Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 2:19 - 2:19

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 2:19 - 2:19


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TRUE USE OF THE LAW

Gal_2:19. I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

THE knowledge of the law is indispensably necessary to the knowledge of the Gospel. Even persons who have some views of Christ as a Saviour, have, in general, a very inadequate idea of the extent to which we need a Saviour. This can be known only by considering the requirements of the law, and the measure of guilt which we have contracted by our violation of them. In unfolding to us this subject, the Epistle to the Galatians stands, perhaps, preeminent above all others, not excepting even that to the Romans; and the words which I have just read will furnish me with an occasion to submit it somewhat fully to your view.

In these words is declared the use of the law,

I.       In relation to our hopes from it—

The law, in the first instance, was ordained unto life; and it would have given life to those who perfectly obeyed it. But to fallen man it is no longer a covenant of life: it rather destroys all our hopes of acceptance by our obedience to it; so that every one who understands it aright must say with the Apostle, “I through the law am dead to the law.” It produces this effect,

1.       By the extent of its precepts—

[If these comprehended nothing beyond the letter, the generality, of Christians at least, might account themselves, “as touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” But it extends to every thought and disposition of the soul. It forbids us to entertain even so much as an inordinate desire. It does not say merely, “Thou shalt not steal,” but, “Thou shalt not covet.” And our blessed Lord, in his sermon on the mount, declares, that an angry feeling is, in God’s estimation, as murder, and an impure look as adultery. Now then, when “the commandment is so exceeding broad,” who will pretend to have kept it? or who will build his hopes of salvation on his obedience to it? It is manifest, that there is not a man upon earth who has not, in numberless instances, violated it; and who therefore must not shut his mouth with conscious shame, and acknowledge himself “guilty before God [Note: Rom_3:19.].”]

2.       By the inexorableness of its threatenings—

[For every violation of its commands it denounces a curse, saying, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them [Note: Gal_3:10.].” We must not merely wish to do them, but actually do them; and not only some, but all; and that not for a season only, but continually, without interruption from first to last: and in default of this, every one, even every child of Adam, is cursed, even with an everlasting curse. As for any lighter penalty than this, it knows of none: it admits of no relaxation of it, no mitigation whatever: so that, of all that are under the law, there is not so much as one that is not under the curse and wrath of God. To hope for salvation, therefore, from such a law as this, is quite out of the question. A man in the contemplation of these threatenings can do nothing but lie down in despair, even as Paul himself did: for though, previously to his understanding the true tenour of the law, he supposed himself to be alive, he no sooner saw the extent of its commands, and the awfulness of its sanctions, than “he died,” and became sensible that he was nothing but a dead, condemned sinner before God [Note: Rom_7:9.].]

3.       By its incapacity to afford us any remedy whatever—

[When it requires obedience, it does not offer us any strength for the performance of it: nor, when we have violated it in any respect, does it speak one word about repentance: nor does it make known to us any way whereby pardon may be obtained. The only thing which it says to any man is, “Do this, and live: offend, and die.” What hope, then, can any man entertain of salvation by such a law as this? It precludes a possibility of hope to any child of man: so that we must be dead to the law, not merely because the Gospel requires it, but because it is the very intent of the law itself to make us so: “Through the law itself we must become dead to the law.”]

We must not, however, imagine that all observance of the law is unnecessary: for the very reverse will appear, whilst we consider the law,

II.      In relation to our obedience to it—

As a covenant of works, the law doubtless is set aside: but as a rule of life, it is as much in force as ever: and, though delivered from its curse, we are bound as much as ever to obey it:

1.       From a sense of gratitude—

[Will a man delivered from the law say, “I will continue in sin, that grace may abound?” No: if upright, we shall shudder at the thought. “We have not so learned Christ, if we have been taught of him.” On the contrary, the first dictate of our minds will be, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits towards me?” The love of Christ, in redeeming us from the law, will have a constraining influence upon us, and stimulate us to live to him who died for us [Note: 2Co_5:14-15.]. No other end than this did the Apostle Paul contemplate. He was not dead to the law, that he might live to the world, but “that he might live unto God [Note: Rom_12:1.]:” and to God will every one live, who has a just sense of his mercy in giving us a better covenant, wherein we are called, not to earn life by our works, but to receive it as a gift in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.]

2.       From a sense of duty—

[The law is still, and ever must be, the one standard of holiness to which we are to be conformed: and our obligation to obey it can never be reversed. God himself, if I may so speak, cannot dispense with our observance of it. It is of necessity our duty to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. Our having a better covenant to found our hopes upon, can never abrogate the essential laws of our nature. If we be in heaven, earth, or hell, love must be our duty: and every man feels it to be his duty to walk according to that unerring and unchanging rule. Our freedom from the law, so far from being a reason for disregarding this rule, is the strongest reason for our most diligent adherence to it. St. Paul, by means of an easy illustration, places this matter in a clear light. He supposes us, in the first instance, married to the law; and afterwards, on the death of our husband, married to a second husband, the Lord Jesus Christ. But are we then content to be barren, as to the fruits of righteousness? No; quite the contrary: “Being dead to the law, we are married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. We are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held, that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter [Note: Rom_7:4; Rom_7:6.].” Our obligation to obedience, so far from being relaxed by that change, is strongly and unalterably confirmed.]

3.       From a sense of interest—

[Though we can never hope to be justified by our obedience to the law, our reward in heaven will be proportioned to our obedience. The day of judgment is appointed for the express purpose of manifesting the righteousness of God in all his dispensations. And, in reference to our obedience, we may safely say, “He that soweth plenteously shall reap plenteously; and he that soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly.” Now, the expectation of this issue remains with every man, whatever be his hopes in reference to his first acceptance with God. But with him who has trembled for his lost estate, and has fled for refuge to Christ as to the hone set before him in the Gospel, there will be an ardour of desire to secure a testimony in his favour. He will not be content to leave any thing in doubt. He is well assured, that “not the person who merely says to his Saviour, Lord, Lord, shall inherit the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of his Father that is in heaven.” Having therefore this prospect, he will of necessity say, “What manner of person ought I to be, in all holy conversation and godliness!”]

The subject, as you see, lies deep: yet is it very important. To all then I would say, respecting the law, endeavour,

1.       To understand its nature—

[The generality regard it solely as a system of restraints and precepts. But, in truth, it is a covenant of life and death: of life to man in innocence; and of death, if I may so speak, to fallen man. It is now given, not to justify, but to condemn: not to save, but to kill; not to be a ground of hope to any, but “to shut men up to the Gospel,” and to Christ as revealed in it [Note: Gal_3:23.], even to him who is “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth [Note: Rom_10:4.].” I would to God that this matter were better understood. In fact, it is but rarely stated, even by those who, in the main, preach the Gospel: and it is owing to this that men’s views of the Gospel are so very inadequate and superficial. But let me entreat of you to improve the instruction given you in relation to this matter. See that the law does nothing but curse you, yea, deservedly, and eternally curse you. See that the new covenant, that has been made with us in Christ Jesus, is our proper refuge, that we may flee to it, and lay hold upon it, and find acceptance by it: and let this covenant be all your salvation and all your desire.]

2.       To fulfil its purposes—

[It was intended, as we have said, to drive you to Christ. Let it operate in this manner. Look not to it, for a single moment, as affording you any hope towards God. Be content to renounce, in point of dependence, your best actions, as much as your vilest sins: and look to Christ precisely as the wounded Israelites did to the brazen serpent in the wilderness. They did not attempt to combine with God’s appointment any prescriptions of their own; but simply turned their eyes to that object, in faith. I pray you to bear this in mind, and to imitate their conduct in this respect. Fear not respecting the interests of holiness: they are well provided for in this blessed ordinance: and the more dead you arc to the law, the more, I pledge myself, you will live unto your God.]

3.       To honour its requirements—

[The world will have a jealousy on this head: they will always suppose, that if you do not seek for justification by the law, you have no motive for obeying it. Shew them how greatly they err in this respect. Indeed, they stand in this respect self-condemned: for at the moment that they complain of your sentiments as licentious, they find fault with your lives as too strict and holy. You are regarded by them as “righteous over-much;” and as making the way to heaven so strait, that none but yourselves can walk in it. This is as it should be; I mean, as far as it respects you; for it is in this way that you are to “make your light shine before men,” and to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men by well-doing.”]