Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 2:20 - 2:20

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 2:20 - 2:20

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Gal_2:20. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

THE Gospel is, for the most part, plain and simple: yet are there some things in it which seem dark and contradictory. In one place St. Paul brings forward a long list of paradoxes, which to a superficial reader would appear absurd in the extreme [Note: 2Co_6:8-10.]: but in all the sacred records there is not one so difficult of solution as that in our text [Note: The difficulty of this passage seems needlessly increased in our translation. The second clause of the text stands thus; æ ä ï ê ô é ã · and it might he translated, “I am crucified with Christ; and I am alive no more.” The opposite tru th then comes naturally; “I am alive no more; but Christ liveth in me.” The very position of the words in this antithesis seems to mark the propriety of this translation; æ ä ï ê ô é ã · æ ä í ì ï × ñ é ó ô ü ò . But by putting a stop after æ ä , we make a double paradox, instead of a single one. The sense, however, is much the same, whichever way the passage is translated: but one would wish rather to lessen, than increase, its unavoidable obscurity.]. The Apostle is speaking on the subject of justification by faith alone, without the works of the law: and he mentions, that he had publicly reproved Peter for sanctioning by his example the idea that the observation of the law was still necessary. He says, that the law itself sufficiently shewed us the necessity of abandoning all hopes from that, and of seeking justification by faith in Christ alone: and then adds, that, in consequence of what Christ had done and suffered to deliver us from the law as a covenant of works, he considered himself as one dead to the law, and as having all his life and all his hopes in Christ alone. This is the plain import of the passage as divested of its paradoxical appearance. But as the paradox, when explained, will be very instructive, we shall enter into it fuller consideration of it; and shew,

I.       In what respect the Christian is dead—

To understand in what sense the Apostle was “crucified with Christ,” we must particularly attend to the great ends for which Christ was crucified. Now Christ was crucified, in the first place, in order to satisfy all the demands of the law. The law required perfect obedience, and denounced a curse against every transgression of its precepts [Note: Gal_3:10.]. Man, therefore, having transgressed the law, was utterly, and eternally, ruined. But Christ having undertaken to restore him to the Divine favour, endured the curse which we had merited, and obeyed the precepts which we had violated: and thus rendered our salvation perfectly compatible with the honour of the Divine law; inasmuch as what we have failed to do or suffer in our own persons, we have done and suffered in our Surety. But Christ had a further end in submitting to crucifixion, namely, to destroy sin, and, by expiating its guilt, for ever to annul its power. This is frequently declared in Scripture, not only as the immediate end of his death [Note: Tit_2:14. 2Co_5:15.], but as the end of the whole dispensation which he has introduced [Note: Rom_14:9. Tit_2:12-13.].

Now when St. Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ,” we must understand, that there was something in his experience analogous to the crucifixion of Christ; or, in other words, that as Christ died a violent death, to cancel the obligations of the law as a covenant, and to destroy sin, so the Apostle, by a holy violence upon himself, died to the law as a covenant, and to sin as the most hateful of all evils.

The believer then, according to this view of the subject, is dead,

1.       To the law—

[Once all his hopes were founded on his obedience to the moral law; and lie felt in his conscience a dread of God’s wrath on account of his transgressions of its precepts. But now he abandons all his self-righteous hopes, and dismisses all his slavish fears, because he finds a better, yea, an assured, ground of hope in Christ’s obedience unto death. He argues thus: ‘Does the law curse me for my manifold transgressions? Christ has endured its curse for me, and therefore I have no reason to fear it [Note: Gal_3:13.]: “there is no condemnation to me, if only I am in Christ Jesus [Note: Rom_8:1.].” On the other hand, does the law require perfect unsinning obedience in order to my justification before God? Christ has paid it that obedience, and “brought in thereby an everlasting righteousness [Note: Dan_9:24.],” “which is unto all, and upon all them that believe [Note: Rom_3:22.].” I renounce therefore all hope in my own obedience, and found all my hopes of salvation on the obedience of my blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [Note: Php_3:9. Rom_5:19. 2Co_5:21.].’

To this state he is brought, partly by the law itself, which cuts him off from all possible hope from his own obedience to it [Note: ver. 19. with Gal_3:24.], and partly by the death of Christ, which has totally cancelled the law, as a covenant, for all those who believe in him: so that, as a woman is released from all obligation to her husband when he is dead, and may, if she please, unite herself to another; so the believer ceases to have any connexion with the law of God, now that it is cancelled by Christ [Note: Rom_7:1-4.]: the law is dead to him; or, to use the language of our text, he is crucified to it.]

2.       To sin—

[The believer, previous to his conversion, had no wish beyond the things of time and sense. He “walked according to the course of this world,” “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” He possibly might be pure from gross acts of sin; but all his actions, of whatever kind they were, sprang from self, and terminated in self: self-seeking, and self-pleasing, constituted the sum total of his life. He possessed no higher principle than self; the stream therefore could rise no higher than the fountain-head. But now he feels the influence of nobler principles, and determines to “live no longer to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. The time past suffices to have wrought his own will [Note: 1Pe_4:2-3.]:” and henceforth he desires to have, not only every action, but “every thought, brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2Co_10:5.].” He now “crucifies the flesh with the affections and lusts [Note: Gal_5:24. This is spoken of all true Christians without exception.].” They form what the Scriptures call “the old man;” and this “old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin may he destroyed, that henceforth he should not serve sin [Note: Rom_6:6.].” Even the things that are innocent, are yet among the number of those things to which the believer is crucified. He enjoys them indeed; (for “God has given him all things richly to enjoy;”) but he will not be in bondage to them; he will not serve them; he will not regard them as constituting his happiness, no, nor as essential to his happiness: if he possess (as he may very innocently do) the pleasures, the riches, or the honours of the world, he does not set his affections upon them; he regards them rather with a holy jealousy, lest they should ensnare him, and alienate his heart from God: he sits loose to them; and is willing to part with them at any moment, and in any manner, that his Lord shall call for them: in short, he regards the world, and every thing in it, as a crucified object, which once indeed was dear to him, but which he is now willing, if need be, to have buried out of his sight. He makes a conscience of fulfilling all his duties in the world, as much, or more than ever: but since he has learned how to appreciate the cross of Christ, “the world has become crucified unto him, and he unto the world [Note: Gal_6:14.].” Whatever is positively sinful in it, (however dear it once was to him,) is renounced and mortified [Note: Mar_9:43-48.]; and even the most innocent things in it have comparatively lost all their value, and all their relish. His delight in heavenly things has rendered inferior things insipid; and his joy in God has eclipsed all sublunary joy.]

Nevertheless, the Christian lives: and to shew the truth of the paradox, we proceed to state,

II.      In what manner he lives—

That he has the same life as the unregenerate, is obvious enough: but he has also a life different from theirs; and his whole manner of life is different from theirs: he lives a new life in, and through, Christ: he lives,

1.       By the influences of his Spirit—

[He once was—dead in trespasses and sins:” but that same voice which bade Lazarus to come forth out of the grave, has bidden him live. The Lord Jesus has infused into his soul a new and living principle; and has “given him that living water, which is in his soul a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.” “Christ himself liveth in him,” and “is his very life [Note: Col_3:4.].” This accounts for his being able to do things which no other man can. In himself, he is weak as other men; he cannot perform a good act [Note: Joh_15:5.], or speak a good word [Note: Mat_12:34.], or think a good thought [Note: 2Co_3:5.]; but by the almighty operation of Christ within him he can do all things [Note: Php_4:13.]. Being dead with Christ (as has been before shewn), he is risen and lives with him; according as it is written, “Christ being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him: for in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God: likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord [Note: Rom_6:9-11.]”]

2.       In dependence on his sacrifice—

[The atonement of Christ is the one ground of all the Christian’s hopes. If he look for reconciliation with God, it is through the blood of the Redeemer’s cross: if for peace, for strength, for any blessing whatsoever, he has no other plea than this; “My Lord and Saviour has bought it for me with his blood.” He views every thing treasured up for him in Christ [Note: Col_1:19.]: and to him he goes, in order to “receive out of his fulness” whatsoever his necessities require [Note: Joh_1:16.]. His whole life is “a life of faith on the Son of God.” He never goes to God but in, and through, Christ: he never expects any blessing to flow down upon him, but for the sake of Christ, and through him, as the immediate channel of conveyance. The very life which he receives from Christ, he considers as purchased for him by Christ’s obedience unto death: and on that very ground he presumes to “make Christ his wisdom, his righteousness, his sanctification, and his complete redemption.”]

3.       Under a sense of his love—

[The Christian is not contented with acknowledging the love of Christ to mankind in general; he views it especially as it respects himself; and delights in contemplating his own personal obligations to him. O how wonderful does it appear, that Christ should ever love such a one as him, and give himself for him! That for such a wretch as him, he should submit to all the shame and agonies of crucifixion! What incomprehensible breadths and lengths and depths and heights does he behold in this stupendous mystery! And what unsearchable riches does he seem to possess in this blessed assurance! It is this that animates him, this that “constrains him.” Had he a thousand lives, he would dedicate them all to his service, and lay them clown for his honour. And though he cannot perhaps at all times say, “My beloved is mine, and I am his,” yet the most distant hope of such a mercy fills his soul with “joy unspeakable and glorified.”]


1.       Those who object to the Gospel—

[Many there are, who, when we speak of being dead to the law, imagine that we are enemies to good works, and that the Gospel which we preach tends to licentiousness. It is true, we do say, (and we speak only what the Scriptures speak,) that though the law is still in force as a rule of duty, we are free from it as a covenant of works; and that in consequence of being free from it, the believer has neither hopes nor fears arising from it. But are we therefore regardless of the interests of morality? Does not the Apostle himself say, that “he, through the law, was dead to the law?” Yet what does he conclude from this? That he might live as he pleased? No: he was, “dead to the law, that he might live unto God.” And then he repeats the same important truth; “I am crucified with Christ:” and again guards it against any similar misrepresentation, by shewing that the believer has a strength for obedience which no other person possesses, and motives for obedience which no other person feels. Let these two things be considered, and it will appear, that the Gospel, so far from militating against good works, is the only doctrine that secures the performance of them.

If this argument be not satisfactory, we ask the objector, What are those good works in which the declaimer about morality excels the believer? Yea, we ask, Whether they who renounce all dependence on their good works, be not the very people who arc universally censured on account of the strictness and holiness of their lives? Away then with your objections; and know, that if the Gospel be excellent as a system, it is yet more excellent as advancing the interests of morality.]

2.       Those who profess the Gospel—

[Religion consists not in the adoption of any creed, but in a radical change both of heart and life. The words before us sufficiently shew, that it is a matter of experience, and not of mere talk and profession. Hear the Apostle: “I am crucified with Christ;” “I live;” “Christ liveth in me;” “I live by faith;” “I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” All this has its seat, not in the head, but in the heart. Know therefore that, in order to ascertain the real state of your souls, you must inquire, not what principles you have imbibed, but how they operate; and whether in these respects you resemble this holy Apostle? Beloved, we entreat and charge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to deceive yourselves with respect to this matter. To form a just estimate of your state, you must examine whether you be really dead to the law, and dead to sin; and whether, by the almighty operation of the Spirit of God within you, you are enabled to live to the glory of our blessed Lord and Saviour? These are the true tests of vital religion; and, according as your experience accords with them or not, your state will ultimately be determined at the judgment-seat of Christ.]

3.       Those who obey the Gospel—

[It appears to others, and may sometimes even to ourselves, a painful thing to experience a continual crucifixion. I confess, that the right eye being plucked out, and the right hand cut off, does imply a considerable degree of pain and self-denial. But we would ask, whether, in those seasons when the in-dwelling operation of Christ is plainly felt, and his unspeakable love in giving himself for you is distinctly seen, the exercise of self-denial be not both easy and pleasant? We ask, whether the joy arising from these discoveries do not far more than counterbalance any joy which you may be supposed to lose by abstaining from the gratifications of flesh and blood? We are sure that no difference of opinion can exist respecting these things, among those whose experience qualifies them to form a just judgment about them. We therefore hesitate not to say, “Be ye more and more crucified to the world and to sin:” “Live more and more by faith on the Son of God:” and let a sense of your personal obligations to him lead you to a more entire devotedness of yourselves to his service, till you are taken to serve him without ceasing in the world above.]