Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
Now the works of the flesh – What the flesh, or what corrupt and unrenewed human nature produces.
Are manifest – Plain, well-known. The world is full of illustrations of what corrupt human nature produces, and as to the existence and nature of those works, no one can be ignorant. It is evident here that the word σὰρξ sarx, “flesh,” is used to denote corrupt human nature, and not merely the body; since many of the vices here enumerated are the passions of the mind or the soul, rather than of the body. Such are “wrath,” “strife,” “heresies,” “envyings,” etc., which cannot be said to have their seat in the body. If the word, therefore, is used to denote human nature, the passage furnishes a sad commentary on its tendency, and on the character of man. It is closely parallel to the declaration of the Saviour in Matthew 15:19. Of the nature of most of these sins, or works of the flesh, it is unnecessary to offer any comment. They are not so rare as not to be well known, and the meaning of the words requires little exposition. In regard to the existence of these vices as the result of human nature, the notes at Romans 1 may be examined; or a single glance at the history of the past, or at the present condition of the pagan and a large part of the Christian world, would furnish an ample and a painful demonstration.
Galatians 5:19-21. Now the works of the flesh — By which that inward corrupt principle is discovered; are manifest — Are plain and undeniable. He says works, in the plural, because those of the flesh are distinct from, and often inconsistent with each other. But the fruit of the Spirit is mentioned in the singular, (Galatians 5:22,) the graces thereof being all consistent, and connected together. Which are these — He enumerates those works of the flesh to which the Galatians were most inclined, and those parts of the fruit of the Spirit of which they stood in the greatest need; adultery — A crime to be considered in the first rank of enormities, as being the most prejudicial to society, destroying conjugal happiness, introducing confusion and ruin into families, alienating the affection of parents from their children, causing them to neglect their education; fornication — Which, how light soever heathen may make it, is in the sight of God a very grievous offence; uncleanness — Of every kind and degree; lasciviousness — All immodesty, as the indulging of wanton thoughts, and reading lascivious books. The Greek word means any thing, inward or outward, that is contrary to chastity; idolatry — The worshipping of idols; this sin is justly reckoned among the works of the flesh, because the worship paid to many of the gods consisted in the most impure fleshly gratifications; witchcraft — Or sorcery, as Macknight renders φαρμακεια, observing, that the expression “being placed immediately after idolatry, means those arts of incantation and charming, and all the pretended communications with invisible and malignant powers, whereby the heathen priests promoted the reverence and worship of their idol gods, and enriched themselves. In this sense the word is used concerning Babylon, (Revelation 18:23,) εν τη φαρμακεια σου, By thy sorcery were all nations deceived; that is, by a variety of wicked arts and cheats, the nations were deluded to support Babylon in her idolatries and corruptions. Hatred — Or enmities, as εχθραι signifies; variance — Ερεις, strifes; emulations — Transports of ill-placed and ill-proportioned zeal; wrath — Θυμοι, resentments; εριθειαι, contentions, as the word appears here to signify; seditions — Or divisions, in domestic or civil matters; heresies — Parties formed in religious communities; who, instead of maintaining true candor and benevolence, renounce and condemn each other. Envyings — Frequently manifesting themselves against the prosperity and success of others; murders — Which are often the effect of such evil dispositions and practices as those above mentioned; and, to complete the catalogue, all kinds of irregular self-indulgence, and particularly drunkenness — Which renders a man worse than a beast; and those disorderly and gluttonous revellings — Or luxurious entertainments, by which the rational powers are, in a great measure, extinguished, or, at least, rendered incapable of performing their offices in a proper manner. Some of the works here mentioned are wrought principally, if not entirely, in the mind, and yet they are called works of the flesh. Hence it is clear that the apostle does not, by the flesh, mean the body, or sensual appetites and inclinations only, but the corruption of human nature, as it spreads through all the powers of the soul, as well as the members of the body; of which I tell you before — Before the event; I forewarn you; as I have told you also in time past — When I was present with you; that they who do such things — Who are guilty of such evil practices; shall not inherit the kingdom of God — Whatever zeal they may pretend for the externals of religion, in any of the forms of it. Awful declaration!
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
5:16-26 If it be our care to act under the guidance and power of the blessed Spirit, though we may not be freed from the stirrings and oppositions of the corrupt nature which remains in us, it shall not have dominion over us. Believers are engaged in a conflict, in which they earnestly desire that grace may obtain full and speedy victory. And those who desire thus to give themselves up to be led by the Holy Spirit, are not under the law as a covenant of works, nor exposed to its awful curse. Their hatred of sin, and desires after holiness, show that they have a part in the salvation of the gospel. The works of the flesh are many and manifest. And these sins will shut men out of heaven. Yet what numbers, calling themselves Christians, live in these, and say they hope for heaven! The fruits of the Spirit, or of the renewed nature, which we are to do, are named. And as the apostle had chiefly named works of the flesh, not only hurtful to men themselves, but tending to make them so to one another, so here he chiefly notices the fruits of the Spirit, which tend to make Christians agreeable one to another, as well as to make them happy. The fruits of the Spirit plainly show, that such are led by the Spirit. By describing the works of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit, we are told what to avoid and oppose, and what we are to cherish and cultivate; and this is the sincere care and endeavour of all real Christians. Sin does not now reign in their mortal bodies, so that they obey it, Ro 6:12, for they seek to destroy it. Christ never will own those who yield themselves up to be the servants of sin. And it is not enough that we cease to do evil, but we must learn to do well. Our conversation will always be answerable to the principle which guides and governs us, Ro 8:5. We must set ourselves in earnest to mortify the deeds of the body, and to walk in newness of life. Not being desirous of vain-glory, or unduly wishing for the esteem and applause of men, not provoking or envying one another, but seeking to bring forth more abundantly those good fruits, which are, through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God.