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An Explication of the Text. Gal. vi. 7. - George Turnbull, The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy, ed. and with an Introduction by Alexander Broadie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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An Explication of the Text.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption: but he that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.5
In these words, we may observe, 1. A rule in the divine moral government, which is indeed the foundation of true religion, asserted in the strongest terms. Be not deceived, let no false teacher deceive you; and take care you do not deceive yourselves, because sin, or the love of vicious pleasure, is deceitful above all things; for whatever you may vainly imagine, whatever you may be inclined or seduced to believe, this is an immutable law in the divine government, “That as one soweth so shall he also reap.” This is the law in all moral systems; and the law with regard to man as he is a rational agent, which God hath, in justice, righteousness and benevolence, established; God, whose counsels cannot be mocked,<2> frustrated or eluded: the law with regard to this our present state, as far as the ends of it require or permit; and the law according to which our fate will be determined in the life to come, to which this is but a prelude; to which this bears the same relation and proportion in the moral world, as seed-time does to harvest in the natural. When God’s scheme of government is so far advanced with respect to every man in particular, and to mankind in general, then shall this most equitable rule be more plainly perceived to have been the measure of the divine conduct with regard to all men, than it can be at present, while we see but so small a part of the system which providence is carrying on to perfection.
Be not deceived, (God is not mocked.) The word mock, (as the learned and worthy Dr. Samuel Clark observes in his excellent sermon on this text)6 which in the new Testament is in the original expressed by two or three synonimous terms, in its literal and most proper sense, signifies deceiving any person, deluding him, or disappointing his expectation. Thus,a when Herod had ordered the wise men to bring him word where Jesus was; and by their returning privately into their own country another way, found himself disappointed of his expectation; the text expresses it, that he saw he was mocked of the wise men. At other times, it signifies affronting or abusing any person by open violence;b and they shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him. And sometimes it signifies pretending obedience and respect by way of derision, in a scornful insulting and despiteful manner. Thus,c when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand for a sceptre, and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him.
In the literal and proper sense (continueth this admirable interpreter) of the phrase, it is impossible in<3> the nature of things, that God should in any of these ways be mocked. But figuratively, consequentially, and in true reality of guilt and folly, all wicked men, who set themselves to oppose God’s kingdom of righteousness; who, without repentance, amendment and obedience to God’s commands, expect to escape, and teach others that they may escape his righteous judgment, are, in the Apostle’s estimation, mockers of God. For,d 1. They, as far as in them lies, confound the necessary reasons and proportions of things, and endeavour to take away the eternal and unchangeable difference of good and evil, which are the general order and rule of God’s creation, and the very foundation of his government over the universe. For what is government, but the preserving of the order and reason of things, and suiting them to the capacities and qualifications of persons? To endeavour therefore, either in doctrine or in practice, to set aside, or to elude this great and essential distinction of things, without which the government, and even the Being of God is of no consequence: what is this but in the highest degree, mocking of God, and taking away the notion of a supreme Lord and Governor of the universe? 2. It is mocking God, because it is an entertaining of very dishonourable and very injurious apprehensions concerning the perfections and attributes of God himself. I speak not now of atheistical persons, of such as directly deny either the being or providence of God; but of such as either carelesly or presumptuously deceive themselves or others, by imagining that God has not so great a concern about moral good and evil, but that they may by some means escape his final wrath, without a life of virtue and true holiness. This, I say, is really and in effect taking away his moral perfections. It is divesting him of those perfections, by which he is (as our Saviour emphatically stiles him) the great king,<4> the supreme governor of rational and moral beings, as well as of the natural world. All attempts to elude the great ends of the divine government, by substituting any thing else whatever in the place of virtue and true righteousness, in the place of temperance, equity, charity and truth, is, in the Apostle’s esteem, a mocking of God. It is such a mockery of him, as really tends more to hurt and efface in men’s minds the true notion of God, and to hinder the efficacy of virtue and goodness in the world, than questioning the very Being of a supreme governor at all. The ungodly has said in his heart, Godhas forgotten, he hideth away his face, and he will never see it. They say, tush, the Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.a 3. As such persons (continueth the same Author) are in the true estimation of things, mockers of God upon all these accounts: so they are still further guilty of the same charge, in perverting the plain revelation of Christ, and overthrowing the whole design of his religion. The great doctrine our Lord came to preach is this, The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he reward every man according to his works.a And the sum of what his Apostles preach amounts always to the same. We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.b
But let us enquire more particularly in to the meaning of this doctrine, to deny which is called deceiving ourselves, nay, mocking God. “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” Because the happiness of the virtuous in a future state is very properly set forth to us in scripture under the notion of reward, and the misery of the wicked under the notion of punishment; therefore men unwilling to part with their vices, are apt to consider such promises and threatnings, as arbitrary<5> positive denunciations, which may be altered, and which God is too good and merciful to execute (as to the punishing part) to the rigor. And to prevent this fatal error concerning God, the Apostle gives us to understand, and calls upon us seriously to attend to it in the most urgent emphatical manner, “That the promises of happiness to the good, and the threatnings of misery to the vicious in a future state, are really kind declarations to us of the great end and purpose of the divine moral government, and of the laws inviolably observed by God in it: declarations of a law, so founded in equity, and so absolutely necessary to the general good of moral beings, and the perfection of the divine administration, that it cannot be altered in any respect or degree: an universal, immutable decree or general rule, without which there can be no moral government, it being involved in the very nature of virtue and vice; or, which comes to the same thing, it being the necessary result of those essential differences of things, which make actions good or bad. And indeed, what distinction can there be between virtue and vice; that is, between the neglect, misuse or abuse, and the right use or suitable exercise of moral powers, if they have not different effects, quite opposite tendencies, influences and consequences?
The apostle, to enforce and illustrate this great truth, makes use of a figurative expression, than which none can be better adapted to express it with full force, or convey a truer and livelier idea of its extent. “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” As men do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles: as the fruit is always of the same kind with the stock that bears it, and the grain reaped is necessarily of the same sort with the seed that was sown; so mens final state of happiness or misery shall be the proper and correspondent effect of their present actions. He that soweth to his flesh (as the apostle expresses it in the following verses)7shall of the flesh reap corruption: but<6> he that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting. “In the present time (saith the incomparable author just quoted, in the same discourse)8 we frequently see this in some degree verified, in what we usually call the natural course and consequences of things. In the future state, after what manner the effects and operations of nature will proceed, we are now altogether ignorant: and therefore we represent to ourselves, very justly and with the greatest reason, every circumstance of that state, as the immediate effect of God’s final judgment, and the direct execution of the irreversible sentence. Yet were we able to discern, or had God thought fit to discover to us, the particulars of the whole proceeding; the difference perhaps of God’s several ways and methods of acting would not appear so great to us as we are apt to imagine. The certainty at least of the connexion, and the proper correspondency of the events, would be altogether as conspicuous, and appear as far removed from any degree of arbitrary uncertainty, in all those things which we ascribe to the immediate judgment of GOD; as in any of those which we now look upon as arising from the natural consequences and connexions of things. For what are the natural consequences and connexions of things, but the result of that order and disposition of things which God originally established in the creation? And the very same power which established and preserves this order of nature, has appointed likewise the connexion of consequences in the progress of the moral state of the world. However different therefore the manner and method of God’s operations may be, in these two different governments of such very different kinds of subjects; yet the operation may in each be equally regular in its kind; and the proper effect or event, corresponding to the antecedent cause, whether in the natural or moral world, may be alike certain and invariable in both. When in the course of nature, we see grain sown in the earth produce regularly and uniformly, after certain<7> stated periods of time, fruit of the same kind with that which was sown; we are very apt to let the wonder slip out of our minds, and lose the whole force of its impression, merely by affixing to it a word of no signification, and calling it by the name of natural: whereas in truth, inanimate nature is nothing but an empty sound; unintelligent agents and powers (as we improperly call them) are nothing but mere instruments; and the whole effect is really the operation of him, who is the Author and GOD of nature. By the disposition and appointment of the same author and ruler of the universe, the moral consequences and connexions of things do, in their proper manner, and at their proper seasons, take place likewise in the world. And could our faculties extend themselves to take in at one view those larger periods of the divine dispensations, on which depends the harmony and beauty of the moral world, in like manner as our experience enables us to contemplate the yearly products of nature; we should then probably be no more struck with wonder at the seeming forbearing of providence to interpose at present, in the ordering of the moral state of the world; than we are now surprized, in the regular course of nature, to see grain lie, as it were, dead in the earth in winter, and seemingly dissolving into corruption, and yet, without fail, at the return of its proper season, bringing forth the certain particular fruit, of which it was the seed. The apostle’s similitude therefore in the text, not only in general is a certain and infallible truth, but very probably may be also a truth which has in itself a more immediate and necessary connexion, than men are usually sensible of. ’Tis not only true, that God has actually set before men such and such promises and threatnings; but probably it will be found true also, at the final issue and event of things, that he has appointed by as close and regular a connexion in morals as in naturals, that whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.<8>
In the natural and material world, the more observations men make, and the greater accuracy they arrive at, and the longer periods of time they are able to take in the more clearly and distinctly do they discern, that in that innumerable variety of the works of God, all things conspire uniformly, with the most exquisite exactness, to produce (and that sometimes out of the greatest seeming confusion) the properest and most regular effects. The moral world is of infinitely greater importance: it is that, for the sake of which this beautiful and stupendous fabrick of the inanimate universe is created, and without which it is nothing. It cannot be doubted then by any reasonable person, but that the same wisdom, which in the unintelligent works of nature, has shewn forth itself in the contrivance of such inexpressible aptnesses and proportions of things; will much more in the government of rational beings (which are in a far nobler and more proper sense, the subjects of God’s power and kingdom) shew forth itself finally, in making every event, through a wonderful variety of different dispensations, terminate at length in most evident and illustrious manifestations of perfect justice, goodness, and truth.
However therefore, melancholy pious persons, patiently persisting in the practice of their duty, may, when they observe how providence, in the present time suffers all things seemingly to go alike to all, be thereby sometimes tempted almost to despond; yet in reality their reward is laid up for them with Godmuch more certainly, than grain which in the winter seems to lie dead in the earth wherein it was sown, may yet be depended upon to bring forth fruit in its proper season. The psalmist expresses this very emphatically: “They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy: he that now goeth on his way weeping, and beareth forth good seed, shall doubtless come again with joy, and bring his sheaves with him.”a The figure is the same with that in the text: and the literal meaning of it is<9> well expressed by the author of the book of wisdom,b “Tho’ they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality; for their reward is with the Lord, and the care of them is with the most High.” And by the apostle himself,a “To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, and honour, and immortality; to them God will give eternal life.” And therefore christians are exhorted,b “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come, will come, and will not tarry.” And St. James in like manner,c “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” On the contrary, however presumptuous and careless persons may deceive themselves with numberless vain imaginations, expecting to reap where they have not sown, and to gather where they have not strawed; yet as certainly as the nature of things is unvaried, and the perfections of God unchangeable, the final issue of things in the future state will be universally, what Job observes it to be sometimes, even in the present state,d “I have seen they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same: by the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils they are consumed.”
So far goes our excellent author from whom all this is taken. Now indeed ’tis evident, that St. Paul in the text is immediately speaking of God’s rule with respect to a future state; whence it plainly follows, that our present state is, with respect to a future life, a probationary state; a state of education, trial, and<10> discipline; a state in which the foundation is laid for our after happiness or misery; or, to keep to the apostle’s excellent similitude, our seed-time, to which it is the harvest. But it is no less plain, that the same rule must take place in God’s government, even in this present state, as far as its being a probationary state, to be compleated in a succeeding life, that shall be exactly proportioned to the foundation laid in this, permits. For it is a rule which an infinitely good and wise Being must adhere to in all his administration. And accordingly the apostle establishes this rule with regard to our future state, upon a principle from which it follows that it must be an universal and perpetual law in the divine government of all moral beings, namely, the absolute moral perfection of the Deity. For his reasoning is briefly to this effect. Think well on the nature and perfections of the Deity, and you must see that it is deceiving yourselves, and entertaining very unjust and unworthy apprehensions of God, to imagine that this is not the method of his administration in the moral world for ever, and therefore in a future state, “That as one soweth, so shall he also reap.” ’Tis indeed only in a future state that it can be fully perceived by us to be the rule in God’s government, because this is but our moral seed-time, and that our harvest. But this is the rule, which the perfections of God oblige him to observe; and it cannot be frustrated or eluded by us. The apostle seems to express this truth by a similitude taken from the order in natural things, as it were on purpose to lead us to conceive, that there is a perfect analogy between the government of the natural world, and that of the moral, as far as the natural differences of the two allow; and therefore that we ought to judge of and account for moral as for natural things. Now in nature the rule is not only, that the harvest is correspondent and proportioned to the seed-time; but that the gradual advances of things in the seed-time to maturity<11> in harvest, are proportioned and correspondent to the seed sown, and the culture and industry bestowed.
But this will be yet clearer, if we attend to what is said in the subsequent verses, to illustrate the general assertion, That whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. “He that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption: but he that soweth to the spirit, shall reap of the spirit life everlasting.”a For here the apostle divides mankind into two classes; or their present conduct into two different sorts of seed-time, each of which shall in a future state have its proper, natural and proportioned effect to the full. Such a division of mankind, almost in the same phrases, is common among ancient moralists. And nothing can be more just, if we rightly consider human nature. For man, as he is now constituted and placed, in order to make nature full and coherent, is neither a merely sensitive, nor a purely rational being; but a compound of these two natures, strictly bound and united together. From which constitution it plainly follows, if the end and purpose of a being may be inferred from its frame and make, that man is made to govern his sensitive appetites by reason, and to attain to a confirmed love of rational pleasure above merely sensitive gratification. Now those who, neglecting the cultivation of their rational part, are entirely immersed in sense, may very properly be said to sow merely to the flesh, to the carnal or sensitive part, to make provision for it only. And, on the contrary, they who give due diligence to improve their rational faculties, to maintain the superiority of reason in their mind, to govern all their sensitive appetites by it, and keep them in due subjection to it, and thus are endeavouring to get the ascendant of sensual pleasures, and to establish in their minds the sincere love of virtue and goodness; such are justly said to sow to the spirit, to<12> sow good moral seed. But if this be the rule in God’s government, “That whatsoever one soweth, that shall he also reap”; then, in consequence of this established order and connexion of things, it must be true, that in a future state, in which our carnal part no longer exists, and where we are far removed from all sensitive enjoyments, the means and instruments of them being then quite destroyed, a neglected, abused, prostituted, corrupted mind, quite a stranger to, and incapable of rational exercises, and the enjoyments resulting from them, must reap a harvest of corruption, disappointment, and anguish. And, on the other hand, those who have given due pains to improve their minds, and prefer virtuous exercises, and the joys these alone can give, to all merely sensitive enjoyments, are thus naturally prepared for reaping full bliss from proper means and occasions of exercising their well-improved moral powers, which accordingly their harvest shall afford them: a bliss which may be justly called, the life everlasting of the spirit, the proper life of rational powers that endureth for ever. For though the compleat fruits of virtue cannot possibly take place till virtue itself be brought by due culture to its maturity and perfection, no more than harvest can prevent seed-time in the natural world: yet, as in the natural seed-time things advance in proportion to culture and industry, and the good seeds sown bringing forth their beautiful pleasant blossoms, bespeak a joyful and plentiful harvest to come in its season; so in our moral seed-time, virtue likewise advances and improves in proportion to the good seed sown, and our diligence to improve it by due culture, and brings forth its pleasant blossoms, which give great satisfaction to the virtuous mind, and plainly betoken a harvest of glorious fruits, and full happiness, to be the natural end to which it is in its progress. Accordingly the immediate fruits of virtue, that is, of rational exercises, and of right culture of the mind, are said in holy writ to be the present<13> reward of virtue; a reward far superior to what any other pursuits can give. The joy and peace of a good conscience are its present attendants; which being of a kind even with the divine felicity, redounding from no other source but his moral perfection, are to us a faint image of it, as our moral perfection is of his; and a sure infallible prognostick of the fulness of bliss, which the maturity of virtue must needs produce, when its harvest comes, but cannot possibly bring forth before that period. Every thing in nature requires culture and proper seasons to bring it to its proper perfection. And gradual improvement to moral maturity and vigour, by due labour to cultivate virtue, by making the best use one can of all the seasons and circumstances it may now be placed in, is implyed in the very idea and definition of virtue. ’Tis here therefore in its state of education and trial; and the pleasures now accompanying its exercises are as natural a presage of the happiness that will arise from its perfection, when placed in circumstances fitted and proportioned to it, according to the established order and connexion of things in the moral world, as the pleasures and beauty of the spring, or of harvest advancing gradually, are of a good one to come in its due season according to the settled order of nature.
This is the plain meaning and sense of the account given by St. Paul in the text, of that rule adhered to by God in his government of moral beings; to think of altering, eluding, or disappointing which, is not only a gross deceit, but downright mocking of God; since it is a rule necessarily resulting from those moral attributes essential to God, which all his works clearly manifest to every one who will but seriously consider and take a right view of them.
Let me only add, that if this passage should be thought to relate only to charity; because the apostle is speaking immediately before of communicating to him that teacheth in all good things;a and sowing is a metaphor frequently<14> used by St. Paul, for mens laying out their worldly goods in charitable uses:b yet what he adds of sowing to the flesh and to the spirit, a way of speaking common in scripture to denote the various conduct of good and bad men, and the different fruits and consequences of good and bad conduct in that future life, which is the completion of things, seems to favour our understanding it in a larger sense, which doth not render it a less proper motive to the apostle’s exhortation. Nay, without taking it in that large sense, as expressing a general rule in the divine administration of moral beings, the apostle’s reasoning is hardly intelligible. For how can we conceive that it is by charity alone that we can sow to the spirit, and to eternal life, unless charity be taken for the whole of virtue? Can charity supply the want of all the other virtues? May not one give largely of his worldly goods to the poor, and yet be very carnally minded? Can charitable deeds attone for a bad life? Or finally, how can we imagine, that it is mocking God, to suppose that charity shall not be rewarded by its proper fruits in a future state; and yet that it may be supposed, without mocking God, that other virtues shall not also have their own proper rewards in it by their own fruits; or that it is not repugnant to the divine perfections to imagine, this is not the general rule with regard to the conduct of moral beings in the divine government, “That whatsoever one soweth, that shall he also reap?”
But tho’ this passage should not be allowed to mean such a general rule in the divine administration of moral beings, yet that rule will be found to be the plain and direct doctrine of the holy scriptures in numberless passages, and very often in the same manner of expression.c <15>
This passage doth therefore necessarily presuppose or include in it the truth of the following propositions, each of which will appear, as we proceed, to be the express doctrine of revelation in many other places of holy writ, or a direct consequence from an express doctrine; and, at the same time, to be either demonstratively certain from the nature and course of things, and the perfections of God; or, at least, highly probable.
[5. ]Gal. 6.7–8.
[6. ]Clarke, Sermon 119, in Works, 2:29–31.
[a. ]Matth. ii. 16.
[b. ]Matth. xx. 19.
[c. ]Matth. xxvii. 29. d.
[d. ]I abridge Dr. Clark’s Commentary a little.[Samuel Clarke (1675–1729): “God is not mocked,” Sermon 119, in Works, vol. 2.
[a. ]Psal. x. 12. xciv. 7.
[a. ]Matth. xvi. 27.
[b. ]2 Cor. v. 10.
[7. ]Gal. 6.8.
[8. ]Clarke, Sermon 119, in Works, 2:27–28.
[a. ]Ps. cxxvi. 5–6.
[b. ]Chap. iii. 4. and v. 15.
[a. ]Rom. ii. 7.
[b. ]Heb. x. 35–37.
[c. ]Ch. v. 7.
[d. ]Ch. iv. 8–9.
[a. ]Gal. vi. 8.
[a. ]Gal. vi. 6.
[b. ]Rom. viii. 1, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12.
[c. ]Job xxxiv. 9, 10, 11, 12, compared with Job iv. 8. Prov. i. 31. xxii. 8. xxix. 12. Ps. lxii. 12. Eccles. xii. 14. Is. iii. 10, 11. Jer. ii. 19. xvii. 10. Mat. x. 41, xii. 31, &c. xvi. 27. Luke xii. 47. xix. 16, 17. Rom. ii. 6. 1 Cor. iii. 8, 14. xv. 41, 58. 2 Cor. v. 10. 1 Pet. i. 17. Rev. ii. 23. xx. 12, 13. xxii. 11, 12.