The first section of the chapter is devoted to the contrast of the principles of law and of faith, not exactly of promise, but of faith. The part which follows takes up the subject of promise, and shows the mutual relations of law and promise; but the early verses are devoted to a wider domain. For we must bear in mind that faith has a variety of sphere and operation, beside the promise of God. There is no doubt that the promises belong to faith; but then it may embrace and profit by much more than what was (not revealed, but) promised. For when we talk of promises, it is not merely the general blessings God speaks of, such as His grace to guilty sinners, but certain definite privileges which were assigned beforehand to Abraham, and are now "yea and amen" in all their spiritual power in Christ - promises which will, in a future day, be fulfilled to the letter as well as in spirit, when it pleases God to convert His ancient people. Then there will be the wonderful display of all blessing, heavenly and earthly, made good through the same glorious person, the source and centre of it all, the Lord Jesus Christ. But in the part of the chapter before us, it is not so much a question of promise, but rather how the blessing is to be got at all.
The Galatians had been brought, not long since, under the immense privilege of the apostle's preaching, into the enjoyment of the power and blessing of Christianity; and now, sad to say, they were in danger of slipping away, and they had lost the sense of grace in their souls. By what means had they originally received blessing from God? This question was raised by the last verse of the chapter before. Because the apostle had there pressed home the great point the Holy Spirit is illustrating in this epistle, namely, that it is not the law, but the grace of God in Christ, that freely gives all the blessing the Christian enjoys. He had brought us up to this already, that "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." He showed how this came to pass in his own case, who was a Jew, and was therefore necessarily under the law of God in a way in which no Gentile, as such, could be; how it was that he had been delivered from it and could now adopt such different language. He says, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." So that, in one point of view, he speaks of himself as dead, in another as alive; but that life in which he lived now, was Christ in him. The old "I" he treats as a dead thing. All that constituted his natural character, the old self which was amenable to the law, is treated as crucified. The reason is obvious. What is the spring of a man's energy and the end of everything in this world? What mingles with and corrupts all thoughts and desires? It is self. Whether you look at courage, or generosity, or care for one's family, and country, and religion - all these things had been found in Paul before conversion; but one thing lay deeper than any other, and that was self. Yet was it all slain in the cross of Christ, which judged his whole moral being as being founded upon that which was corrupt - i. e., himself. Paul's character was dealt with from its inmost depths. Henceforward he starts from the principle of having now another for his life, even Christ; and while he was found entering into His love, and carrying out His will, it was Christ, an object before him, who was the power of life, through the Holy Ghost, in him.
Nor is this peculiar to some; on the contrary, Christ is the life of every Christian, but it may not be always manifested. You may find the old man breaking out in pride, vanity, love of ease, the force of old habits. Where this is the case, it is, of course, the old nature allowed to show itself afresh through lack of occupation with Christ and the exercise of self-judgment.
There can be no such thing as Christ dead in us, so to speak; but when, practically, we are not living on Christ, this soon works out, and betrays itself in our ways, which brought Christ to the cross. The apostle had come to this point: it was Christ living in him, not the law. "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." All that the law could do was to bring in its killing power upon them that were under it. There was no striving, as we often see in these days, to keep the law in a spiritual way now that he was converted; but "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." That expression, "live unto God," is very serious and beautiful. The law never produced life in a single soul: it kills. Whereas here you find Paul dead to the law, but alive unto God on a totally different principle. The question was, How did this life come? If all that the law did was to bring conscious death upon his soul, (which refers to his going through the sense of condemnation before God,) what is the spring of the new life? Not the law, but Christ. He has done with the law, in Christ, and he is left free, yea, and has life in him to live unto God. Hence he says, "Not I, but Christ liveth in me." So that this shows us not only the source and character of the new life, but that it is all sustained by the self-same thing which gave it existence. As it was the faith of Christ that produced the life, so it is the faith of Christ that is its power. A person may admire what is good and lovely, but this is another thing from being it. And what gives power? Looking to Christ; the soul feasting itself upon Christ. The objective means is Christ "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God" - they did - "for if righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." It was their principle that righteousness came by the law, and not alone in Christ dead and risen. Then, says he, if it be so, "Christ is dead in vain." Were it merely a question of the law, all the necessity would have been that Christ should live and strengthen us to keep the law. But He is dead. Their doctrine, he insists, makes Christ to be dead gratuitously; whereas it is in truth the essential thing, the very and only way in which the grace of God comes to the soul.
Having touched upon this great truth, he cannot refrain from an abrupt and startling rebuke, as he feels, by the contrast, how grievous the loss was. "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you [that ye should not obey the truth]?" The expression, "that ye should not obey the truth," is one brought in from Gal_5:7. "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" There it is most undeniably and properly inserted, but here it is left out in the best copies of the epistle. I am not founding anything upon it, but merely state the fact by the way, because it is right to do so on fitting occasions. One main form of this meddling with Scripture consisted in transplanting a text, or phrase, that is perfectly true in its right place, from some other part of Scripture. "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? "It is plain that he draws particular attention to the cross of Christ - not merely to His blood, or His death, but to His cross. And you will observe, if you examine the word of God, that the particular form in which Christ's death - is set forth by the Holy Ghost, is invariably in connection with the use which has to be made of it practically. Throughout the Hebrews the point, with a little but weighty exception, is not the cross, but the blood of Christ; while in the Romans it is mainly His death, the blood often, but death the grand staple of the argument. Why does the Holy Ghost here say, not merely that He shed His blood, (which is the thing that a Christian, happy in the knowledge of forgiveness; would dwell upon,) but "crucified among you?" There is nothing in vain in Scripture: there is no bringing anything into prominence without a divine reason for it. The crucifixion puts shame upon man, and upon the flesh more than any other thing. The effect of Christ's death, simply, does not give me man made nothing of, end the utter worthlessness of human nature as before God. When the apostle wants to show the absolute separation of the Christian from the world, he says, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." Now it is plain that this is a much graver and more forcible way of putting the case. There is nothing the world counted so foolish as the cross. Philosophers scorned the notion that a divine person should thus die: it was something that seemed so weak and objectless. They had no just sense of the horribleness of sin, of man's positive enmity to God, and of His solemn, eternal judgment. The cross is the means of bringing all out. But more than that; the cross not merely shows what the flesh is, and the world, but it also proves the hopelessness of looking to the law to bring in blessing, save in a negative way. There is such a thing as the power of the law to kill, but not to quicken; Christ alone does this.
The apostle puts it to their own recollection and experience, how it was that the Spirit had been received, and miracles wrought, and they had got blessing. Was it by the law? The Galatians were heathens, worshipping stocks and stones, and it was out of this state that they were brought, not by the law, but by the knowledge of Christ. This puts it in a very pungent, as well as effective, form. Had it been God's way to have used the law as a means, would He not have employed the Apostle Paul to bind it upon them? But nothing of the kind. He had brought forth God before them in His holy, saving love. In the sermon to the Athenians, on Mars' hill, he had demonstrated the folly of their idolatry; he had shown that it was contrary even to their own boasted reason to worship what they had made. There was that above them and around them, every day and everywhere, which indicated the finger of One who had created them. Even one of their own poets had said that they were His offspring, not making God our offspring, or, yet less, the work of men's hands, which is just what idolatry does. The apostle always goes to the conscience of men, and shows the evident way in which the devil had perplexed their minds, and taken them away from the patent facts outside them, which ought to have shown a God above them, and to have furnished proofs of His beneficent goodness. Then he brings out the solemn truth, that God is calling all men everywhere to repent; to bow to Him in acknowledgment of their sin, (which is only another way of expressing repentance,) on the ground that He had "appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness, (not the law, but all in righteousness,) by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead." It is Christ that is put before them, and not the law. This was the truth habitual with the apostle. So in the case of these Galatians. He recalls them to the way in which they had received blessing; "This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?" It is an important advance upon the chapter before, which only speaks of life; but Galatians 3 introduces the Holy Ghost. Down to the end of verse 15, you will find that, as he begins with the Spirit as the proof of God's blessing men, so he ends with the Spirit. The argument is to prove that the connection of the Holy Ghost is with faith, and not with law which has only a curse for guilty man. Christ is our life, and He gives the Spirit.
It is important to distinguish life and the Spirit; because when a soul receives the gospel, though there be ordinarily the reception of life and of the Holy Ghost at the same moment, yet we must bear in mind that the two things are quite distinct. The new life which the Christian receives in Christ is not God, though of God; but the Holy Ghost is very God. The believer's life is a new creature or creation, while the Holy Ghost is the Creator. It is not because we have a new life that our bodies are made the temple of God, but because the Holy Ghost dwells therein. Hence, when Christians do not properly distinguish this, it is very possible to use that life as a thing to comfort oneself with and set us at ease, leading us to say, I know that I shall be saved; and all spiritual exercises may close there. How often souls settle down to rest in the satisfaction that they have got life, or exercise that life only in the desire to bring souls to Christ! But, blessed as this zeal is, it is a very inferior thing to loving Christ; as love to Christ is an inferior thing to the enjoyment of His love to us; and I believe this to be the true order in the souls of the saints of God. The great thing that God calls upon me for, is to admire and delight in and learn more and more of the love of Christ. What is the effect? Love to Christ is produced in the very same ratio that I know His love to me. What is it that judges self and keeps it down, and raises a person above all grovelling ways and ends? Entrance into the blessedness of His love. Being filled with the sense of it, we love souls in a different way, because we see them in His light, and we view them out of His affections, and not merely as having some link with ourselves. This is the true secret of all spiritual power, at least, in its highest forms.
Take, again, any little suffering we undergo for Christ's sake, any work undertaken for Him - whatever God calls us to: in all these things the true blessing of the Christian is not to abstract them from Christ, but to have Christ Himself as the spring and pattern and measure of all our service, so that all our service should flow from our enjoyment of Christ. In one way, worship is a nearer thing to God, and ought to be a dearer thing to the child of God, than even service; whereas it is no uncommon thing to find zealous servants who know very little of true worship. I say this, not that we should serve Christ less, but that we should enjoy Him more, and serve Him in the spirit of enjoying what He is, apart from all circumstances. What is the basis of this measure of enjoyment? It is the absolute peace and rest of our heart in Him and His work. We see how completely every sin is met and every need of our soul supplied in Christ. We are put as children in the presence of a father; one knows that his father uses all his resources for the good of his child. In the poor sinner there is the sense of need, and the soul must go through that first. In the experience of almost every regenerate soul there is a state where there is life, but in the midst, perhaps, of the greatest ignorance, yet with deep feeling of sin. This is not properly the Christian state; which, when rightly apprehended, supposes rest in Christ, with the consciousness that all is given me of God in Him. I have received the Spirit of adoption, not the spirit of bondage. It is not merely that my soul is awakened to feel sin, but the Holy Ghost dwells in me; and the result of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, is that I know I have received this full blessing from God.
In Galatians 2, as we have remarked, life is in question; but now, in the beginning of Galatians 3, he speaks about the reception of the Spirit. This was not merely a matter of enjoyment, but also accompanied by miraculous power. When at that time the Holy Ghost was given, there were outward external ways in which He showed Himself, which were not continued in the Church. He puts the two together here. "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" or, "are ye being made perfect by the flesh?" It was a process that they were hoping to be perfected by; because flesh can easily be satisfied with itself. "Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain." He will not give them up; he will not suppose that the enemy is gaining such a victory over them but that they may be recovered from this state. "He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" This refers to Paul himself. It was God that gave the Spirit, but He worked by means: by those who had been preaching the gospel had they received the Holy Ghost. It is the hearing of faith that is followed by the gift of the Spirit, after we have received Christ; but there is always a distinction between the two things. You will find in Scripture that the reception of the Spirit was, at least sometimes, after believing in Christ. Take the instance of the Samaritans. Was not the Spirit communicated to them some time after conversion? And so, not to speak of Cornelius, was it with the Ephesian disciples in Acts 19.
Thus we see many a soul that hears the gospel filled with joy, but it passes away; and perhaps they will have to go through a very painful process afterwards, because they had not really understood the application of Christ's work to their souls. They have simply embraced the reality of a blessed divine person who is full of love, even the Lord Jesus; but then, when they have received that, the sense of failure comes up, and they go through much heart-breaking and ploughing up. I could not say of such persons, that they have received the Spirit of God as One dwelling in them, the seal of the blessing they have found in Christ. But when they are brought to rest in Him, with all the sense of their sin and of what they are, and yet, in spite of it all, to rest in the redemption that is in Christ, so that, in the face of everything, knowing what God is, what Satan is, what they themselves are, what the law of God is, - still, being justified by faith, they have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; such persons have received the Holy Ghost; they have not only life, but the Spirit of God. In early times this distinction was brought out very clearly; but the same principle is, of course, true now. There are no souls that have looked to Christ but what God will give them the Spirit of adoption, and they will thus be brought into full blessing. But often this may be upon a deathbed, which ought not to be the case with a Christian.
There is such a scanty measure of truth preached even among real Christians in the present day, that souls have not the consciousness of their relationship nor of the completeness of redemption. Hence it is that they may be kept from their proper comfort and enjoyment for many a day. It was not so with these Galatians; and the apostle refers to their full blessing. At once they were brought into the possession of the Holy Ghost. They had received Him by the hearing of faith: and I take it, that this means His reception in every way; not only with a view to miracles and powers, but the Holy Ghost yet more as One dwelling within them. Where souls were not born of God, but had merely outwardly professed Christ, they might receive the Spirit for gifts of power, but not in the way of communion. Thus in Hebrews 6 you have persons who were once enlightened, and had tasted of the heavenly gift, and been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and had tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, and who yet had fallen away. It is nowhere said that they were quickened, or that they had life; but they were enlightened and had tasted of the heavenly gift; they had been baptized and had the powers of the world to come: all these things were true of them, yet they fell away - they deserted Christ; they went back from Him to Judaism in order to make their conscience easy with God. Where this was the case, the apostle says, "It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance." They are apostates, and that is the point of the question. For on a large scale, similar will be the means of bringing in the worst doom, which must inevitably follow the denial of Christianity. And necessarily so, for God has nothing better to bring in; nothing whereby He can act upon man when He rejects christian revelation and the grace of Christ. These Galatians were convicted by this very thing. They knew that they had not heard about the law, and yet they had received the Spirit personally. Let them think what the reception of the Holy Ghost involves - that it is not only the manifestation of power, but the deeper blessing that abides now. And how good of God that it should be so, that He has not taken away the spring of enjoying Christ. We might have thought that, so deep has been the failure, if anything had been likely to be taken away, it would be that enjoyment of Christ.
At Pentecost the saints were all, or most, at any rate, babes. It is a moral misunderstanding of that day, as well as of the previous state of the disciples to suppose that the wonderful display of power there was then, showed a deeper enjoyment of Christ vouchsafed then and there, than elsewhere afterwards. And so one sees now that there is a danger of persons fancying that the richest harvest-time of peace and joy possible is at the hour of conversion; whereas, at best, it is the enjoyment of a babe. There is a mighty sense of deliverance; but sense of deliverance is not necessarily Christ, nor the sweetest way of tasting Him. It is connected with our sense of the love of Christ, and this we assuredly are privileged to enjoy; but there is a knowledge and delight in Christ Himself which is a deeper thing still, and it is based upon a growing acquaintance with His personal glory and love, as well as His work.
These Galatians were getting under the law, and the apostle brings the folly of it all before them. They were seeking to be made perfect by the flesh. This is mere nature, working upon what has to do with self, and not with the unfolding of Christ. There were certain things they thought which were quite necessary for them to do. Well, he argues, that is the flesh. "Have ye suffered so many things in vain?" Then he shows that it had all been by the hearing of faith, and he goes up to Abraham himself. "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." There is great force in his reference to Abraham; for every Jew would appeal to him as the root of circumcision; and the mode in which the law was brought in among the Galatians was by attaching great importance to the right of circumcision. It would appear that the argument of these Judaizing men was this: - You cannot have the inner blessing of circumcision without going through the outward form of it. The apostle summons Abraham to prove the contrary. In his case, it was a question of faith, and not of law, or of circumcision. When was it that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness? Before circumcision came in; for the rite, as is evident from the history, was enjoined, we are particularly informed, after Abraham had believed God, and God had accounted it to him for righteousness.
"Know ye, therefore," he continues, "that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." This is the deduction he draws from it. If Abraham was brought into this place of blessing by faith, all his seed are blessed similarly. He begins with the natural seed, the Jew; but he brings in the Gentiles also. "And the scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." We shall find afterwards that he does not argue on the promise to Abraham himself only, but to his seed; but he purposely leaves out the seed here. He refers to the first promise to Abraham, because, when that was made, there was no thought of circumcision. He says, "The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed." It showed that they would be blessed as Gentiles - not by becoming Jews virtually; for the blessing would flow out to them as Gentiles. "So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." There he closes that part of the subject, proving that the blessing depends upon faith, and not upon the works of the law or circumcision. Abraham was blessed by faith, and God had promised him, "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" - not in circumcision, but in Abraham; so that we find in Abraham's case the principle of a promise comes in. In fact, he was an idolator at the time when God revealed Himself to him, as we learn from Joshua 24: and true blessing is always the effect of God's revealing Himself to the soul. The effect of this revelation to Abraham is, that he leaves his country and his father's house, and goes forth at the word of God, not knowing whither he went. He counted upon God's goodness towards his soul. He receives from God the promise of blessing, and of blessing for others, too; as it was said, "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." And here is the manner of it: "So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." As blessing depended upon faith, so, he argues, does yours.
Then, in a most solemn and sweeping sentence, which bears the very stamp of God upon it, he adds, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Would that those who desire to be teachers of the law, only understood such a word as this! Not as many as have broken the law, but as many persons as take their stand upon legal ground are under the curse; whoever attempts to please God on this principle is fallen under it. And why? Because there is such a thing as sin. And if man with sin upon him, or in him, essays to make good his cause by the law, as far as the principle goes, he is under the law's curse. We need not await the proof as a matter of fact; he who does so is condemned. If God were to deal with men as they deal with God, they must be adjudged to death; and there could be no help or deliverance for them. Regeneration does not deliver, and cannot be urged as a plea. If they are governed by the law as their rule, it necessarily condemns those who break it. Nothing can be more conclusive: "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse," etc. So that, if I stand upon this ground, there is not the slightest provision made for failure, unless I also plead sacrifices and offerings for sin. If I do not continue in all things as they are written in the book of the law - if I do not succeed in observing them all faultlessly, I am accursed. Could such a standing ever do for a Christian? Impossible; and therefore all is inconsistent with those who so speak; for they do really rest after all on Christ. But what says St. Paul? "That no man is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident;" because, as another scripture announces, "The just shall live by faith." It is a total mistake to suppose that it is by law, as its source, its power, or its measure. "And the law is not of faith: but the man that doeth them shall live in them."
In verse 13 he closes this part of the subject, and shows that our position as Christians is entirely different. He begins with the Jew. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." It is exceedingly blessed to find that, as in 2 Corinthians 5, it is said that Christ was made sin, so here it is said that "He is made a curse for us." In Corinthians Paul is merely putting himself with the believers - he is not drawing a contrast between us and the Jew; consequently the "we" in Corinthians includes all. But here the "us" means the Jewish part of the believers; for he refers particularly and distinctly to the Gentiles afterwards - "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ." And then he puts them all together - "that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." The "us" there is emphatic; whereas in verse 14 the word "we" is not so at all, but is used in a general way of all believers, whether Jews or Gentiles. So that the point is very plain. First, if Jews were concerned, he would say, We equally needed Christ; because we had not continued in all the things that are written in the book of the law to do them; and Christ came and redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. Then, as to you Gentiles - you who never had anything to do with the law, are you seeking to be blessed on the very ground where we can only expect cursing? The apostle quotes from Deut. 27, where we have a very striking disclosure, as has been well remarked by another. Half of the tribes were to stand upon one mountain to bless, and the other half upon another mountain to curse. But when, immediately after, the provision comes out, only the curses are mentioned, and there is no blessing at all! Why? "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." God had spoken of the tribes being divided for blessing and cursing; but when you come to the fact, only the curses follow, and not the blessings. What a very solemn confirmation of the truth we have been looking at! God did not positively provide for any thus to get the blessing. As sure as they took legal ground, they could only get a curse; and accordingly the curses alone are heard.
The apostle, therefore, triumphantly closes this part of the subject. After coming to the full acknowledgment of the law's curse because of sin, then through the grace of God can the believer say, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." It is not merely that He has been made accursed for us, but "a curse." What could more forcibly convey how fully He identified Himself with that condition as a whole? The consequence is, that those He represented in grace are completely delivered from it; yea, and the blessing, once flowing, bursts far beyond the old channel. So he says, "As it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ." First of all, God must remove the curse out of the way; and when that was holily done for these believing Jews, the same cross of Christ overflows with mercy to the Gentiles. Christ had accomplished the work of redemption; and though its primary application was to the Jew, yet surely the efficacy and glory of it could not be hid. The blessing of Abraham comes on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ - "that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
This concludes the argument based on the promise of the Spirit; and the points decided are these: - the law never brought a blessing upon those who were under it, even though they were Abraham's seed, and this, because they were sinners; nor was it ever the means of their receiving the Holy Ghost as the power of enjoying Christ. On the other hand, the hearing of faith, as of old for Abraham himself, is the one simple means that the Holy Ghost uses for all real peace and blessing; and this avails, through redemption, not only for the proud but accursed Jew, but even for the poor Gentile, now expressly contemplated in the blessing, and in the richest part of it, the promise of the Spirit.
In the former part of the chapter, we saw the contrast between the portion of faith and that of law. We found that the law necessarily brings in a curse; not that the law is bad, but because men - because Israel - were sinners. The law, therefore, just because it is holy, just, and good, must condemn those that were not good, but evil. The conclusion of the law, for such, accordingly, was a curse. It was the law of God; but all that His law could or ought to procure for sinners was condemnation and a curse. On the other hand, God loves to bless. How can these things be? How was it possible that God could bring in a blessing for poor lost man? The answer is, that "they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." Abraham got not a curse but a blessing, and this because of faith and not law. The apostle thence proves that since the law, no matter how good in itself, can only bring a curse upon every soul who takes this ground in its dealings with God, "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." Nothing could be more universal or more conclusive. The law involves nothing but a curse upon every child of Adam who attempts to take his stand on it as a means of relationship with God. Am I seeking and vowing to obey God in order to gain a blessing from Him? I only earn a curse. I ought to obey; but, I being a sinner, the effect of the law is to bring out my sin and curse me. On the other hand, faith brings me into a blessing, yea, all blessing through God's grace.
Now we come to the question of promise, which is a very different thing. Faith involves, at any rate, the condition of soul in the person who believes; the promise looks at the dealings of God; and although we have seen that those who have faith are the only receivers of the blessing, and not those essaying to do the law, now we have to consider God promising, as well as law given. "Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man's covenant, yet, if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made" - not the law given. Abraham knew nothing about the law, neither did his seed or son; yet they could not deny that Abraham got the blessing. So that here he stands on a new ground. It is not only that souls which have faith will get the blessing, but why not have faith in the law too? The latter part of the chapter takes up this question, and shows that God has given promises; and the question is, how to reconcile God's law with His promises. What did He give these two things for? Were they meant to produce the same end? Were they on the same principle? The Holy Ghost settles these questions. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed; which is Christ." Here it is plain, that the allusion is to two distinct and signal occasions in Abraham's history. These two occasions were first to Abraham alone; (Gen. 12;) and secondly, to Isaac, or rather in Isaac alone. (Gen. 22) In the last chapter, both the numerous seed and the single seed are referred to. With the numerous seed God connects the possessing the gate of their enemies - that is, Jewish supremacy, But this is not what one acquires as a Christian. I do not want my enemies to be overthrown, but rather to be brought to Christ. But the Jews, as such, will have not only blessing through Christ by-and-by, but their enemies put down. Israel will be exalted in the earth, which God never promised to the Gentiles. In Genesis 22. the two things are quite distinct. Where the seed is spoken of without allusion to number, the blessing of the Gentiles comes in; but where they are said to be multiplied as the stars and the sand, then the character is unequivocally Jewish precedence. Such is, I believe, the argument of the apostle. Where Christ, typified by Isaac, is meant, it is "thy seed" simply, without a word of seed innumerable as the stars or the sand. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made;" namely, of the blessing of the Gentiles, and not merely of the putting down of the Gentiles. The promises were made first to Abraham, and then were confirmed in his seed. "He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and of thy seed, which is Christ." He takes Christ as the one intended by Isaac.
Let me recall the circumstances under which God made the promise in Isaac as a type of Christ. In Genesis 22 Isaac is ready to be offered as a sacrifice, and Abraham did not know till the last moment but that his son was to die. For three days Isaac was, as it were, under the sentence of death. Abraham had confidence in God, who had promised that in Isaac he should possess the land; and he was, therefore, certain that in this very Isaac the promise must be accomplished. It was not a question of Sarah having another son, but of this son, his only son. He was perfectly assured, therefore, that God would raise him up and give him back again, to be the head of the Jewish family. A beautiful type this, of God's sparing not His own Son. Abraham had as good as offered up his son, and God not only gave Isaac back again, but then and there gave the promise, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." Thus it is in Christ risen from the dead that our blessing comes. Christ dead and risen again is perfectly free to bless the Gentiles. As long as He was merely living on the earth, He said, "I am not sent save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," but, when risen, all is changed. Accordingly, He commissions His disciples, "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations." And so He predicted the gospel must be published among all nations. The apostle draws attention to the fact, that this early oracle does not connect the numerous seed when God spoke of blessing the Gentiles, but the one seed, Isaac, as the type of Christ, and of Christ after He had been under death and had passed into resurrection. The importance of this is immense; because, while Christ was upon the earth, He was under law Himself. Risen from the dead, what had He to do with law? The law does not touch a man when he is dead. The apostle argues that the Christian belongs to Christ in resurrection. When any one is baptized into Christ, this is what He confesses: - I belong to Christ dead and risen, taken out of my old place of Jew or Gentile. The Jews had to do with a Messiah who was to reign over them on the earth; the Gentiles in that day shall be the tail and not the head, and kings shall be the nursing fathers of Zion, and queens the nursing mothers, bowing down to the earth and licking up the dust of Israel's feet; but we, Christians, begin with Christ's death and resurrection. All our blessing is in Christ raised from the dead.
"And this I say, that the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ," (or, as it should be rendered, "to Christ,") "the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." God took care that, between the promise given to Abraham and Isaac and the law, there should elapse a period of more than four centuries. Had He given the law a short time after, they might have said it was all one and the same thing. But how could this be thought, seeing that four hundred and thirty years passed between? The promise has its own special object, and the law its design also; and we are not to mingle the two things together. Not that we are to set aside either. On the contrary, I maintain that no man has a right value for the promises of God who could despise His law. I own the exceeding value of the law; but what is its object? This we have here, and are not left to our own conjectures. The covenant of the law, that came in four hundred and thirty years after the giving of the promise to Abraham, cannot disannul what God had said before. If a man in holding out a reward annexes a condition, it is all fair. But supposing you said to another, I intend to leave you my house and garden, without adding any condition; if, after a year or two, you should say to the man, You must pay me a thousand pounds for the house and garden, he might answer, What do you mean? Do you repent of your promise? You gave the property to me unconditionally, and now you call upon me for payment! There was God's absolute promise to Abraham; this must ever remain untouched. But four hundred and thirty years after conditions come in. "If ye will obey my voice indeed, . . . . . . then ye shall be," etc. Then it was, God made the blessing to depend upon obedience. Is it, then, that God sets one principle against another? In no wise. He permitted the lapse of time, among other things, to show that the two things are perfectly distinct, as their object also. Therefore, as the apostle reasons here, the principle of condition that came in with the law cannot disannul that of grace, which came in with the promise. When God said to Abraham, "I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession," He did not add, If you will do so and so. The Lord was to give him certain blessings there, which depended entirely upon the goodness and undeserved favour of God. This was the way of God in the promises. But in the law all hinged on its observance by him who was put under it. The voice of the law is for the righteous a blessing, and for the guilty a curse. "The man that doeth these things shall live in them." "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the law to do them."
The apostle next proves that, if the inheritance "be of the law, it is no more of promise." If a man possesses a thing through something he has given or done for it, it is no more of promise, but what he deserves. It is like a person doing so much work for so much wages. Of course, if a master makes his servant a present, the man is thankful for it; but where it is only an equivalent for positive work done, it is clearly a matter of debt, and not of gift. The law is the principle of what is due, if there could be such a thing found among men; but all that was deserved was a curse, because man was a sinner. "But God gave it to Abraham by promise," not by the law. Then comes the question, What is the good of the law? If God meant to give the inheritance by promise, why bring in the law? As this is a most Important question, I would call attention particularly to it. If you examine the dealings of God with His people in early days, God promises them a blessing, and they take it from God without looking at themselves to see whether they deserve it or not. This unquestioning confidence is all very blessed; but it is not for a man's good not to know what he is. It is of great moment that I should learn what my state really is. Now the object of the law was to bring out the sinner's true condition of soul; not at all to bring him into blessing, but to bring out the fearful ruin into which man had fallen by sin. The law was not meant to be the rule of life; indeed, it is rather the rule of death. If a man had no such thing as sin, it might be the rule of life; but he being a sinner, it is an absurd misnomer to call it the rule of life.
"Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions." It is not said, Because of sins. God never would do anything to make a man a sinner - but "it was added because of transgressions." What is the difference? Sin is in every child of Adam; sin was in man before the law, as much as after. When the whole world was corrupt - when all flesh became so violent - that God was obliged to judge it by the flood, it is too clear that they were all sinners. After God gave the law to Israel, they were no longer merely sinners, but became transgressors. Rebels against God's authority, they became the actual violators of His law. The law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient. And whoever was made righteous by the law? Is he an honest man who merely refrains from taking your watch for fear of being transported? The only really honest person is he who has the fear of God before his eyes. The law has the effect of punishing those that break it; but it is not what makes a man honest, even in a human sense, still less in the divine. Through the faith of Christ one becomes a new man, the possessor of a new nature which is dependent and obedient, loving to do the will of God, because He wishes it, and not merely through dread of going to hell. It is quite right to have the consciousness that we deserve hell; but were this the source of the motive for obeying, is such an one really converted?
Here, then, we have the law's object: it is to prove that men were sinners by bringing out the fact that those under the law broke it and earned its curse. "The law entered that the offence might abound" - not exactly that sin might abound. God could never do this; but men being already sinners, the law by its very holiness provoked the sin so as to make it manifest to themselves and to all. The children of Israel were sinners like all others; but they would not acknowledge their sin, and therefore God brought in the law by Moses. Before the ten words, they might have said, We do not see the evil of worshipping images, or of not keeping the Sabbath day. The law was enough to leave an Israelite without excuse. And therefore, as the Apostle insists, "It was not made for a righteous man," though this is what people apply it to in our days; that is, for a rule of life. But then, besides justifying the believer, Christ is the means of making him righteous and keeping him so, or restoring the soul; there is no other efficacious way. Just as Christ is the life and the truth, so is He the way. There is no path nor power of righteousness and holiness but Christ revealed by the Holy Ghost. If you take the law as well as Christ, you become at least half a Jew. We are called to look at Christ, and Christ only, (2 Cor. 3,) as the one who creates, and fashions, and constitutes every particle of righteousness that the Christian possesses. So the apostle prays that they might be more and more "filled with the fruits of righteousness," etc. The natural man would allow the need of the works of righteousness which are demanded by the law; but he knows nothing of those "fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God." The law was the rule of death for a sinner; Christ is the rule of life for a saint. "Wherefore then serveth the law?" Everyone ought to admit both the end and the limits here set forth. The law "was added because of transgressions, till the seed (i.e., Christ) should come to whom the promise was made." God was pleased to use this platform negatively, at any rate for a time; but now the seed is come, and the platform is gone for the Christian. It is all-important for convicting the sinner, the standard of what a sinful man ought to do for God. But it is neither the reflection of God nor the pattern for the saints: Christ is both, and Christ only.
Besides, "it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator." This is to show the contrast with the promise, which was direct and immediate between God and man, without the intervention of angels or any mere creature daysman. In the case of the law, creature mediation is prominent. Hence the immense superiority of the promises as con pared with the law. All showed distance between God and the people. But in the promises, God comes, speaks, works personally and in dove. He has as directly to do with every converted soul as He had with Abraham: nay, now that redemption has been effected and Christ is risen, we have to do with God in a still nearer way.
"Now," he adds, "a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one." Under the law you have God and man as the two contracting parties, and you have also a mediator between the two. Moses stood thus between God and men, and what is the result? God's part was safe and sound, but man broke down. And so it was, is, and must be; and this not from any fault in the law, but from man's guilt and evil. The law is like a bridge that may be ever so strong, but, resting, at one end, on no foundation. There can be but one issue. So with man's trial under law. The law does not depend upon God alone, save as exacting; but, thanks be to God, the promise does. Under law, man is, in one sense, the chief actor. He is rendering to God, not God to him. Whereas, when God promised the land to Abraham, He did not say, It must depend upon what you do. It was His own free, absolute gift. In the law there are two parties, and the whole thing comes to pieces, because man is the one on whom practically all turns; and what is he to be accounted of? In promise there is but one party, and there can be no break-down, because God cannot fail or lie: His promise must be accomplished. This then is the apostle's conclusive reasoning, "a mediator is not a mediator of one;" that is, where legal mediation is required, there must necessarily be two concerned, one of whom is the sinner, and so all is lost. "But God is one." Such is the character and the strength of promise. God stands alone, brings about all He says, and the believer has only to give thanks, enjoy the blessing, and seek to walk worthily and consistently with it.
"Is the law, then, against the promises of God? God forbid; for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin." There the children of Israel were, and the law had locked them all up together under sin. And this, "that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." Not to the Jews, as such, but "to them that believe." "But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster unto Christ." "To bring us" has no business here. The meaning is that the law was a schoolmaster dealing with these Jews, until Christ came; as it was said before, "It was added because of transgression till the seed should come to whom the promise was made." It is not a question of bringing people now to Christ: the effect of the law is rather to minister death and condemnation, as we are so clearly told elsewhere. God may let people thus come under sentence of death, and afterwards by Christ bring them out of it; but no man can say that a killing power is in itself the means of bringing people to Christ. "The law was our schoolmaster." It did the office of the slave who had the charge of children under age. It dealt severely with those under it till Christ came. The Galatians were Gentiles who had never been under the law, to whom Paul is describing the manner of God's dealings with the Jews that were. Speaking of such he says, "The law was our [not, your] schoolmaster unto Christ." When Christ came there was a new object manifested, and the negative process of legal discipline closed, "that we might be justified by faith." The law made souls feel their state; but God opened their eyes when in that state to see that the only hope of righteousness was in Christ. "But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." Not even Jews who believed were any longer under the law! The moment they had Christ revealed, they passed from the dominion of the law and owed their new subjection to Christ. Christ is the Master and Lord of the Christian. The Jew had had the law for his tutor. When he received Christ, the law's office terminated, and he entered a new domain altogether.
Observe the remarkable change from verse 26. It is no longer "we," but "ye." "For ye are all the children of God, by faith in Christ Jesus." Now he is addressing the Galatians, who had, of course, been sinners of the Gentiles, and yet they enjoyed the nearness of sons of God. You, be implies, are brought into this high relationship by faith in Christ Jesus, without the intervention of the law, which, after all, deals with bondmen, or at least treats its subjects as if they were slaves. Paul did not preach the law first and Christ afterwards, but rather "Jesus and the resurrection." This was the sum nod substance of his preaching; and these Galatians had at first received it accordingly. They were all sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus - Gentiles as well as Jews.
"For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." The great point of the whole argument was, that the seed was risen, the seed Isaac, after he had been appointed to die, and actually under the knife, but now risen from the dead in figure, to show that this is the condition into which we Gentiles are admitted as having to do with Christ. Was Christ under the law when He rose from the dead? Nothing of the kind. So, says the apostle, it is with us Christians now. You have nothing to do with the Jewish schoolmaster. Faith has come in alike for us, and for you Gentiles; you have become sons of God without passing under the law at all. "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Do you not know what your baptism meant? What does a man confess when he is baptized? That he belongs to a Saviour who died and rose again. "So many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ (says our apostle elsewhere) were baptized unto His death." And the death of Christ is that which for ever dissolves even a Jew's connection with the law. Up to death, the law had a righteous claim upon the Jew, but the moment he confessed Jesus dead and risen, even he at once passed out of it into a wholly new condition. With a Saviour who is risen from the dead as his life and Lord, his business is to walk as a man that is united to Him: the connection is broken with the old husband, and he belongs to another. Were he to attempt to have Christ and law together afterwards, it would be like a woman having two husbands; that is, spiritual adultery. The effect of it, too, is most palpable. Who has not seen a Christian one day joyous, the next day very much cast down in spirit, not sure whether he have eternal life or not; trembling at the thought of the Lord's coming; and yet that same man admiring, loving, adoring Christ? How comes this? He knows not death to the law. No wonder, then, he is in a miserable plight. The law presses him to death, and Christ is only known enough to keep his head above water, but with constant tendency to fall under it. How good for his soul to learn that God has broken all such ties by the death of Christ! My very baptism is the confession that, even had I been a Jew, I am dead to the law - "being dead to that wherein we were held." "Wherefore ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead." Of course, if dead to the law, it would be a most unhappy state not to be married to another. How great would be the danger of thinking oneself at liberty to do what one liked! But if belonging to Christ, then come the new feelings of one who is thus near to Him. Now, I belong to Him, and I am to do what He likes; our husband gives us liberty to do His will, not to do our own - "to bring forth fruit unto God." This is what baptism sets forth in a Christian; it is the confession of the death and resurrection of Christ. The believer should know, then, that he has done with the law, and is called to live unto God. "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" - not the law, but Christ.
The object of the whole is to show that, important as the law was for bringing people's transgressions plainly before them, yet now that a Christian has Christ, he has already confessed his sins, and has to do with another state of things altogether. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female. He takes up the grand distinctions of men naturally, and shows that these things did not characterise them as Christians. That which alone stamps me as such, is that I have Christ, and have put on Christ. "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." That is to say, they had not to pass under circumcision, or any other rite of the law, in order to get the promises. The Holy Ghost brings into these promises by having Christ. If you are striving to gain them by the law, you lose them; if you receive Christ, they are assuredly yours. He is the true seed of Abraham, and, having Christ, I have all the promises of God. "For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him amen, unto the glory of God by us." Thus, you see, he is giving the final touch to the great argument of the Holy Ghost throughout the whole passage: that the Gentile believer has nothing whatever to do with the law as a means of blessing from God; that he may use the law as a weapon against the ungodly, but that in Christ he has done with the question of law - has emerged definitely out of it all, and now he is in Christ. And if I am there, I have all that Christ can give. The point is, to give all the glory to Christ. The force of the passage must strike any thoughtful mind in looking round upon the present time. The evil against which Paul was warning them has now become overwhelming. In one shape or another the law is mingled with Christ; and therein you have poor Christians endeavouring to keep the two husbands at the same time. It is not something that we merely describe about others, but most of us know it from experience. We have proved both its misery and the blessing of deliverance from it. And may God be pleased to vouchsafe the same deliverance to every child of His who has tasted as yet only the misery and not the deliverance.