Verse 20. Idolatry] Worshipping of idols; frequenting idol

festivals; all the rites of Bacchus, Venus, Priapus, &c., which

were common among the Gentiles.

Witchcraft] φαρμακεια, from φαρμακον, a drug or poison;

because in all spells and enchantments, whether true or false,

drugs were employed. As a drug, φαρμακον, might either be the

means of removing an evil, or inflicting one, etymologists have

derived it from φερονακος, bringing ease, or φεροναχος,

bringing pain. So spells and incantations were used sometimes for

the restoration of the health; at others, for the destruction of

an enemy. Sometimes, these φαρμακα were used to procure love; at

other times, to produce hatred.

Hatred] εχθραι. Aversions and antipathies, when opposed

to brotherly love and kindness.

Variance] ερεις. Contentions, where the principle of hatred

proceeds to open acts; hence contests, altercations, lawsuits, and

disputes in general.

Emulations] ζηλοι. Envies or emulations; that is strife

to excel at the expense of another; lowering others to set up

one's self; unholy zeal, fervently adopting a bad cause, or

supporting a good one by cruel means. Inquisitions, pretending to

support true religion by torturing and burning alive those who

both profess and practise it.

Wrath] θυμοι. Turbulent passions, disturbing the harmony of

the mind, and producing domestic and civil broils and


Strife] επιθειαι. Disputations, janglings, logomachics, or

strife about words.

Seditions] διχοστασιαι. Divisions into separate factions;

parties, whether in the Church or state.

Heresies] αιρεσεις. Factions; parties in the Church

separating from communion with each other, and setting up altar

against altar. The word, which is harmless in itself, is here

used in a bad sense. In stead of αιρεσεις the Slavonic has

σκανδαλα, scandals, offences or stumbling-blocks.

Verse 21. Envyings] φθονοι. "Pain felt, and malignity

conceived, at the sight of excellence or happiness." A passion

the most base and the least curable of all that disgrace or

degrade the fallen soul. See Clarke on Ro 13:13.

Murders] φονοι. Similarity of sound to the preceding seems to

have suggested the word in this association; it is wanting in

several MSS. Murder signifies the destruction of human life; and

as he who hates his brother in his heart is ready to take away his

life, so he is called a murderer. After all the casuistry of man,

it does not appear that the right of taking away a human life on

any pretence, except for the crime of murder belongs to any but

the Maker and Judge of all men.

Drunkenness] μεθαι. Taking more wine or any kind of

inebriating liquor than is necessary for health; whatever unfits

for public, domestic, or spiritual duties; even the cares of the

world, when they intoxicate the mind. See Clarke on Ro 13:13.

Revellings] κωμοι. Lascivious feastings, with obscene songs,

music, &c. See Clarke on Ro 13:13.

And such like] καιταομοιατουτοις. All that proceeds from

the evil passions of a fallen spirit, besides those above

specified; and all that the law of God specifies and condemns.

Of the which I tell you before] When I first preached the

Gospel to you.

As I have also told you in time past] When I paid my second

visit to you; for the apostle did visit them twice.

See Ac 16:6; 18:23;

and see preface, p. 385.

Shall not inherit] They are not children of God, and therefore

cannot inherit the kingdom which belongs only to the children of

the Divine family.

Verse 22. But the fruit of the Spirit] Both flesh-the sinful

dispositions of the human heart and spirit-the changed or purified

state of the soul, by the grace and Spirit of God, are represented

by the apostle as trees, one yielding good the other bad fruit;

the productions of each being according to the nature of the tree,

as the tree is according to the nature of the seed from which it

sprung. The bad seed produced a bad tree, yielding all manner of

bad fruit; the good seed produced a good tree, bringing forth

fruits of the most excellent kind. The tree of the flesh,

with all its bad fruits, we have already seen; the tree of the

Spirit, with its good fruits, we shall now see.

Love] αγαπη. An intense desire to please God, and to do good

to mankind; the very soul and spirit of all true religion; the

fulfilling of the law, and what gives energy to faith itself. See

Ga 5:6.

Joy] χαρα. The exultation that arises from a sense of God's

mercy communicated to the soul in the pardon of its iniquities,

and the prospect of that eternal glory of which it has the

foretaste in the pardon of sin. See Ro 5:2.

Peace] ειρηνη. The calm, quiet, and order, which take place in

the justified soul, instead of the doubts, fears, alarms, and

dreadful forebodings, which every true penitent less or more

feels, and must feel till the assurance of pardon brings peace and

satisfaction to the mind. Peace is the first sensible fruit of

the pardon of sin. See Ro 5:1, and the notes there.

Long-suffering] μακροθυμια. Long-mindedness, bearing with the

frailties and provocations of others, from the consideration that

God has borne long with ours; and that, if he had not, we should

have been speedily consumed: bearing up also through all the

troubles and difficulties of life without murmuring or repining;

submitting cheerfully to every dispensation of God's providence,

and thus deriving benefit from every occurrence.

Gentleness] χρηστοτης Benignity, affability; a very rare

grace, often wanting in many who have a considerable share of

Christian excellence. A good education and polished manners, when

brought under the influence of the grace of God, will bring out

this grace with great effect.

Goodness] αγαθωσυνη. The perpetual desire and sincere study,

not only to abstain from every appearance of evil, but to do good

to the bodies and souls of men to the utmost of our ability. But

all this must spring from a good heart-a heart purified by the

Spirit of God; and then, the tree being made good, the fruit must

be good also.

Faith] πιστις, here used for fidelity-punctuality in

performing promises, conscientious carefulness in preserving what

is committed to our trust, in restoring it to its proper owner, in

transacting the business confided to us, neither betraying the

secret of our friend, nor disappointing the confidence of our


Verse 23. Meekness] πραοτης. Mildness, indulgence toward the

weak and erring, patient suffering of injuries without feeling a

spirit of revenge, an even balance of all tempers and passions,

the entire opposite to anger.

Temperance] εγκρατεια. Continence, self-government, or

moderation, principally with regard to sensual or animal

appetites. Moderation in eating, drinking, sleeping, &c.

Several very respectable MSS., as D*EFG, with the Vulgate, most

copies of the Itala and several of the fathers, add αγνεια,

chastity. This we are sure cannot be separated from the genuine

Christian character, though it may be included in the word

εγκρατεια, continence or moderation, immediately preceding.

Against such there is no law.] Those, whose lives are adorned

by the above virtues, cannot be condemned by any law, for the

whole purpose and design of the moral law of God is fulfilled in

those who have the Spirit of God, producing in their hearts and

lives the preceding fruits.

Verse 24. And they that are Christ's] All genuine Christians

have crucified the flesh-are so far from obeying its dictates and

acting under its influence, that they have crucified their sensual

appetites; they have nailed them to the cross of Christ, where

they have expired with him; hence, says St. Paul, Ro 6:6,

our old man-the flesh, with its affections and lusts, is crucified

with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth

we should not serve sin. By which we see that God has fully

designed to save all who believe in Christ from all sin, whether

outward or inward, with all the affections, παθημασι, irregular

passions, and lusts, επιθυμιαις, disorderly wishes and

desires. All that a man may feel contrary to love and purity; and

all that he may desire contrary to moderation and that self-denial

peculiar to the Christian character.

Verse 25. If we live in the Spirit] If we profess to believe a

spiritual religion, let us walk in the Spirit-let us show in our

lives and conversation that the Spirit of God dwells in us.

Verse 26. Let us not be desirous of vain glory] κενοδοξοι.

Let us not be vain glorious-boasting of our attainments; vaunting

ourselves to be superior to others; or seeking honour from those

things which do not possess moral good; in birth, riches,

eloquence, &c., &c.

Provoking one another] What this may refer to we cannot tell;

whether to the Judaizing teachers, endeavouring to set themselves

up beyond the apostle, and their attempts to lessen him in the

people's eyes, that they might secure to themselves the public

confidence, and thus destroy St. Paul's influence in the Galatian

Churches; or whether to some other matter in the internal economy

of the Church, we know not. But the exhortation is necessary for

every Christian, and for every Christian Church. He who professes

to seek the honour that comes from God, should not be desirous of

vain glory. He who desires to keep the unity of the Spirit in the

bond of peace, should not provoke another. He who knows that he

never deserved any gift or blessing from God should not envy

another those blessings which the Divine goodness may have thought

proper to bestow upon him. May not God do what he will with his

own? If Christians in general would be content with the honour

that comes from God, if they would take heed to give no

provocations to their fellow Christians, if they would cease from

envying those on whom either God or man bestows honours or

advantages, we should soon have a happier and more perfect state

of the Christian Church than we now see. Christianity requires us

to esteem each other better than ourselves, or in honour to prefer

one another. Had not such a disposition been necessary to the

Christian character, and to the peace and perfection of the Church

of Christ, it would not have been so strongly recommended. But

who lays this to heart, or even thinks that this is indispensably

necessary to his salvation? Where this disposition lives not,

there are both the seed and fruit of the flesh. Evil tempers

are the bane of religion and totally contrary to Christianity.

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