William Nicholson, 1862
"I have doubts about you!" Galatians 4:20
Pious and faithful ministers wish to promote the spiritual interest of their people. Paul, well knowing the state of the church at Galatia, expresses the most painful apprehensions on their account, verses 19, 20. Their attachment to Christianity was abating, through the influence of false teachers. In forming an opinion of our brethren, it requires the exercise of that charity which "suffers long," etc.
But charity, with all its kindness, cannot tolerate sin; "it rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth."
I. Notice Those People Whose Religion Is Liable to Suspicion."I have doubts about you!"
1. I have doubts about those who have long attended the means of grace, and yet are very defective in knowledge. May it not be said of some of you, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food!" Hebrews 5:12.
Some may have heard the gospel for years, and yet cannot give a distinct and satisfactory answer to some of the most important and plainest questions on the doctrines of the Gospel.
2. I have doubts about those who possess much knowledge, but are puffed up with it. Sometimes where there is much knowledge — there is little grace. Divine knowledge is more valuable than rubies — but its utility is neutralized by pride, which is like the fly in the apothecary's ointment. Such pride of knowledge is put to shame by the declaration of an ancient philosopher: "That after all he knew, he only knew this — that he knew nothing."
Knowledge must be accompanied with grace in the heart, otherwise it will only serve as a lamp to illumine the way leading to Hell. People having knowledge without grace, resemble the fallen angels, who have extensive intelligence, but no grace.
3. I have doubts about those who contend for doctrinal religion, rather than for that which is practical and experimental. We are not to be indifferent about the principles of Christianity. But where people are extremely precise about minor points, and neglect the religion of the heart, etc. They are like the Pharisees who were punctilious enough in tithing mint, anise, and cummin — while they neglected the weightier matters of the law — judgment, faith, and the love of God. Eternal life depends not on disputation, etc. — but on being born again, etc.
3. I have doubts about those who waver in their attachment to the fundamental principles of the Gospel. The Christians at Galatia were wavering, in consequence of the influence of Judaizing teachers, who wished to turn their minds from Christianity to Judaism. The faith once delivered to the saints is to be earnestly contended for, and not easily surrendered.
Many run well for a time, but are afterwards hindered, and like the Galatians, ch. 3:3. Paul was afraid lest the Corinthians, through the subtlety of Satan, should be tempted to do the same, 1 Corinthians 11:2, 3. Professors are in danger of being like, "children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting!" Ephesians 4:14
How firm was the attachment of Paul! "I am determined," etc. "God forbid," etc.
5. I have doubts about those who neglect the ordinances of God's House. A real Christian can say with David, "One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple!" Psalm 27:4.
Some professors are very remiss in attending the means of grace, attending only when inclination or convenience may serve. One Sunday they expect visitors, another they have some domestic arrangement to make, and another they are hindered by the weather. Some plead distance as an excuse for their absence, others the lack of suitable apparel. And some who do attend, come late, and are weary long before the service is over. Some yield to almost imperceptible sickness, which would not be allowed to hinder from pursuing their worldly avocations.
This gives cause for suspicion, "I have doubts about you!"
Some attend public worship, but not the more private means of grace. Such souls are not in health, and cannot prosper.
6. I have doubts about those who neglect Devotional exercises. Spiritual declension generally begins at the prayer-closet. Neglecting meditation, self-examination, reading the Scriptures and private prayer, or performing them in a superficial manner, and with great reluctance — is sufficient to create suspicion.
The resolution of the Psalmist was a noble one. Psalm 141:2. I stand in doubt of you who have families, but no family worship. Though you are daily, hourly, and every moment receiving blessings from Heaven — yet you have no family altar, on which to offer the morning and evening sacrifice of a grateful heart. You are unlike Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who, wherever they went, raised an altar to the Lord. You are unlike Joshua, who said, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD!" Joshua 24:15
You are unlike Daniel, who neither allowed the affairs of state, nor the threatenings of the den of lions to prevent him praying to God. Such remissness testifies to your children, the doubtful nature of your religious profession.
7. I have doubts about those who do not co-operate with the Church to advance the kingdom of Christ in the world. True believers are the servants of Christ, and laborers together with God; and they are bound by the love of Christ in dying for them, to employ all that they have and are to promote his glory. But to stand aloof — to do nothing, give nothing, etc. This must, of necessity, lead to doubts as to such person's spiritual vitality.
vain and trifling conversation;
unnecessary association with the ungodly;
extreme eagerness after worldly substance;
neglecting to lay up treasure in Heaven, etc.
All these things indicate spiritual declension. "I have doubts about you!"
II. The Improvement to Be Made of the Subject.
1. It should lead to the duty of self-examination. Is my religion doubtful? Do I come under any of the descriptions given?
2. It shows the loss and danger of people so characterized. They lose . . .
the benefits of faith,
the sweets of holy labor, and
the influence of Christian hope.
While others flourish in the courts of God — they are perpetually exclaiming. "Oh, my lameness, my lameness!"
Such a state is also dangerous. What if death should come — the loins not girded — the lamp not burning? How solemn it would be to go to the bar of judgment in such a state would be to hear, "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity; I never knew you!"
3. It should lead to repentance and faith in the Redeemer's sacrifice. "Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, which are ready to die."
4. While Christians exercise a godly jealousy over others — let them watch with much greater jealousy over themselves. When Christ told his disciples that one of them should betray him, every one, except the traitor, said, "Lord, is it I?" We should be greatly concerned about, and judge ourselves. "But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment!" 1 Corinthians 11:31.
Is there a mote in our brother's eye? Probably there is a beam in our own! Matthew 7:1-5.