“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage,” Gal. 5:1

When the apostle came first into the regions of Galatia, he and his message were most cordially received. His personal deformity, which he calls the temptation in his flesh, they despised not, but received him as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. The weight and power of the message counter balanced all the unsightliness of the messenger. The joyful tidings that he brought so excited their gratitude, that they would have pulled out their own eyes, and given them to Paul. But love soonest hot is soonest cold.

Paul withdraws from these regions, to lengthen the cords of Zion, and to spread the curtains of her habitation a little farther; with an intent, in due time, to return and strengthen her stakes, which he had left in Galatia. But, as the enemy often sows tares while men sleep, so he often attempts the debauch of a wife when the good man is not at home. Paul, the servant of Christ withdraws; and Satan, transformed in his ministers, succeeds him. Righteousness and perfection by the law are enforced by these seedsmen of Satan, and cordially received by the simple in Galatia. Their hearts at that time were warmed with the love of God, and warm to God; and whatever God requires they were willing to perform; then they “must be circumcised, and keep the law of Moses.” This was produced, and proved from holy writ; and to this they gave heed: and as they advanced nothing but what was in the Bible, they took it for granted it must be right; and it was no more than reasonable that, as God was so good to them, they should do all they could to please him, and make him all the amends, and give him all the satisfaction they could for his numerous favours to them: and, seeing, the doctrine was scriptural, and enforced by Israelites, if not priests, who were warm zealous men, they were all zealously affected to them, and their necks were soon inclined to bow to the legal yoke.

These men were ministers of Satan. Satan had before tried to blind the eyes of these Galatians, as he does all others, that the light of the gospel should not shine unto them; but all in vain, for the light of the gospel had shined in the hearts of these Galatians. Hence it was needful that Satan should adopt another method, more likely to succeed, being less suspected: and that was by bringing them under the old veil of the law, under which the gospel is hid. Satan’s gloomy shade had not been sufficient to keep the rays of the gospel out, therefore by these priests of his he would lead them to the blackness of Sinai again, and to the frowns of God in a broken law; where the light of his countenance is hid, where God in the face of Jesus never shines, and where he would appear in thick darkness to them. Paul hears of this, and opposes them – charges these ministers with witchcraft, and the Galatians with foolishness for adhering to them; telling them that they were not well affected; that these men would exclude them from Christ, that they might affect them. However, their zeal is fired for works, and for perfecting the good work begun. Paul tells them that nothing but fleshly perfection is to be had in the law; and that, if they went to the law for perfection, they must go there for righteousness also, for Christ will be all in all, or nothing at all; that, “if they were circumcised, Christ should profit them nothing,” for he will communicate no grace by the law.

However, “the law doth not exclude boasting,” nor humble the proud heart. The legal leaven had begun to ferment; they were puffed up, and not to be taught by such as Paul, whom they viewed as their enemy for attempting to hinder this good work. Paul tells them that, if he was their enemy, it was for telling the truth; and passes a double curse upon that man, or angel, that should preach any other gospel than that which he had preached. He tells them that this persuasion came not from him that called them; that a little of that legal leaven would leaven the whole lump; and that they had been called to liberty; but that their liberty was not to be used as an occasion to the flesh, either in seeking fleshly perfection by the works of the law, which is a ground of pride and boasting, or in gratifying the evil desires of the flesh by using liberty as a cloak.

“Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” In handling these words I will treat,

1. Of bondage.
2. Of liberty.
3. Of the fruits of liberty.
4. Of this yoke of bondage. And
5. That it is possible for a believer in Christ to be entangled with it a second time.

First, I have no call to say much to the children of God about our natural bondage, for they have all felt it.

We are all of us by nature in bondage to sin. Every besetting sin, while in a state of nature, lords it over us; and, whether willing or unwilling, we are slaves and drudges to it. “He that committeth sin is the servant of sin.” And none, but God who kept Abimelech from touching Sarah, and Jabez from the grief of evil, can ever deliver us from this tyrant.

We are in bondage under the guilt that we have contracted by sin; which, with shame and confusion, like a chain, binds the soul over to punishment. “He bringeth out those that are bound with chains, but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.”

We are in bondage to the king of terrors. The guilty sinner dreads death because of a future reckoning; he does not care to come to books, to take his trial, or to come to judgment; he knows that death leads to all these, and, therefore, “through the fear of death, he is subject to bondage.”

He is in bondage to Satan; he rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience; he has possession of them, and takes them captive at his will. And none can deliver from this strong man armed but he that came to destroy the works of the devil.

We are in bondage to the precepts of the moral law; bound to perform perfect obedience to it, under pain of double death: and knowing that we are sinners, the spirit of legal bondage to fear holds us fast bound to the dread of death, hell, and damnation; and in this state we are “shut up under the law until faith comes.” Thus we are prisoners for infinite debts; sin is our strong hold, wrath our dreadful meditation; Satan our accuser and jailer; and justice will never, “but by the blood of the covenant, send one prisoner out of the pit,” Zech. ix. 11.

Secondly, But God has ordained a release, and proclaimed it; the jubilee trump is sounded; and a surety for debtors is provided.

Faith is bestowed by a gracious God, and by the Spirit it is wrought in the soul. Faith eyes the surety and the satisfaction, and sweetly applies the atonement. Release from guilt, and enlargement from the dismal cell and dark regions, are the blessed effects of it; while a feeling sense of God’s eternal love in Christ, shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, removes all the awful apprehensions of vindictive wrath, casts out fear and torment, and leads and attracts the affections even to the right hand of God himself, where Christ sitteth; which is the soul’s freedom of access to God. The conscience is freed from her guilt, the mind is freed from her fear, the heart freed from its native hardness, our thoughts are in harmony, and sweetly satisfied with a Redeemer’s fullness, and the tongue is loosed to celebrate the high praises of God; the yoke of a Redeemer becomes easy, “his service perfect freedom, his ways pleasantness, and all his paths peace.” The root of this glorious matter, the spring of this blessed felicity, is the everlasting love of God the Father, the dying love of the Lord Jesus, and the sweet operations of the Spirit of love felt and enjoyed in the soul. Which leads me,

Thirdly, To consider the fruits of this liberty, which, in a freeborn citizen, in a son of the free-woman, are conspicuous enough.

Such an one cannot send away a distressed neighbour, saying, “come again to-morrow, and I will give thee” when he has plenty by him. The love of God casts out the love of money, the love of the world, and the friendship of it. But “he that sees a brother in need, and shuts up his bowels against him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” not as it did in Zaccheus, when salvation came to his house.

This liberty never leads men to countenance or vindicate the propagators of error, nor to undermine the reputation and labours of the faithful. Paul tells the Galatians that this persuasion came not from him that called them, they were bewitched into this. “In the eyes of a true-born citizen of Zion a vile person is contemned, but he honours them that fear the Lord.”

A person in liberty must be at a certainty about his state; and be sound, settled, and at a point, in the great and fundamental doctrines of the gospel. If his thoughts are not in harmony here he cannot “make straight paths for his feet; there is no judgment in his goings; he stumbles at the word,” and is far enough from having “his feet in a large room.”

The liberty that springs from divine love does not lead men to pride, to lord it over the sheep, much less over the under shepherds. “Charity vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up; nor behaveth itself unseemly.” Nor does it lead to licentiousness, nor yet to presumption, much less to be wise above what is written, and to cavil at what they cannot disprove. For unhumbled men, unbroken spirits, unexperienced, and unsavoury souls to talk of liberty, is like a whore with a brazen brow contending for modesty.

The liberty of a saint is guarded with a filial fear; which has God’s goodness in Christ for its object, keeps the soul from using liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, and from abusing it as an occasion to the flesh.

Liberty that springs from the oil of joy, will make a man’s face to shine. If the saving health of all nations is made known to the sinner, God will be the health of his countenance. A fallen countenance, which is the common index of a guilty conscience, ill becomes an advocate for gospel liberty. Unexperienced and self condemned men should never sound the jubilee trump of the gospel. Their sound is uncertain, and they themselves are living contradictions. I come now,

Fourthly, To the yoke.

Yearly servitude is sometimes in scripture called a yoke. “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour.” The servant is under the master. The master’s will is the servant’s rule. He works by the command of his master, and expects his hire for his labour; and to this the allusion is in my text. The Galatians were not servants, but sons, and therefore should not take this yoke on their necks. This yoke is the moral law, that the Judaizing teachers had carried to Antioch; which was “Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law of Moses.” At Antioch Paul and Barnabas withstood them; the apostles, who had the keys of the kingdom, to bind and loose, at their synod at Jerusalem condemned them; the release sent to Antioch exposed them to contempt there; and the disciples of that city received their liberty with much joy and consolation. Antioch grew too hot for these ministers of Satan; therefore their master sent them into the regions of Galatia, where perhaps the apostles’ decision was not yet known; and here they laboured hard with the old text, “except ye be circumcised, and keep the law of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” The apostle Paul acquaints them with the affair at Jerusalem; of the intention of the false brethren, who came in to spy out their liberty and bring them into bondage; and of their not giving place to them for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might continue with them: but he becomes their enemy for telling, the truth. They are for circumcision, and for keeping the law; the former is to bring them in debtors to the latter. These things were found in the scriptures, and appeared right to these simple souls, and the devil’s drift in it was to bring them under the ministration of the letter, and to set aside the satisfaction of Christ. And, in order to make an outward show and blind their eyes, he led them to the old Jewish Sabbath, and to other days and months and times and years. And they thought that circumcision and the moral law, and adhering to these things, would make them perfect. But Paul knew that perfection, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, were all in Christ; and that those who went to the law would neither enjoy Christ, nor any of these things in him; for he is king at Zion, not at Sinai; and all his springs, rivers, and streams, are in the city, not in the wilderness; it is the rebellious, not the obedient, “that dwell in a dry land.” This is the yoke in which they wanted to entangle them, that they might leave the liberty of sons, and be influenced with the bondage of servants; that God might be viewed as a master, not as a father; that they might work for God, and not God work in them; that “the reward might be reckoned to them of debt, not of grace;” that they might be excluded from Christ the advocate, and go to the accusations of Moses; reject the surety, and work at their own debt-book. This is the devil’s witchcraft, and this is the Galatians’ foolishness; and because this branch of priestcraft required much infernal wisdom and policy to entangle these Galatians in this yoke, it is called witchcraft.

The word entangled seems to be an allusion to fish entangled by a hook or net, to a bird entangled in a snare, or to a sheep or deer entangled in a bush; into which they are all brought unawares. And as believers are compared to fish, to fowls, to sheep, and to harts with horns, Satan employs various artists against the household of faith, in order to ensnare them some of which are compared to fowlers, others to fishers, who “sacrifice to their own net, and burn incense to their own drag.” And legal preachers, who handle the law unlawfully, make the Jewish altars and the two tables of stone, which are intended for our welfare, a trap and a stumbling block to the people. And such entangers are in their sins, and under the curse; and, while they entangle the sheep of Christ, themselves are nothing but “thorns and briars, who are nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.” This Paul knew, and declares that they should bear their own judgment, whoever they were, being accursed of God; and he wished those cut off that troubled them; pronouncing a curse upon all, either angels or men, that should preach any other gospel than that which he had preached. Which leads me,

Fifthly, To treat of the possibility of a believer’s being entangled again with the yoke of legal bondage.

This is a point that will not easily go down with many professors in our days. Men, who have been healed without being wounded; saved before they were lost; and justified by grace before they were condemned by the law; who have made their calling and election sure, without crying day and night unto God; who understand all mysteries, but are destitute of charity; whose faith stands in the word of the gospel, but not in the power thereof; who have escaped the task of self-denial, and shunned the perilous path of tribulation; who have no changes in their life, nor bands in their death; whose own will is their rule, and whose self-sufficiency is their god, and the object of their adoration; who know every thing but their own ignorance, and all men but themselves; who have never been chastened every day, nor plagued every morning; who have defeated Satan without receiving one fiery dart, and overcome the world without one war with it, or frown from it; who are got into the large room, and into the wealthy place, without coming either through fire or through water; who are purified without either the fiery trial, or the furnace of affliction: these have not only overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, but they can defy the armies of the living God, without being able to describe one part of the experience or sufferings of a Christian soldier, or one piece of the saints’ heavenly panoply. They have defied both death and the devil, without ever resisting unto blood, or striving against sin. The war of these men is not with Satan, but with Christ; not with the enemies of God, but with the ministers of Jesus; not with the worldlings, but with the saints. These are not the weak who are to say they are strong; these do not wait upon God to renew their strength, but to gainsay the mouth and wisdom that God has promised to give to his servants. God’s strength is not expected to be made perfect in the weakness of these, their strength is firm: such a champion is as Solomon’s lion, the strongest among beasts, who trusts in his paws, and turns not away for any. He is the he-goat that is comely in his going, whose trust is in his horns; the greyhound, who confides in his heels; and “the king against whom there is no rising up;” having, never been engaged in the fight of faith.

Some tell us that a believer cannot be entangled again with the yoke of bondage. They cannot allow that the north wind can awake, and the south wind (which are quite opposite to each other) blow upon one and the same garden. They think it is impossible for a disciple of Jesus to be puffed up and soured with the leaven of the Pharisees; and that the Lord’s kind caution to them to take heed and beware of their doctrines of free-will, self righteousness, and legal bondage, was altogether useless and impertinent. But surely the Lord says nothing in vain. And, if the Galatians were in no danger of this leaven, Paul must be in great fear where no fear was. But Paul knew what this bondage is, and could see that the greatest part of the Galatians were infected with it; he therefore tells them “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”

Others, who are “wiser in their own conceit than seven men that can render a reason,” tell us that these Galatians were never converted at all, and therefore they might be entangled again with this yoke. If they had never been delivered from it previous to this re-entanglement, Paul’s speech must be tinctured with either flattery or falsehood, when he tells them that Christ had made them free, and cautions them to stand fast in the liberty which they never had.

But these children and old women, who are our teachers and rulers, tell us that, “Paul stood in doubt of these Galatians.” And he had cause enough for it, seeing the whole lump was fermented with this leaven. He might justly doubt whether they would not submit to circumcision, especially as their minds were so prejudiced against him as to count him their enemy for telling them the truth. Paul knew that, if they went to the law, their eyes and their dependence would soon be taken from the fullness of Christ: that they would thereby fall from grace; and that Christ would not leave mount Zion, and meet them at Sinai, to communicate his grace to them there; therefore, tells them that Christ shall profit them nothing. Moreover, Paul knew that, if the Saviour’s easy yoke was slighted, God would soon handle the fair neck of these Galatians, as he did the neck of Ephraim, and bring a heavier yoke upon them. They that are not satisfied with Christ, in whom God is well pleased, shall feel his sore displeasure from another quarter; and they that turn from him that speaks from heaven shall hear another voice that once shook the earth. God will not have Christ, the darling of his soul, slighted; he has not only a purging furnace for a fruitful branch in Christ, but he keeps a yoke for the heifer’s neck, a rod for the fool’s back, and he has his stocks for the feet of those that pervert their way. If his children abuse, slight, or misuse their glorious liberty, he will bow their necks, scourge their backs, and lay them by the heels, till they know the worth of their liberty, how to use it, and how to prize it; as others have done, who with the most piteous moan have cried out, “Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name; restore unto me the joys of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit.”

That believers are often influenced with a spirit of legal bondage, is what I never yet heard any believer, of long standing in the church, deny, till the devil set up a prating fool, called Mr. Hector. Though he himself once, if report be true, felt such a horrible sensation, for a few minutes, as quite surprised him; and he may call it “Gad [for] behold a troop cometh.”

Doctor Watts seems to understand something of this “spirit of bondage again to fear,” when he says,
“His name forbids my slavish fear, His grace removes my sin.”
And Mr. HART was not ignorant of it
“If thou, celestial Dove, thine influence withdraw,
What easy victims soon we fall to conscience, wrath, and law.”

Mr. Bunyan’s Treatise upon the Two Covenants was chiefly intended to remove the spirit of legal bondage, though he himself was not a little influenced by it when he wrote that book, nor is he clear in it. And I know that a spirit of antinomianism on the one hand, and legal bondage on the other, have been communicated to weak believers by reading that very book which is written against it.



Comments

Comments are closed.

Copyright © 2011, The Association of Historic Baptists