Men Bewitched

“O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”

Galatians 3:1

WITH very great enthusiasm the Galatians received the Gospel when Paul preached it to them. They seem to have been a very warm-hearted but fickle people and Paul found to his great grief that while he was away from them, certain false teachers came in and turned them aside from the Gospel which he had delivered to them. He spoke out very plainly about the matter. In this verse he uses very strong terms, while he says to them–“O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth?” I do not know that any such witchery has fallen upon any of you, but I do know that, being men, we are all subject to the same dangers and I know, also, that there is a witchery in the very air at this time so that many are to be found throughout the Churches of this land to whom these words might be justly spoken.

We can only hope to escape this evil which Paul so severely condemns by the use of right cautionary means. It is only, in fact, as the Holy Spirit shall keep us that we shall be preserved from the fascinations of error and kept true to the grand old Gospel of the blessed God. At this time I shall very briefly speak, in the first place, upon the subtle danger which is hinted at here–“Who has bewitched you?” Secondly, at more length I shall speak upon the blessed preservative–there is no way of being kept from this witchery like having Christ Jesus, evidently crucified, set forth among us. And, thirdly, a few words, in closing, upon the supreme folly of any who, having tried this Divine preservative, nevertheless become bewitched by error.

  1. First, then, let us think of THE SUBTLE DANGER which is always around us. It was hard work to preach the Gospel, at first, among the heathen. Men had to lay down their lives to do it. They had to propound new things which the heathen mind did not readily receive. But, by the power of the Spirit of God, converts were made and Churches were formed. And now came another difficulty. Even those that were converted, or appeared to be so, became suddenly, as it were, bewitched with error of one kind or another, just as in families children are suddenly taken ill with certain complaints which seem incidental to childhood. If parents had never heard of such things before, they would be astonished! They would suppose that they must lose their children when such unaccountable diseases suddenly appeared in them and yet they survive.

In the family of Christ certain epidemics break out at times. We cannot tell why they come when they do and, at first, perhaps, we are puzzled and perplexed to think that such diseases should come at all. But they do come and, therefore, it is well to be on our guard against them. Paul calls it being bewitched because these people fell into strange error–error which had no argument to back it–error surprising and startling. He seems to say, “I cannot make it out. I cannot understand how you should be thus misled.” In Paul’s day the error was generally that of Judaism. They wanted to go back to circumcision and to the old sacrifices of the Law. Paul was indignant enough about this. “I testify,” he said, “to everyone of you, that if he is circumcised, he is a debtor to keep the whole Law and he has fallen from Grace. If you go back to the old beggarly elements of Judaism, you are leaving Christ and rejecting Christ and imperiling your souls.”

He declares that he could not understand how they should wish to do it. He calls it witchery, for in his day it was believed that men could cast an evil spell upon one another and thus work evil upon their fellow men. It seemed to Paul to be something like that–as if the devil, himself, were in it and came and turned men away from Christ Jesus to go back to trusting in the Law and its obsolete ceremonies. And it was not long before Paul found another kind of error in the Church. There came in among the most humble Believers certain men of education who thought themselves highly intelligent–men who knew something about Socrates and Plato–and they said, “These doctrines are too plain. The poor people understand them and they come into the Church, but no doubt they have a deeper meaning intended only for the initiated.”

So they began to spiritualize everything and, in the process, they spirited away the very Gospel itself! Paul could not endure it. He said that though he or an angel from Heaven should preach any other Gospel than that which he had preached, it would be a cursed deed! Whether it were Judaism, or Gnosticism, he smote it heavily and said to those who fell into it, “Who has bewitched you?” You who read Church history know that in later ages the Church fell into Arianism. There were great disputes about the Deity of Christ and the air, for a long time, was full of that deadly plague. When that battle was over and such men as Athanasius had settled the question of our Redeemer’s Godhead, then came up all the superstitions of Rome–that awful midnight, black with murky clouds, which covered the Church for ages.

Indeed, if we look back on history, it seems like a witchcraft, that men who had the Gospel preached among them in all its glorious simplicity, should, after all, submit their minds to such debasing falsehoods as those of old Rome. They prostrated themselves before images of wood and stone after the heathen manner, even as their pagan forefathers did! At this present time it is a marvel to some of us how the Churches have been bewitched again. When I was a boy, I recollect hearing Mr. Jay say, “Puseyism is a lie!” I remember the words coming just like that from his reverend lips and everybody, or nearly everybody, fought with him. It was an amazing event if a high Church or ritualistic place was set up. Everybody was astonished at it and, if you said, “This is the Church of England and this is according to her Prayer-Book,” everybody said you were uncharitable and that it was not so. They pitied our fears and said that a dozen men were going towards Rome and that was all.

Look now, Sirs–these things are openly done! Our parish Churches are commonly turned into mass houses and the Church of England is slightly to be distinguished, in many parishes, from the Church of Rome! And yet nobody is astonished! And, if we make a remark about it, we are set down as bigoted. Who has bewitched this Protestant land? With Smithfield scarcely yet swept of the ashes of her martyrs, they set up the crucifix again! What would Oliver Cromwell say if he and his Ironsides could come back to see what they are making of this land? I know some strong things he would say and, as I cannot speak such vigorous words as he would have uttered, I leave the subject with words borrowed from Paul which well suit the case–“O foolish Englishmen, who has bewitched you, that you should thus turn aside?”

Nor is this all. You see this witchery in another way among our dissenting Churches. At a time not yet forgotten Unitarianism and Socinianism gradually crept into Non-conforming congregations and the pulpits lost their testimony for Christ. The Meeting Houses were deserted and true religion seemed dying out of the land. Then came Whitefield and Wesley and all their troop of Methodists and the blessed flame that was almost quenched burned up again and we, of this generation, have said one to another, “That experiment will never be repeated–the Non-conformist Churches will never go in that direction again–they know better! They see the ill-effect of this modern teaching and they will now stick to the grand old Gospel.”

So I dreamed! But I dream in that way no longer, for scarcely do I look anywhere but I find the Gospel of Christ diluted, the milk of the Word adulterated and the grand Gospel, as Luther and Calvin would have thundered it out, seldom enough to be heard! O foolish Non-conformists, who has bewitched you that you should not obey the Truth of God, but should seek after this novelty and the other–this refinement and the other–and let your God and Savior go? As for us, if we stand alone, God forbid that we should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! This is the peril.

II. Our second head is THE ONLY PRESERVATIVE. The Apostle says that the Galatians had had Christ set forth before their eyes crucified among them. Well then, if you want to be kept right and sound in the faith, the first thing is to get the right Subject fixed in the center of your hearts–Jesus Christ Crucified! Paul says that he preached that. He set Jesus forth. Whatever else he might not have made clear, he did set forth the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Beloved, settle this in your soul, that your only hope and the main Subject of your meditation shall always be Jesus Christ! Whatever I do not know, O my Lord, help me to know You! Whatever I do not believe, enable me to believe You and to trust You and to take Your every Word as the very Truth of God which it is!

Beloved, away with the religion that has little of Christ in it. Christ must be Alpha and Omega, First and Last. The religion that is made up of our works and our feelings and our willings is a lie! Our religion must have Christ for the Foundation, Christ as the Cornerstone, Christ as the Top Stone! And if we are not based and bottomed, grounded and settled upon Him, our religion is in vain. Paul wonders that any to whom Christ has been the chief thing should ever have been bewitched and I think that if Christ is really such to your souls, you will not turn aside through error, but Christ Crucified will hold you fast.

But Paul says not only that he had preached Christ to them, but that he had set Him forth, by which I understand that he had taken pains to make everything about Christ clear to them. He had preached His Person as Man and God. He had preached His work as the atoning Sacrifice. He had preached Him as risen and pleading before the Throne of God. He had preached Him as our Substitute. He had made this the main doctrine–that if we are saved, we are saved by the Righteousness of Christ and our sin is put away because Christ bore it in our place and suffered the penalty due for it that the Justice of God might be satisfied and we might be saved. That is what He means by Christ Crucified.

He had gone into details on this point and set forth the glorious doctrines which cluster about the Cross. Brothers and Sisters, if you want to be kept from the modern witcheries, think much of Christ and go into detail about Him. Be familiar with His Divine Person. Be well acquainted with His relationships and His offices–know what He is in the Covenant of Grace, what He is to the Father, what He is to you! Oh seek to know Him! He yet surpasses knowledge, but be students of Christ! Do not have a mere superficial knowledge of Him, but seek to know Christ and to be found in Him. This will keep you free from error.

When the Apostle says that He set Christ forth, he means, next, that he had done it with great plainness. The Greek word has to do with a program or a proclamation. It is as good as to say, “I have set Christ before you as plainly as if I had printed a great bill and stuck it up before your eyes. I have put the letters down in capitals, as a King, when he makes a proclamation, puts it on the walls and calls attention to it. So,” says Paul, “I have set forth Christ before you. I have not talked of Him in a mystical way, so that you did not know what I meant, but I have set Him forth. I have said of Him that He suffered in our place and was made a curse for us, as it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree.’” Paul set forth Jesus plainly.

Now, you know the way in which Jesus Christ is preached by some. It was well described by old Dr. Duncan when he said, “They preach that the death of Christ, in some way or other, had some sort of connection, in some way or other, with the salvation of men.” Yes, that is it–misty, cloudy, foggy–a bottle of smoke! We do not preach Christ in that way, but we just say this, “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” And because He was oppressed and He was afflicted in our place, therefore does God most freely remit the sin of Believers and bid them go their way. Substitution–may we never stammer over that–Christ in the sinner’s place!

Beloved, if you will get a hold of that Truth and get it well worked into your soul, you will be more than a match for the ritualism or rationalism of this age. Give up that doctrine? The man who has once drunk it in and knows its sweetness cannot give it up, for he gets to feel that, having once believed it, it acts in him as a detector by which he discovers what is false doctrine and it gives him a taste which makes false doctrine loathsome to him so that he cries, “Away with it!” If anything contrary to this comes before him, he does not timidly say, “Everybody has a right to his opinion.” No! He says, “Yes, they may have a right to their opinion and so have I to mine and my opinion is that any opinion which takes away from the glory of Christ’s substitutionary Sacrifice is a detestable opinion.” Get the real Atonement of Christ thoroughly into your soul and you will not be bewitched!

Nor is this all. Paul says that Christ was set forth crucified visibly among them. Did you ever see Christ in this way? I do not ask whether you ever saw a vision. Who wishes for that? I do not ask whether your imagination was so worked upon that you thought you saw the Savior. There would be no particular use in that, for thousands did actually see Him on the Cross and they thrust out their tongues at Him and perished in their sins! But let me tell you that it is one of the most strengthening things to our piety to get to feel, by faith, as though we did behold the Savior! We do not expect to see Him until He comes, yet when we have been alone in our chamber we have as much realized His Presence without the use of our eyes as if we had literally seen Him.

He has been certainly sensibly crucified before us, for this is the point. He says that he had set forth Christ with such vividness–he had word-painted so thoroughly well, he had spoken so plainly and so simply–that they seemed to say, “We see it! Christ in our place! Christ bleeding for our sin!” They seemed to see Him as if He were before them in their midst. My dear Friends, do not say, “Christ died on Calvary. That is thousands of miles off.” I know that He did, but what does it matter where He died as to locality? He loved you and gave Himself for you. Let Him be to you as though He were crucified at Newington–and as though His Cross were in the middle of this Tabernacle!

“Oh, but He died 1900 years ago.” I know He did, but the efficacy of His death is a thing of today! “He died unto sin once”–and that once pours the splendor of its efficacy all down the ages and the thing for you to do is to feel as if you saw Him dying now, on the Cross now–with you standing at the foot of the Cross and looking up and seeing Him looking down from that Cross and saying, “I did all this for you.” Cannot you ask the Lord to make it as vivid as that to you? I need, while I am looking upon this great throng, to forget you all and to see Jesus standing here with the nail prints! Oh, if I could see Him, how humbly I would throw myself at His feet! With what love would I embrace Him! With what reverence would I adore Him!

But, my Master, I am so sure of the fact that You did die in my place and that my sins were laid on You, that even now I see You discharging all my debt and bearing all my curse. Though You are gone to Glory, yet I vividly realize that You were here. This has become a fact to me. Whenever you get into company where they are talking about the Doctrines of Grace and sneering about them and whenever you get into another class of company where they say, “Away with your simple worship of God! You must have priests and incense and altars and all”–do not argue with them. Get alone and ask to see Jesus Christ over again. See if there is anything of popish finery about Him! See if there is anything of this philosophy, falsely so called, about Him!

You will determine as soon as you have seen Him that you will call everything else vanity and lies and bind His Gospel to your heart! The Cross is the school of orthodoxy. Endeavor to stay there! While I have been alone on the Continent I have, in my quiet moments, had realizations of my Master’s Presence and then I have wished that I could borrow the wings of a dove, so that I might, then and there, stand up and talk to you. I have been very sick and full of pain and depressed in spirit and I have judged myself to be, of all men, most unworthy and I judged truly. I still stand to that judgment. I felt myself only worthy to be shaken like dust from off the feet of my Lord and cast into the bottomless pit forever.

Then it was that my Substitute was my hope and in my lonely chamber at Mentone I clung to His dear garment! I looked into His wounds! I trusted myself with Him, again, and I know that I am a saved man! I tell you there is no salvation in any other, but only in Jesus! You will not be led away to any other doctrine if you will return continually to this Truth of God. Some men want a sound pummeling with affliction to get them to love Christ. And some old professors need a touch of poverty, sometimes, or a little affliction, or a rack of rheumatism and that brings them to their bearings and they begin to cry out after realities and get rid of whims and fancies!

When it comes to close dealings between God and your soul–and death stares you in the face–nothing will do but a crucified Redeemer and no confidence will do but a sinner’s childlike reliance upon the finished work of Him who suffered in our place! I speak strongly, but I feel a thousand times more strongly than I can speak.

III. The last point is THE SUPREME FOLLY of those who would leave Jesus for anything else. Suppose that a man should once have simply trusted in Jesus Christ and have realized the death of Christ and have come into real contact with the dying, bleeding Master. And suppose that, after that, he should begin to put his confidence in priests and sacraments. Or, suppose that he should, after that, put on his lavender kid gloves and become a philosopher–what would he be? Now, do not tell anybody, I pray you. Keep it to yourselves! The Apostle Paul did not affect the manners of a gentleman, but he spoke very plainly, indeed. Do not tell your learned neighbors that I said it, because I did not say it–it is Paul that said it! He says that a man who should do that would be A FOOL!

“Oh, foolish Galatians!” What are you saying, Paul? They have only been decorating their service–surely you cannot object to that! Don’t you know, Paul, that the old Jewish priest used to wear a splendid breastplate worked with jewels and he had an ephod adorned with bells and pomegranates? Surely in the worship of God we ought to do things decorously and properly! And on this plea these Galatians have exceedingly decked themselves out. “They are foolish Galatians!” Paul says. Very rude of him, mark you–very rude of him! But I shall not attempt to excuse him, for I fully endorse his verdict.

But here is a gentleman who has been reading Plato and, after reading Plato, he has been reading the words of Jesus Christ and he says that they do not mean what the common people think they mean–he says there is a very mysterious philosophical sense hidden within them. For instance, when Jesus Christ says, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment,” it does not mean at all what the words say! It means that they shall ultimately be restored. Now, Paul, this gentleman is a philosopher–what do you say of him? He says, “He is foolish!” That is all he says and all that he needs to say, for learned folly is folly at its height! “Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?”

Why do we think these people foolish? Because we should be foolish, ourselves, if we were to do the same! A good many years ago, when I was about 15 or 16 years of age, I needed a Savior and I heard the Gospel preached by a poor man who said, in the name of Jesus–“Look unto Me and be you saved, all the ends of the earth.” It was very plain English and I understood it and obeyed it and found rest! I owe all my happiness, since then, to the same plain doctrine. Now, suppose that I were to say, “I have read a great many books and there are a great many people willing to hear me. I really could not preach such a commonplace Gospel as I did at the first. I must put it in a sophisticated way so that none but the elite can understand me”?

I would be–what would I be? I would be a FOOL, written in large capital letters! I would be worse than that–I should be a traitor to my God, for if I was saved by a simple Gospel, then I am bound to preach that same simple Gospel till I die so that others, too, may be saved by it! When I cease to preach salvation by faith in Jesus, put me into a lunatic asylum, for you may be sure that my mind is gone. There are hundreds of you who feel perfectly happy in Christ. You believe that all your sins are washed away, that you are justified by the Righteousness of Christ and accepted in the Beloved. Now, suppose that you give that up and say, “Instead of believing in Christ’s dying once and making an Atonement, I am going to believe in the perpetual sacrifice offered by a human being in the ‘mass’”?

You would be very foolish! Suppose that, instead of trusting in Jesus Christ for perfect pardon and justification, so that you know that there is no condemnation to you because you are in Christ Jesus, you go back to works and say, “I am going to work out my own salvation by my own good works”? You would be foolish to the last degree and you would soon discover the fact by the misery that would come over your spirit. Look again! When you have lived nearest to Christ and trusted most in Him, have you not felt most desire after holiness? Now, tell me, if you have tried the modern views, what state of mind have you been in with regard to your daily walk?

I will tell you. You could, with those modern views, frequent the theater and the music hall and feel quite easy. And you could do a sharp trick in business and feel comfortable. But you know that when you have seen Christ you cannot do anything of the kind! You are sanctified by His Presence. You feel a strong desire after perfect purity. You feel a horror and a dread of sin. You walk tenderly and cautiously and you are bowed down by distress of mind at the thought of your imperfections. Judge, then, which must be the right doctrine–that which makes you most holy must certainly be true! But if you turn away from your Lord, whose very Presence breathes sanctification and communion with Him is sure to bring holiness, you will be a fool! And we shall have to say, “Oh, foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?”

During the last few meetings that we have had here, my dear Brothers Fullerton and Smith have been preaching the Gospel–the straight-out Gospel of Jesus Christ. And at one meeting, held afterwards, there were scores of persons who rose up to tell of what that ministry had done for their souls by God the Holy Spirit. There were thieves reclaimed, drunks reclaimed, harlots reclaimed, great sinners reclaimed! Well, now, suppose that, after all, some of you ladies and gentlemen should say, “We see what the Gospel can do, but we are going to try something else”? You would be fools! I am always ready to try a new machine–we will try the electric light one of these days instead of gas when we are sure of it–but suppose that it should all go out and leave us in the dark! I will wait till the invention has been tested!

So it may happen with the new religious lights that men bring up which are like dim rush lights compared with the blazing sun of Gospel Truth–we are not going to try anything new to the risk of our souls. We are going to keep to the old, old Gospel until it is worn out. When it gets worn out and will not save any more and will not comfort any more and will not draw us near to God any more, then will be the time for us to think of something fresh. But as that has not come to pass, I beg to say that I will drive another nail into my old colors and fasten them anew to the old mast!

What I have preached among you these 26 years I will preach again, for I am determined to know nothing among men but Christ and Him Crucified! And may neither the preacher become a fool, nor any of his hearers become fools, by being bewitched, so that they forsake the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ! Oh that you all knew its power and were all saved by it! God grant that you may be, for Jesus' sake. Amen.