Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 3:27 - 3:29

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 3:27 - 3:29


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BENEFITS AND OBLIGATIONS OF BAPTISM

Gal_3:27-29. As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

TO enter fully into these words, the whole scope of the Apostle’s argument should be duly considered. He has been insisting upon justification by faith alone, without the deeds of the law. This, to a Jew, was a most unpalatable doctrine, because it set aside the observance of all those ceremonies which had been ordained of God under the Mosaic dispensation. Hence many, after they had embraced the faith of Christ, were still zealous for the law; and desirous of blending the law with the Gospel, as a joint-ground of their hope before God. Persons of this stamp had come among the Galatian converts, and had perverted the minds of many. Hence the Apostle, in this Epistle to the Galatians, expostulates with those who had been drawn aside, as having acted a most foolish and unreasonable part. “O foolish Galatians! who hath bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” He then proceeds to reason with them: ‘Have you not had amongst yourselves an evident proof and demonstration that the Gospel which I preached to you is true? The Holy Spirit set his seal to the truth of it, by his miraculous operations: but did he ever, in one instance, so confirm the doctrines opposed to it [Note: ver. 2–5.]! Besides, with my doctrine agree the declarations of God himself; who says, that as Abraham was justified by faith, so by the same faith the whole heathen world shall be justified [Note: ver. 6–9]. But to the law no power of justifying is ever ascribed. That can do nothing but condemn: and it is only by pleading what Christ has done and suffered to deliver us from its curse, that any one of us can ever escape its curse, and obtain the blessings which are accorded to us by the Abrahamic covenant [Note: ver. 10–14.].’

To make this matter clear, he illustrates it by a well-known fact. ‘If,’ says he, ‘a covenant be made between men, it cannot be disannulled, except by the consent of both the parties that are interested in it. But Abraham, and all his believing seed throughout the whole world and to the very end of time, were interested in the covenant made with Abraham; whereas, in the covenant made four hundred and thirty years afterwards on Mount Sinai, none but Abraham’s natural descendants, and a very small portion even of them, were interested: and therefore this latter covenant can never supersede the former, or in any degree change its gracious provisions [Note: ver. 15–18.]. In truth, the Mosaic covenant, so far from superseding that which had been made with Abraham, was intended rather to be subservient to it, and as a schoolmaster, to educate persons for it, and to bring them to a participation of its blessings [Note: ver. 19–24.]. Consequently Christ, with whom, as well as with Abraham, the covenant of grace was made [Note: ver. 16.], having now come, and fulfilled in our behalf all that was required by that covenant, we, of whatever nation we be, have nothing to do but to believe in him; and then all the blessings of the covenant will become ours. Being united to him by faith, we shall be regarded as one with him; and be made partakers of all the benefits which he, as our Great Surety, has purchased for us [Note: ver. 25–29.].

This is, in few words, the general scope of the Apostle’s argument in the chapter before us. But, for the more particular elucidation of the words of my text, I will shew,

I.       What, in the judgment of charity, we possess, the very instant that we profess ourselves to be Christ’s—

The covenant of grace made with Abraham and his seed is that under which we live: and we are admitted to a participation of its blessings now by baptism, as, previously to the coming of Christ, men were by circumcision. To be “baptized into Christ,” is to be baptized in the name of Christ; and by baptism, to be initiated into his religion. As the Jews were “baptized unto Moses” by passing through the sea and being sprinkled with its spray, and so became his disciples; so do we, by descending into the water in baptism, or by being sprinkled with it in the name of Christ, become the followers of Christ [Note: 1Co_10:2. See the Greek, which is precisely the same as in my text, and determines, with exactness, the meaning of my text.]. Now, respecting persons baptized into the religion of Christ [Note: Compare Mat_28:19 and Mar_16:15-16.], the Apostle says, “They have put on Christ.” And what are we to understand by this? I conceive it refers, not to any change of garments which was made by persons at their baptism; for we hear of no such custom in the apostolic age: but it refers to the change of garments which was made by Aaron, and all succeeding priests, at the time of their consecration to the priesthood. The persons consecrated to the priesthood were first washed with water, and then had the coat, and the robe, and the ephod, and the breast-plate, put upon them; and were girded with the curious girdle of the ephod; and the mitre, with the holy crown upon it, was put upon their head. “Thus were the priests of old consecrated unto God [Note: Exo_29:4-9.]:” and thus are we, in our baptism, made “a holy priesthood” to the Lord [Note: 1Pe_2:9. Rev_1:6.]. But, though this gives us a general idea of what is meant by putting on Christ, it falls very far short of the full import of the expression, as used in my text. In another place, the expression is used to signify the putting on the moral character of Christ [Note: Rom_13:14.]: but here it signifies the putting on of his complete and entire character; so that God may view us altogether as in him, clothed with his righteousness from head to foot, and transformed into his image in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Eph_4:23-24.].

Now, this the Apostle represents as taking place at our baptism. And, not content with so representing it in some cases, or in many, or in most, or generally in all, he speaks as if this change were absolutely universal, without any exception: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.” Here is, if I may so express myself, a distributive individuality; by means of which he comprehends every baptized person separately, and without any exception. Yet, in this very epistle, he speaks of some of whom “he stood in doubt [Note: Gal_4:20.].” How, then, are we to understand this? The Apostle here spoke according to the judgment of charity; even as he does in many other places, where he addresses whole collective bodies, and Churches, as “saints, and faithful in the Lord [Note: Col_1:2.].” And I cannot but think, that in this passage we have a complete justification of the language used by our reformers in the baptismal service. After having baptized any child, we are there taught to return thanks to God in these words: “We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church.” Now this strikes many as too strong; and they scarcely know how to utter it before God. I grant it is strong: but is it stronger than the Apostle’s language in my text? No, not in the least: and if it be said that the prayer in our Liturgy refers to each individual separately; I answer, so does the Apostle’s language also: for it is equivalent to saying to every individual of the Christian Church, ‘Have you been baptized? then you have put on Christ: for as many as have had the sacrament of baptism administered to them, have been made partakers of this benefit.’

But, strong as this language is, the Apostle is not content: for he goes on to say, that, in the attainment of these exalted privileges, there is no distinction of persons whatsoever; none arising from nation, or rank, or sex; as there was, to a great degree, under the legal dispensation: “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” says he; “there is neither bond nor free; there is neither male nor female: but ye are all one in Christ Jesus:” so that, inasmuch as all, without exception, are baptized into one body in Christ; all, without exception, enjoy the benefits conferred by that ordinance.

Let me not, however, be mistaken. I do not mean to say that the Apostle’s words are to be taken strictly in this unlimited extent: but I mean to say, that he spoke thus, according to the judgment of charity, respecting those who had been consecrated to God in baptism; and that our reformers studiously-followed the Apostle, both in his spirit and language: and that, if we do not complain of the Apostle, or refuse to read his words, neither ought we to complain of our reformers, or refuse to use their words; when their only fault has been, if fault it may be called, in adhering so closely to the example and the language of an inspired Apostle.

I make not these observations wantonly, to provoke controversy; but in a spirit of love, with a view to satisfy the minds of any, if such there be amongst us, who have been stumbled in any respect at the expressions referred to in our baptismal service. And I shall think my pains well bestowed, if I may-produce in any scrupulous mind the peaceful conviction which the foregoing thoughts have imparted to my own bosom [Note: In this passage, precisely as we in our Baptismal Service, the Apostle uses distributive individuality. [If a person wish to prosecute this subject further, he may compare the first answer in our Catechism with Rom_9:4; where the Apostle’s language is the evident ground-work of that which our Reformers have used.]].

If it be thought that the foregoing observations are liable to abuse, they will be found effectually guarded by the Apostle himself, who proceeds to shew,

II.      What in reality we possess, when once we become really Christ’s—

“If we be Christ’s, then are we Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Now, let us, for a moment, return to the Apostle’s argument. He shews, that Christ being the Seed to whom the promises in the Abrahamic covenant were made, all who are in Christ must, of necessity, inherit those promises: and that, as Abraham partook of those promises simply by faith, whilst yet he was in an uncircumcised state, so all his believing posterity also are entitled to a participation of them simply by faith, without any legal observance whatsoever. Now, by believing in Christ, we become perfectly one with Christ—

[This is affirmed in my text: “We are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is also frequently declared in other places. I will specify one, where the union which is formed with Christ in baptism is represented as equivalent to that which subsists between the head and members of the same body; so that the persons baptized are actually called by his very name, as being altogether identified with him: “As the body is one, and hath many members; and all the members of that body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ;” that is, so also is the Church of Christ. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free”.. “We are indeed many members, yet are we but one body [Note: 1Co_12:12-13.].” Thus it appears, that, inasmuch as we become one with Christ by faith in him, we become in and with him the seed of Abraham, and heirs of all the promises that were made to him.]

And being united unto Christ by faith, we need nothing to be superadded to us by the works of the law—

[The natural descendants of Abraham, as such, have no title to these benefits: for “all are not Israel who are of Israel; neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children;” for it was said to him, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called: that is, they which are the children of the flesh are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed [Note: Rom_9:6-8.].” Now, by union with Christ we become the children of promise, and consequently heirs of all that God has promised. But how is this union effected? It is effected simply by faith. No work of the law can contribute to it. Even if we were of Abraham’s natural posterity, it would avail us nothing: nor, if we were to keep the whole law, would it avail us any thing. We must believe in Christ, and by faith be made one with him; and then the benefits are ours: nor shall all the powers of darkness prevail to rob us of them. Only let these two things be remembered, and our whole argument will be clear. First, no want of external privileges can deprive us of these benefits; and next, no observances whatever can augment our title to them, if only we believe in Christ: for “if we be Christ’s, then are we Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”]

Now let me address myself,

1.       To those who are Christ’s in profession only

[You perceive, that, as “baptized into Christ,” you profess to have “put on Christ.” Now, then, permit me to ask, have you ever felt your need of Christ? Have you ever been conscious of the nakedness of your soul by reason of sin; and of the utter insufficiency of the fig-leaves of your own righteousness to cover your nakedness; and of the indispensable necessity of your being clothed in Christ’s righteousness, in order to your acceptance before God? Have you, under a deep sense of your need of his righteousness, gone to him, and apprehended him, and put him on by faith? and does all your hope of happiness in the eternal world arise from this thought, that God views you, not as you are in yourselves, but as you are in Christ, clothed from head to foot with his unspotted robe, and therefore standing without spot or blemish in the sight of the heart-searching God? Let but conscience return a candid answer to these inquiries, and you will have a perfect insight into your real state before God. You will then see, that, though baptized into Christ, you have never really availed yourselves of your privilege to “put him on.” You are in the state of a widow, who, though entitled to a certain portion of the estate of her deceased husband, neglects to take out administration according to law: she cannot turn any part of the estate to her own account; and must perish with hunger, even as if she had no title whatever to the estate, if she continue to neglect the appointed means of coming to the possession of it. And so must you perish under the guilt of all your sins, if you neglect to put on Christ by faith, and to cover yourselves with the robe of his unspotted righteousness. You may be as observant of the law as ever Paul was in his unconverted state: but yet will you perish for ever, as he also would have done, if you apply not to Christ, that you may “be found in him, not having your own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in him.” As for your baptism, it will avail you nothing without this: for he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God [Note: Rom_2:28-29.].” On the other hand, let me say, that if only you will believe in Christ, though you were the most ignorant of Gentiles or the most abandoned of sinners, you should be accepted in him, and be made partakers of all his blessings, both of grace and glory.]

2.       To those who are Christ’s in reality and truth

[I trust there are many such among you. And what shall I say to you? what but this? Survey the covenant which was made with Abraham, and all the promises contained in it; and say, ‘All these are mine.’ Survey all that Abraham ever possessed, or possesses at this moment at the right hand of God; and then say, ‘As Abraham’s seed, and Abraham’s heir, I am entitled to all of this.’ Go further still, and survey all that Christ himself ever enjoyed, or at this moment enjoys, as the promised Seed of Abraham, and the great Heir of all; and then say, ‘All this also, so far as I am capable of enjoying it, is mine: God is my God, even as he is Christ’s [Note: Gen_17:7. with Joh_20:17.]; and Christ’s throne is my throne: Christ’s kingdom is my kingdom; Christ’s glory, my glory; for “the glory which God has given him, he has given me [Note: Rev_3:21. Joh_17:22.].” ’

What then shall I do, to shew my sense of the benefits conferred upon me? This will I do, to the utmost of my power: I will “put on Christ:” I will put him on daily; so that God shall never see me but as I am in him, covered with the robe of his righteousness; nor shall my fellow-creatures ever see me but as possessing “the very mind which was in Christ [Note: Php_2:5.].” I will “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” even as a man puts on his garments [Note: This is the precise import of Rom_13:14 and refers to the moral image of Christ.]; so that all who see me shall say that I resemble him. I will, God helping me, be “a living epistle of Christ, that shall be known and read of all men [Note: 2Co_2:2-3.];” so that all may know how he walked when on earth, and how he wills that we should walk [Note: 1Jn_2:6.].

This, my beloved brethren, is the true way to prove yourselves Christ’s believing people; and this will bring down to you a heaven upon earth.]