"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." — Galatians 5:1.
Those addressed in this epistle had known the liberty of the gospel. A person must first have tasted liberty before he can truly be exhorted to "stand fast" in it. You could not say to a poor slave working in chains, Stand fast in liberty. No; he must first be set free. So it is spiritually. Many do not know gospel liberty. Some are so accustomed to the slavery of sin, that they are not conscious of the real bondage they are in; others have, more or less, a feeling sense of the miserable condition of their hearts and ways, and long for deliverance from guilt and fear. Other persons seem only to think of liberty and independence in relation to their fellow-men. Perhaps they have striven for it, and have in some measure realized it; but they know nothing of the glorious liberty of the children of God. The Son of God came down from heaven to make men free. He preached liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. He gave His life a ransom for many.
It is delightful to see Paul's disinterested, Christ-like love and care for these Galatian saints. When first he went and preached among them, they received him as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus; they felt great blessing through his ministrations, and loved him so much, that if it had been possible, they would have plucked out their own eyes, and have given them to him. They were happy in the Lord. To them Christ was all. But after Paul left, false teachers came in among them — persons who cared not for the people's souls, but only to propagate certain points of erroneous doctrine. The Galatian converts received them, and were so injured that they counted Paul their enemy. But how did Paul treat them? Did he return evil for evil? No. Like his blessed Master, he only sought their welfare, and cared very little what they thought of him, provided they thought well of Christ. He therefore presented Christ to them in the richest and most attractive way, so that they might be brought to be happy again in the knowledge and enjoyment of Christ's finished work. Most blessed is it to consider that "salvation is of the Lord," and that God's only way of meeting man in blessing is by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We may well pity those who are seeking satisfaction from creature-streams, instead of the Creator's fulness; or who may be endeavouring to get into favour with God by any other way than by receiving His amazing mercy to sinners in the death of His beloved Son. God's gracious testimony to man is, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice;" thus plainly teaching us that the only way by which He can make man happy, and deliver him from eternal condemnation, is by compassionating him in his helplessness and sins, and providing a full and everlasting salvation for him, without money and without price. This, known in the soul, is liberty. This is what the Spirit of God bears witness to; and "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." This alone gives confidence and substantial comfort. It flows from God to the sinner. "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." It is man, sinful man, God so loves.
Man's condition before God is that of a sinner — "all have sinned." He is a slave of Satan, a servant of sin, a breaker of God's laws, afraid of death; he knows nothing of the holy presence of God, and trembles at the sound of the Lord's return from heaven. Such are we all by nature. In this fallen condition God's pitying eye beheld us, His compassionate heart moved toward us; and knowing that His own Son, sent forth in the likeness of sinful flesh, and making atonement by the death of the cross, was the only way of redeeming man, and bringing him into liberty and blessing, in richest mercy this unspeakable gift was not withheld. God gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus Christ went down into the sorrows and death of the cross to exalt sinful man to the heights of eternal glory.
Let us now look into the nature of the liberty the apostle here refers to, when he exhorts the Galatian saints to "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free." And I think we shall find that Christ has procured liberty from the slavery of Satan, from the guilt and dominion of sin, from the bondage and curse of the law, from the fear of death, and given us liberty in God's presence, the liberty of sonship, and liberty to serve.
1. Liberty from the Slavery of Satan. It is a very humiliating thought, that man is really the slave of Satan; but is it not an undeniable fact, that we are the servants of those to whom we render obedience? Who, then, does man obey? Does he obey God? Certainly not; for the testimony of an inspired prophet is, "All we like sheep have gone astray;" and the testimony of the Holy Ghost by an apostle is, "There is NONE that doeth good, no, not one — they are ALL gone out of the way — there is NONE that seeketh after God," etc. Who, then, does the natural man obey? Is it not the prince of this world, who is also called the god of this world? Saddening thought! but, alas! too true; "for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." The changeable fashions, the fascinating pleasures, and carnal gratifications of the day, in whatever garb they may be clothed, are of the world, and therefore in direct connection with the deceiver of the world, the adversary of souls — the wicked one, in whom the whole world lieth. The lusts and passions of fallen man easily submit to his subtle suggestions, and those who yield often find present sensual recompence. But this arch-enemy deceives and blinds, lest the glorious gospel should shine into their hearts. Jesus, however, came to destroy the works of the devil, to free men from this vile service, to redeem His people from all iniquity, to ransom them from the power of the grave, to destroy death, and him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil. Man had fallen into allegiance to Satan, and he was fast bound by his chains; but a stronger than Satan came to his help; the Almighty Saviour came forth from the Father to his rescue, and by His death, and resurrection from the dead, He led captivity captive, and triumphed over principalities and powers. Thus Christ, by one offering, which He once offered, ransomed His people. As nothing less than His precious blood could redeem them from the dreadful bondage they were in, Jesus paid that amazing price for them. All who believe in His name are made free. Christ has procured their liberty from the slavery of Satan. They now love and serve Him.
2. Liberty from the Guilt and Dominion of Sin. Some people say, they are thankful that they never felt a guilty conscience; but I pity such. It is the clearest proof of their being still in their sins. I thank God that I have felt the plague of a guilty conscience, dreadful as the experience of it was; but I can also say that I have a cleansed conscience by the blood of Christ. How can any one know pardon and peace, who never felt condemnation and guilt? The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. Why do not persons feel guilt? Because they do not consider what they are in God's sight. They have, therefore, wrong thoughts about sin. They say that many things are not sin which really are. They do not believe that, from the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness, and that there is none that doeth good, no, not one; but whatever be man's thought of himself, the Divine sentence has gone forth, that all the world stand "guilty before God." Now, Jesus came to give us deliverance from this dreadful guilt, and this He did by the death of the cross. There God made Him to be sin for us; our old man was crucified with Him; there our iniquities were laid upon Him; He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; there all the waves and billows of Jehovah's wrath passed over Him; thus Christ, by the infinite efficacy of His one sacrifice, hath freed us from the guilt of sin. Not only have our sins been judged on Him on the tree, but "our old man" too — the nature that did the sins — the corrupt tree, as well as its fruits. (Rom. 6:6.)
Thus, through Christ, we have power over sin. Before a sinner has beheld the Lamb of God slain on Calvary, sin has dominion over him. He makes resolutions; but he breaks them again and again. He reforms outwardly in various ways; but he only exchanges one class of sins for another. He is without strength. He cannot live without sinning. But when his guilty conscience is brought by the Holy Spirit before the cross of Christ, his heart melts, the thorns and briers of self-righteousness are burned up, his icy affections thaw before the burning love of Immanuel, and he is humbled before God, broken down under a sense of His love. By considering the deep agonies of the Sin-bearer, he hates sin, he loathes himself, loves the Saviour, and cries out, with gratitude of soul —
"Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my heart, my life, my all!"
Thus, by faith in the Son of God, who died for the ungodly, we have liberty from the dominion of sin; and the Divine assurance is, "Sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace."
3. Liberty from the Bondage and Curse of the Law. The law of Moses is described by Peter as a yoke of bondage, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. It made righteous and holy demands on fallen, helpless sinners. It gave no liberty, but the spirit of fear and bondage. It was the ministration of condemnation and death. There was remembrance of sin, but no remission. Man needs power, and he needs life; then obedience readily flows into its proper channel. Jesus by His death bore the curse of a broken law, and put away sin; hence the gospel proclaims full forgiveness; and the testimony of God now is, "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." "By Christ all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses." This is liberty indeed! But who could attentively contemplate God's law without being conscious of having broken it, of having come short of His holy standard, and therefore of being under the curse? 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." Who can bear to weigh himself in this balance? This makes it clear that all are under sin. Hence the apostle declares, that "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." We have all, then, merited God's curse by breaking His law; but Jesus, the Redeemer, came forth and rescued us: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." Thus we have full liberty and redemption from the bondage and curse of the law by the cross of Christ.
"The law proclaims no terror now,
And Sinai's thunders roar no more;
From all His wounds new blessings flow,
A sea of joy without a shore."
4. Liberty from the Fear of Death. Man trembles at death; his bones shake, the joints of his back are loosed, and his countenance becomes ghastly, when he sees death enter the room, and feels its chilly grasp. There is only one thing that enables the soul to triumph in death; it is knowing that Christ died for our sins, and that He who is now in the glory is our life. It is only beholding Christ who was on the cross that will enable any one to say, that death is but the opening of the golden gates that admit him into the celestial glory. Nothing can remove the fear of death, and enable us to meet it with composure and peace, but the sheltering power of the blood of the Lamb, the blessed knowledge that we have passed from death unto life, and the assurance, that though the mortal body may fall asleep in Jesus, death can have no claim upon us, because Jesus hath borne death and judgment instead of us. So that the true language of faith is, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Thus we have liberty from the fear of death.
5. Liberty in God's Presence. So perfectly have "our old man" and all our transgressions been judged by God on His beloved Son on the cross, and so completely are we made the righteousness of God in Him risen and ascended, that the believer is enabled, with holy boldness, to draw near to God in the happy liberty of acceptance and favour in His presence. He is now made nigh. Oh, it is wonderful how near to God the believer is brought in Christ Jesus, and by His blood! As near to God as Christ is, because he is in Him. He is invited to come boldly to the throne of grace, both for pity and help, because Christ's all-cleansing blood and His all-prevailing priesthood ever speak there for him. But I must pass on to notice —
6. Liberty of Sonship. The Spirit of adoption is one of the most blessed privileges of this dispensation. It seemed necessary that Christ should die before the blessed liberty of sonship could be enjoyed. "When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Thus we see that it is through the death of Christ we are brought into the blessed standing of sons. We realize and enjoy this precious truth by faith. "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." It is a blessing of the highest possible dignity, and is our present portion. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God." It is when this truth is known with power in the soul that we are enabled to serve our heavenly Father acceptably. It will not be from slavish fear, like the spirit of bondage under the law; but it will be with reverence and filial fear, lest we grieve the heart of our gracious Father. How blessed is this liberty! How full of comfort! How rich in goodness now! How sweet the prospect of standing for ever before the Father in love, as the objects of His choice, adoption, and grace!
7. Liberty of Service. The believer is a servant, because he is a son; and the Lord's service is perfect freedom — "His yoke is easy, and His burden is light." He serves God as a redeemed sinner and an adopted child, constrained by the love of Christ. He works not for liberty, but as having liberty; not for life, but from life. This is happy service; it flows from a cheerful heart; it is wrought by a willing spirit; and is often accompanied with present recompence. There are no cares, no burdens, connected with such service; it aims only at one object, namely, to exalt Him who ransomed us with His own blood; and we know that His blood purges our conscience from dead works to serve the living God, and to wait for His Son from heaven.
But more than all this. We have liberty to trust in Him at all times; to cast all our care upon Him; to rejoice in the Lord alway; and to pray without ceasing. We can sit by faith at His pierced feet; we can there seek instruction, and hear His word, in the blessed consciousness that those feet at which we sit tell us of atonement made, and the captive soul set free. We may lean upon His arm, while passing through the wilderness, in the happy remembrance that it was once willingly stretched out for us on Calvary's cross — once bound to that accursed tree, to make us eternally free. We can rest our way-worn hearts by faith upon His wounded bosom, in the sweetest assurance that from His side flowed blood and water — the blessed and certain testimony of the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and of the perfect love and favour of our unchanging God.
As I have said before, all do not enjoy this liberty in their souls but it is, nevertheless, the privilege of those who believe in the Lord Jesus for salvation, because it is based on what has been already accomplished; it is liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. The doubting, trembling soul, therefore, need only look to the cross of Christ, and heartily receive God's own account of the value of that work, to be happy. Is there a question in any soul about sin? — the only remedy is the death of Christ. If a sense of having broken God's law oppress the heart, look at the redeeming work of His beloved Son. If the fear of death fetter any spirit, the only delivering power is the death of Jesus on the cross. If the soul feel at a distance from God, the only way of returning to His presence is by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. If a sluggish feeling seem to hinder our going forward in service, the value of the sacrifice of Christ, apprehended by faith, revives and strengthens. If darkness becloud the mind, and a sense of sin lie upon the conscience, communion and peace are restored by confession, and believing what God says about the blood. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness;" for "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin."
Dear Christian reader, what say you to these things? Can you rejoice in this blessed liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free? or are you fearing, and doubting, and trembling as to your eternal prospects? If so, why is it? Have you not long ago renounced all thoughts of creature righteousness? Have you not long felt that you are a vile sinner before God? Do you not often groan over your uncleanness? Have you not fled to Christ alone for salvation? Do you not renounce every other ground of acceptance but in Christ? And do you not trust wholly in His blood? Then why are you fearful, seeing it is such that Christ hath made free? Oh! look away from yourself, and every other object, to Christ crucified, risen, and ascended believe that He hath done what God declares He has, and be assured that it is because the Spirit hath quickened you that you have been convinced of sin, and been brought as a guilty, needy one to the Saviour. Be comforted, then, dear trembling child of God, for it is because the Lord hath loved you with an everlasting love, that with loving-kindness He hath drawn you to Himself through Christ and the testimony of His word is, that your sins are forgiven, you are justified from all things, you shall not come into condemnation, you have everlasting life — you have passed from death unto life; Christ is your righteousness and life; He ever lives to make intercession for you; and He bids you to be of good cheer, and to go in peace. Rest, then, in God's faithfulness to His own word; for "He cannot deny Himself." May the Holy Spirit take of these precious things of Christ, and reveal them for much blessing and comfort to your soul.
It is in this "liberty" that the Christian is exhorted to "stand fast," and to beware of slipping from it into any "yoke of bondage." There are many fascinating temptations presented by the adversary to induce us to yield, but we must "stand fast." Our present peace and strength for the Lord's service are connected with our standing fast in this liberty. Abiding in Him, we shall be strong — strong in faith, giving glory to God; strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus; strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Oh, for more of the power and communion of the Holy Ghost, to enable us to "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free!" Then the language of every heart will be —
"My comfort, my rejoicing, all shall be,
Christ died and rose! He died and rose for me!
He lives for me! for me He pleads above!
I'm lost in wonder at Immanuel's love!"
But perhaps my reader is a stranger to these precious things of Christ. You are serving Satan by your sins, little thinking it is so, because his service is connected with self-indulgence — he allows you to fulfil the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and that is a sweet morsel to you. But do you ever think that you must give an account of yourself to God? Have you ever considered, that because you are God's creature, He is justly entitled to all your heart, and mind, and strength? Do you not sometimes feel pangs of conscience, telling you that all is not right? Do not thoughts of death and judgment terrify you? Does it never occur to you, that the Son of God came down from heaven, and in wondrous love died for such as you are? Have you not heard again and again that there is salvation in no other name — that He is the only door of escape from wrath — the only way of admission into glory? Then, will you still be careless, still love sin, still choose darkness rather than light, still prefer the bondage of Satan to the liberty of the gospel, still rush onward to the glittering sword of the fiery judgment of the Son of man? Oh, my reader, turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die? The gospel yet proclaims liberty for the captives; cleansing for the vilest, blackest sinner; righteousness for the most profligate and filthy; acceptance and favour with God for the greatest rebel; yea, for whosoever receives Jesus, the Saviour whom God hath sent! Can you any longer refuse the blessed tidings? Can you, will you go on in hardness of heart against such unheard-of love? Will you be deaf to the cries, and groans, and agonies of Christ? Will you still refuse to lift up your eyes to Calvary's cross, and read in Christ's death God's love to sinners? Doth your proud heart yet say, I will not have Christ Jesus to reign over me? Or do you begin to think of the value of your soul, and that it is high time to flee from the wrath to come? Oh, that the Spirit of God might graciously fasten these eternally important thoughts upon your conscience, so that the sincere cry of your heart may he —
"Just as I am — without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me;
And that Thou bid'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come!
"Just as I am — and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come!"