We have already reviewed the admirable contrast the Holy Ghost has given, in the latter part of the previous chapter, between the promises and the law, showing their entire distinctness, not only in date and circumstances, but also principle, character, and purpose. In this, of course, they agree, that both came from God. But, then, the object for which God gave them was as dissimilar as possible. His promises were the fruit of His own love - His purpose to bless, His joy in blessing, and this not Jews only, but Gentiles. And we have seen that particular stress was laid upon those promises which were made to Abraham first, and then to Isaac, in which the Gentiles were expressly to be blest of God. The remarkable fact the Holy Ghost takes up is, that where there is unqualified promise of blessing to the Gentiles, there is no reference to the numerous seed of Abraham, so frequently mentioned in Scripture; but where the seed as numerous as the stars or the sand, is spoken of, the Jews are meant. And when we examine still more closely, we shall find that the time when the "one seed" meets us, was after the type of death and resurrection had been gone through in the person of Isaac (Gen. 22): emblem of Christ who, risen, lets in the Gentiles to the full blessing of God apart from the law. And I am persuaded that this is so little understood that it will not be in vain just to give this slight passing notice now, in addition to what has already come before us. There is no one part of foundation truth on which Christians are generally feebler than in their apprehension of the place into which the resurrection of Christ brings the believer. It is the death of Christ that terminates all our questions. If it were our own death, it would, as judgment, be ruinous; but the death of Christ has precisely as much, yea, infinitely greater, efficacy in the way of grace. And Christ rising into a new condition, where there is no possible condemnation, the believer passes, before God into the same sphere. The power of God in the death of Christ puts away evil; the power of His resurrection brings us into the good of which He is the centre and the head. In this fourth chapter the apostle takes up another subject. If the law and promises were opposite in their nature - not contradictory, but totally different in scope and object - what was the, state of the believer under the Old Testament? It is answered in the beginning of Galatians 4, and this particularly with a view to the condition in which any of the Jewish believers had been, and what their present relationship to God is in virtue of redemption.
"Now, I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant though he be lord of all." This is a principle true of believers under what we may call the old covenant. They were heirs, no doubt, and blessing is to be their portion; but the heir is no more than the bondman or slave, as long as he is, an "infant," which is the force of the word "child" - the word that was used among the ancients, as our legal term is still, for a person who is under a legal age, and incapable of entering into contracts and engagements or of acting for himself. That was precisely the position of an elder under the law. He was not arrived at full age; he was really an heir, destined to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There was no difference as to this. Conversion and regeneration are the same in all times and dispensations. There may be greater fulness, simplicity, and joy now; but as to the substance of the thing, even from the fall, before the flood and after it, either with law or without it, the heir was in truth lord of all. He really is to have a part in the kingdom of Christ, to reign with Christ; but if we enquire into his condition while he is in this world, we have it here described as servantship. God's purpose is, that when glory comes, he shall have a bright, blessed place; but while in this world he was an infant, "under tutors and governors, until the time appointed of the father:" the first word, I suppose, referring to the person, the other to his possessions. He is under these till the time appointed of the Father. "Even so we, when we were children," - he applies it particularly to what they had been as Jewish believers - "were in bondage (servitude) under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons."
Nothing can be clearer than this. All is adjusted with divine perspicuity and force. The blessing of the Old Testament saint is in view, or of one who knew Christ in the days of His flesh, because there was no substantial difference between them: Peter, James, and John, all were then infants. It was true, Christ was present in person, and there was an immense accession of blessing; their eyes saw, their ears heard, what prophets and kings had desired to see. Nevertheless, they were still infants; they were not delivered from the law; they were as yet kept bound down by its injunctions and ordinances; and the terror arising from it always kept them in a measure of uncertainty and darkness; and it ought to have been so. A man under the law was not entitled to be thoroughly happy. If I have to do with the law at all, I ought to feel the law: if I am conscious of having failed under it, I ought to have the pressure of its condemnation on my spirit. It was so with the saints under the old covenant. They were under bondage, because they were under tutors and governors. "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." It was quite necessary that Christ should be a man and a Jew. If He had not been a man, there could have been no basis for meeting any child of Adam, under any circumstances; and if He had not been a Jew, where had been the law or the promises either? But being both, now comes in an infinitely greater thing - redemption. He came as a man and under the law, but the object was, that He might redeem them that were under the law. God had chosen to put the Jew in a special place for particular purposes; and the issue of that experiment was that the Jews brought greater dishonour on the name of God than even the "sinners of the Gentiles." We know that, if ever there was a people bent on destroying themselves, and forsaking their own mercies, it was Israel. If there was an idol among the Gentiles, they took the pattern of it; and King Ahaz even went so far as to command that all the offerings were to be offered upon the altar that he had devised after the pattern of the heathen one that he had seen at Damascus, thus insulting the altar of God. The great crime for which Israel were carried away at the last was, that they set up the golden calves. In Jerusalem, in the temple, the Jews re-enacted the old sin, for which God had smitten them in the wilderness. They were unfaithful to God, but they stuck to idolatry as a heritage too precious to give up. The Jews, who had been called out to be the special witness of God against image-worship, were not satisfied with following idols of their own, but must adopt those of their heathen neighbours around them - and God swept them away. Hence it is that we read in Kings and Chronicles of the sin of Jeroboam, wherewith he made Israel to sin. That was the one thing which God had in remembrance. All sorts of new dynasties were continually arising in Israel; but no matter what, if it was only a man reigning for a month, it was always the same uniform sin, the sin of Jeroboam, that God bore in mind, and that most insulting of all idolatries, the golden calf. It was deliberate sin before His face: "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." So far we see what Israel was; and if we look at the prophecy of Jeremiah, we shall find God reproaching Judah, that backsliding Israel had justified herself in the presence of Judah, because Judah was far more guilty.
But we must not confine this tale of evil to Israel; we must read the Bible as a lesson of the heart, the lesson of what man is to God. And when we hear of Israel and Judah, let us apply it to ourselves. This is what God shows me that I am; this is the kind of stuff that my heart is composed of; this is what human nature does when God puts it to the proof. Idolatry, then, governed; and, as we know, calamity after calamity came upon His people. They were carried away captive into Babylon, and the remnant were afterwards brought out of captivity to receive the Son of God. When He came from heaven, it was in the fullest grace. Sin had entered in by the woman, and here we have the Saviour. And the law having brought in what was crushing to the hopes of the sinner, Christ comes, made of a woman, made under the law; but it was to redeem them that were under the law. The mere keeping of the law could not have redeemed any one: it was essential to the vindication of God that the Lord should show He was perfect man under the law, perfect Son of man, perfect Israelite, perfect Son of God above law - in all things perfect. But whatever might be His glory, and whatever He might come down into, the end of all was redemption - by Him to redeem them that were under the law. God was waiting that He might bring them into the place that He intended His people to have. It was no pleasure for God to see children trembling. He was waiting for the blessed moment when Christ's death would give the righteous title to deliver His people from that condition, to bring them into a new state of things, when the bond of the law would be for ever broken by the death of Jesus the Son of God. And so it was, He therefore redeemed them that were under the law.
And here comes out another thing. No negative deliverance will ever satisfy God. It was "to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." But even that does not satisfy Him; for there might still have been the thought that the adoption of sons was only for the believers in Israel - that this was what they were brought into now. But the apostle turns round to the Gentiles, and says, "And because ye are sons," changing the person, and addressing the Galatians in a very pointed manner. "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Here we learn most clearly that the Jew by the law only got into a position of bondage: that was all the law could do for him. It was impossible that it could be otherwise. Law could condemn what was. wrong, and no more. But now Christ came, and in Christ there is power to deliver, and this is what ruined man wants. There is delivering power, and God introduces it in Christ. "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son." It was God Himself, introducing this blessed work indeed it is what He delights in. When the law was introduced, though God gave it, yet He simply says, "it was ordained by angels." He merely puts servants to the work, comparatively distant servants, who never had the link of life and the Spirit, the link of Christ Himself, which we have. Angels may be holy, but an angel never rises out of the condition of servant; they are even servants of the saints, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. But now, when we come to hear of redemption, God is made most evidently and thoroughly the source of it. "God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons And because ye are sons, (ye Gentiles,)" etc. Of course, believing Gentiles along are meant, but without any question of our being put under the law, without the least thought of putting us under the disciplinary process which the Jews had known.
The Jewish believer had been in the condition of an infant, a bondman under the law; the Gentile never was. It is true he was a bondman, but of a totally different character. His bondage was to idolatry; the Jew's bondage was to the law. The one, therefore, was under that which, in itself, was intrinsically good, but destructive to him; the other was under bondage to that which was of Satan, and had nothing which linked him to God. The more religious the Gentile was, the more thoroughly was he the slave of Satan. We shall find the force of that shortly. In the case of the Jews, they had been under this system of guardians and stewards: they had known what it was, though really believers, to be only at a distance, far from God' unable to draw near to God and pour out their hearts before Him as children. They were able to cry to Him, to groan to Him: that is what you have in the Psalms, which are full of this blessed confidence in God; but it is the confidence of servants who count upon God to interfere for them, who hope in God, but who are not able to praise Him yet - they are not brought near to Him. Even in some of the brightest of the Psalms they pray that God's anger may not burn against them for ever. They do not know that it is entirely put away for them. On the other hand, they enter into the judicial feelings of God against His enemies: they look forward, as if it were a privilege to put down the enemies of God, and ask Him to make them as stubble before the wind - to use them and their dogs that they might drink the blood of enemies - to us a thought full of the most painful associations which all Christians would turn from. Many are even in danger of condemning the word of God because such desires are in it. The language is exactly suited to souls under the law; but now are we under grace, and no longer under law, and we pray for persons that despitefully use us and persecute us; whereas the whole tone of the Psalms, where they speak of the happiness of dashing the children of Babylon against the stone, is anything but returning good for evil: it is evil meeting with its just doom. I maintain that every word in the Psalms is of God - that all these imprecations are divine. Each curse, threat, and warning, all this sympathy with divine retribution, is as much from God as the Christian's now interceding for his enemies; but they are not suited to the same time nor the same persons, nor is God accomplishing the same end. As long as God carries on the day of grace, all these things are entirely inapplicable. They are not what God is bringing out now. They remain true for ever, each always in itself a right thing. But the fact is, that God has now, in Christ, brought in full, sovereign grace; and therefore God puts those who belong to Christ in a position to show forth, not earthly righteousness, but heavenly grace. Righteous rule is in reserve, and yet to be accomplished to the letter; and God will use His people Israel to be the special instruments of executing these divine judgments.
Let us look at the Revelation. Righteous dealing appears after the Church is taken to heaven - after the twenty-four elders are enthroned and crowned before the throne, representing the heavenly redeemed that God is now calling out of Jews and Gentiles. God then begins to work upon His ancient people Israel, who understand and cry to God and ask Him, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" Is not this the counterpart to the tone of the Psalms? Yet are they saints of God. But mark the consequence of confounding these dispensations now. The Bible requires to be rightly divided. If you take up parts of Scripture and misapply them, one way or the other, you will be a workman that needs to be ashamed. Alas! how men pervert the Sermon on the Mount. They see certain words laid down by our Lord for His disciples; they find Him insisting that they were not to resist evil, not to return a blow for a blow, nor to use any earthly means for asserting their claims or vindicating them against personal violence, spoliation of their property, etc.; the very things men resent as an infringement of their right. Were a Christian to make out of this a code for all men now, what could be more contrary to the mind of God? It would be to attempt governing the world on principles of grace. If you experimented thus on men as they are, it would become a far more dreadful bear-garden than even in the times of the great Rebellion, when they tried to act out the retribution of the Psalmist. There. Christians were put under the spirit and principle of the law; but the attempt to put the world under that which was intended for the guidance of God's children would be still worse confusion. The knave and rogue would be pardoned and caressed, the thief allowed to help himself to as much more as he liked. Evidently such principles never would do for the world, neither were they intended for it. The uninstructed may cry out that this is to take away the Bible, or much of it, but it is a totally false alarm. It is only an effort to lead them to understand the Bible; to teach them the real meaning of its various parts.
The practical point is, that Gentiles, such as ourselves, have been taken clean out of all the condition of sin in which we were. We were not under law, but we were under sin - in total insubjection to God - under every kind of evil. It might not be necessarily open, moral evil, but we lived to self, and lived without God, and that is a very gentle way of describing the condition in which all of us have been. These Galatians were under the grossest forms of ignorance and idolatry; but such is the spirit of grace, that they were taken quite out of it all, and, by faith in Christ, made sons of God, without passing through any intermediate steps. They repented, they received the Gospel, they became children of God. "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father:" - the very word which He, the blessed One, in full communion with His Father, uttered. Think into what a place we are brought! That he who was but the day before a wretched, defiled, idolatrous Gentile, is empowered by the Holy Ghost to utter the same sweet expression of relationship - Father! What a place has God given His children now! And it comes out, not in speaking about the Jews, who were expressly said to be redeemed from under the law, and brought into sonship; but the Holy Ghost expands when He speaks about the Gentiles. There might have been the notion that the Gentile, as he had known nothing about the law, could not be brought into so blessed a place, all at once, as the believing Jew. But not so: the Jew had to be brought out, not merely of sin, but from the law. The Gentile had nothing but his sin to be brought out of; and therefore in him the work was done, if I may so say, far more simply. The Jew had to unlearn, the Gentile merely to learn. All that the Gentile had was mere corrupt nature, till he was converted, when he was brought at once under the shining of God's grace; whereas the Jew had to be brought out of the law, and was hampered - perhaps fettered - by what still clung to him of the legal system.
Remember, that he who understands grace never weakens the law, which is a very great sin. The doctrine of faith establishes the law. If you think the Christian is under the law, and yet can be saved and happy, you really destroy the authority of the law. Jewish believers under the law never had the full peace and joy which the gospel now brings; and where you have souls now under the law in spirit, they may be saved, but they never have the full rest to which the work of Christ entitles them. The reason is most simple. Though they received Christ, they do not apply His work. If they did, they would see that one of the effects of redemption is to deliver a person - not from subjection to Christ, but to make him more than ever subject to the will of God, and yet not put under law. Therefore the apostle shows that what they were brought into is the place of sons. Now the position of the son is intelligent subjection to his Father: the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of His Son, teaches to cry, "Abba, Father;" but not to say longer, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" That is the cry forced out of the heart of one under the law, crying out in anguish of spirit, always having the sense that there is something to be delivered from; comforted a little sometimes, and then down under the pressure of the law. Whereas, where the fulness of blessing that God has given us in Christ is known, the heart is prompted by the Holy Ghost to cry, Abba, Father. The flesh is done with in the sight of God, and we are entitled to say that we have done with it ourselves. God cannot trust me, nor can I trust myself; but I know that I can trust God in His beloved Son, who has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, so that there is perfect rest for the heart. The cry of the Spirit is Abba, Father; thus is the child of God led out into the proper language of relationship with God. Other people may admire His creation, may dwell upon the wonders of the heavens and earth; but the cry of the Spirit is Abba, Father; and you can feel it far more than you can express it. What is the gladness of dwelling upon the attributes of God, or the outward effects of His power, compared with the joy of the heart that feels divine relationship? Thus we have the Galatian saint here reminded of his relationship; it was the cry which the Holy Ghost produced; and suited to the relationship, into the consciousness of which he was brought out of his idolatry. For all depends upon this - the simplicity with which my soul receives the great truth that, as to all that I am, it was judged on the cross; and now there is a new man before God, and a new man before me - Christ risen from the deed; and I am entitled to say, that is the One in whom I stand before God. Can we cry anything else than "Abba, Father?"
But then there is a warning as well as a conclusion. The conclusion is, "Wherefore thou art no more A servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." Just as in Galatians 6, where he says, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness." The Holy Ghost then puts it to each individual's soul - "considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." So, if God gives a warning that is individual, He gives a comfort, and this before it. "Wherefore," it is said, as the result of all the reasonings, "thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." Observe, it is not what they shall be; not that they are always infants in this world, and shall get their blessing in heaven, but "thou art no more a servant but a son." If you were a Jew, you would be the servant of the law. But now, no matter what you were, if you had been an idolater, you have passed, in receiving Christ, into the fulness of the blessing that is due from God to His beloved Son. God has no blessing too great for the heart that bows to Him - "if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." He enlarges the sphere: it is not merely heir of this or that, but heir of God. What God possesses, what God will have in the blessed day that is coming, He will share with His children. And that is the meaning of the last clause in Eph_1:18. See also Romans 8. Such and no less, is the place for which God destines us; He does not mean to keep anything back. As grace has been, so the glory will be, God's answer to the devil's insinuation in Eden.
Now for the warning. "Howbeit, then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods! But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God," etc. It is plain he means the Gentiles; he does not say, when we knew not God, because the Jews had a certain knowledge of God under the law; but "when ye knew not God" clearly is about the heathen. "How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?" Weigh that expression well. There cannot be a more solemn statement as regards the present state of Christendom. What does he mean by saying that these Galatian saints were returning again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which they desired again to be in bondage? They must have been perfectly shocked. Turning again to idolatry! How could this be? They might say, We are only taking up the principle of the law: do you call this the weak and beggarly elements? Why, says the apostle, when you were unconverted, you worshipped false gods - idols; but if you, Christians, go and take up Jewish principles, even these feast-days or other principles of the law, you are in principle idolaters, turning back again to that idolatry out of which God delivered you. How is this? The reason is plain. It was not that the law in itself could be idolatrous, or that God did not forbear toward the prejudice of those that were Jews. But here were the Gentile believers resorting to these legal elements. Who told them? These things had lost all their meaning, and a Gentile had nothing to do with them; they had their value as a shadow of Christ, before Christ came; but to turn back from Christ risen from the dead, to these mere shadows, was in God's sight going back to idolatry. Whenever professing Christendom takes up the law, with its external ceremonials and shadows, (quite right as all this was under the law,) and adopts them as christian worship, it has unconsciously but really fallen into idolatry.
Supposing a person were to say, I find myself very cold in worshipping God, and I want something to arouse my soul; what more proper than to have a picture of my Saviour, that as I look upon Him and the crown of thorns, I may feel more deeply His love, and have my heart's affections more drawn out to Him? That is idolatry now, if it would not have been so at any time. But there were certain of these things allowed under the legal system, because of the hardness of their heart; they had sacrifices of beasts and an earthly priesthood; but for a Gentile to turn to these things is going back to idolatry in the sight of God. The Holy Ghost presses this upon these Galatian believers, for the evil was only in the germ. If this be true, what a sin to take part in, to countenance or sanction, in any way, that which is idolatry in God's judgment! The evil is increasing most rapidly. It is not confined now to popery; but the stride which has been made of late years towards Catholic principles is the same thing. If it has any religious element at all, it is an idolatrous one, making use of certain feelings of awe in our fallen nature to make people feel more reverent in worship. That is precisely the thing that is opposed to faith. The essence of our blessing lies in the soul's enjoying Christ by the word of God - the Holy Ghost giving this enjoyment of Christ apart from everything that acts upon the natural eye or mind. For it is precisely this very abuse that the apostle here so strongly denounces, and which he calls the weak and beggarly element. What God prizes in worship would now be generally considered meagre and poor; for it supposes the absence of outward decoration and of excitement, in order that it may be the real power of the Holy Ghost acting among the saints.
"Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years." Not to do this now is the wonder. Alas! the Galatian evil is thought a proof of religion. He marks this observance, not merely as an error, but as a proof of idolatry. In heathenism these festivals were of great account; and God permitted them in Judaism because the Jews had a means of religion suited to their state and the worldly sanctuary. But now all is completely changed, and the observance of special feasts and seasons as a means of pleasing God is put down with a high hand by the Holy Spirit. "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Is it not most solemn, that, whatever might have been the evil of the Corinthians, he never says of them, "I am afraid of you?" Had we known an assembly with so much flagrant moral evil in its midst - some, too, seeking to overthrow the resurrection, - should we not have said, there never was so pitiable a thing as their state? But the apostle writes to them in confidence, that they would be brought out of their evil. Not but that he deeply felt it, and puts before them their critical condition; but he writes to them, assured that God would touch their hearts. "God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son." And then he begins to deal with their conduct after he teas touched that great chord in their hearts. But when he writes to the Galatians, there is no such expression. Afterwards the Holy Ghost gives him comfort about them, but it is far short of what he feels in writing to the Corinthians. Legalism is an insidious thing, because it looks fair. When this is the case, men fancy that they become practically more holy; but the contrary is the fact. What produces true holiness is, that it is not merely the name of a day, or of an hour, or of a season, or place, but God working in the soul, both to will and to do of His good pleasure; and this, because "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ." God brings the believer into His own presence, and puts him there as a child.
Persons may be really breathing the very life-breath of popery who think that they have the most wholesome dread of it. Let us search and see for our own souls. We can always look up to God and count upon victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Let Satan rage as he will, yet God will always be God - will always be true to His own word and Spirit.
The apostle now turns to his own relations with the Galatian saints; and the very reproach which the legal teachers had been inciting them to against himself, he takes as an additional ground for the truth. They, by their representations, had stirred up the Galatians to feel aggrieved with the apostle, because he had, as it were, ceased to be a Jew, avowing that he had completely done with the law. This is now met. It is important to understand how the law is thus done with. It was not that the apostle did not use it; but then the point is, as he tells Timothy, that a man should use it lawfully, for dealing with the ungodly, the unrighteous, etc. But they found fault with him, because he did not stand up for his Jewish privileges. He could and did use the law of God for moral principles and for dealing with men; but neither as a title nor a rule for himself. It would have been lowering his ground and character of blessing, had he condescended to speak about anything that belonged to him after the flesh. Grace had brought him into a far better place. In man the law and the flesh always go together. The cross of Christ was the end of both in the sight of God. The flesh was judged and condemned there; it was treated as a dead thing before God - dead and buried: and the law which deals with the flesh we are dead to. We have passed out of both, we are not in the flesh, and are no longer under law. The flesh being that in us with which the law grapples, and the flesh being now by faith accounted a dead thing, there is no more for the law to lay hold of. We pass out of its province into another country and atmosphere.
The apostle accordingly seizes this very reproach and turns it into an unexpected argument for the gospel. "Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am:" that is, be free from the law, as being dead to it in Christ; take your place boldly and with firmness, with the certainty that the will of God is that you have no direct relationship to it. "Be as I am." I am free from its tenure and obligations. They say that I do not assert my legal rights as a Jew; I know and proclaim it. You were Gentiles after the flesh; you were never in a Jewish position at all: do not seek it now that you have, by and in grace, a better. "Be as I am; for I am as ye are." You are Gentiles, and have never been, and are not, under the law at all, and "I am as ye are." If you only understood your place of liberty from the law, how could you wish to pass under its yoke? This is put in a concise and highly elliptical form; but I believe it is to be understood by taking it in connection with what goes before and after. "Ye have not injured me at all." They were apparently afraid that in letting the apostle know that he was foregoing his own proper place, they were doing something to pain his feelings. Not at all, he says: "Ye have not injured me at all." I fully acknowledge that, whatever I was as a man in the flesh, I have entirely abandoned that ground. As a lineal descendent of Abraham, without a single evil thing, the law kept perfectly, I should not be so blessed as I am in Christ. Then, remembering what he said in Gal_3:10, (" as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse,") we see that all which could be got by taking legal ground is a curse. Well, therefore, could the apostle triumphantly urge, "Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are." You were only Gentiles and had nothing to say to the law; and now I am brought outside it as much as you - not, of course, by becoming a Gentile, but by being delivered from law in and through Christ. There is the blessedness of the christian position. It is not merely absence of law, but the being brought into union with Christ, which raises us above the law, while it secures obedience and draws out love to God and man as the law never could. Thus, what the law aimed at is accomplished, (Rom_8:3-4,) and far more fully than it ever could otherwise have been, through the love of Christ constraining the soul. And this is done, not through the mere negative process of telling a man that he has not the law as his rule; but by putting him under Christ; (i.e., under grace.) This is what faith does for the soul.
"Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh, I preached the gospel to you at the first: and my temptation that was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus." So far from coming in anything that savoured of fleshly confidence and authority, he came as a suffering man. This is just alluded to here, but it is more particularly brought forward in 2 Corinthians 12. And very sweet it is to consider how it was, and when it was, that the apostle had this humiliating mark in his flesh. We are not told what it was. It might have been some peculiarity in his speech, look, etc. We know it was something connected with his bodily state: it was "in his flesh." But it is quite clear, as it is affecting, to know, that the more the apostle was led on of God and blessed, only the deeper marks did he wear of suffering, weakness, and shame in his person. The thorn in the flesh followed his being taken up into the third heaven. This messenger of Satan buffeted him, and God turned it to excellent account, that the apostle might be kept low in his own eyes, and even in those of others. It was thus made manifest, that what wrought such wonders in Paul was the power of the Holy Ghost, in spite of the sentence of death being passed upon all the energy of nature The day is coming when God will restore the Jews, and will put them in the position of "the head," and the Gentiles of "the tail;" and then all will be established in due order according to the mind of God. But now, he, as it were, says, it is not so at all. Being a Jew is nothing It is all gone. I have come here as one suffering and despised, and in nothing asserting what I am as a child of Abraham. I am dead to it all; and as a proof, he refers to the well-known circumstances of his first preaching to them. Did they not remember that when he came to them, it was not with might or show, but deeply tried? Instead of outward attraction attached to his person, there was that which could not but be grievous trial to himself and to them. But what did they think of it then? They were so full of the gospel, so happy in finding the grace and the blessedness of the truth preached, that they regarded Paul as one would an angel. "Ye despised not, but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus."
"Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me." Their affections had been completely alienated! which is always the effect of false teachers working on the mind. The enmity grows, and every circumstance tends to swell it. The apostle presses this home urgently on their conscience. "Am I, therefore, become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously affect you, but not well. Yea, they would exclude you," or us; for it was really shutting out the apostle from the saints - making a barrier between him and them. "They would exclude US, that ye might affect them:" that is, that it might all be a matter of flattering one another; for the law is invariably perverted to the puffing up of the flesh, when it is not used recording to the purpose of God. "But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you" The experience of Paul with the Galatians was the exact opposite to what was found at Philippi. You may remember a well-known passage in Philippians 2 where the apostle speaks of them as having always "obeyed, not as in his presence only, but much more in his absence." They were remarkable for their obedient spirit when he was present; and it is always the spirit of grace which produces this, as the law begets servility and fear. When we are happy in God's presence, we are united in one common object, and that object is Christ. There is thus a motive that governs every affection and action; and happiness, peace, and submissiveness are the proper and natural effects of grace working among the children of God. let Philippi, then, they had always obeyed, not only when Paul was there, but much more in his absence. They were working out their own salvation with fear and trembling, conscious of the mighty conflict in which they were engaged. They did not allow the fond dream that, because they were Christians, all the difficulty was over; but, on the contrary, having been brought to Christ, they nevertheless found themselves in the presence of a powerful enemy, and hence they were thrown upon God. The apostle was gone, but instead of being cast down thereby, it made them look up to God more and more; not in any pride of heart, but in the felt need of dependence on Him. The same feeling of owning God would have made them use and value the apostle when he was there; when he was not there, it threw them directly and immediately upon God. Whereas the pride of heart that would have despised the apostle, exposes one to self-idolatry, to such as flatter self, and so to every cheat of Satan. The great point for the Philippians was, that God wrought in them. Why be downcast, as if they had not the confidence that He who loved them best was working in them, and would care for them so much the more because they were engaged in such deadly strife?
With the Galatians it was not so. Taking advantage of the apostle's absence, they had soon fallen into a fleshly use of the law; and with teachers who humoured it, they were fast losing all real affection for him, and the blessedness they had once enjoyed. Although it would have been better that they should have looked up to God, and found strength to stand for Him when left alone, yet, considering the state in which they were, he could have wished to have been with them. Their faith had been shaken, and they were slipping from Christ, to make things more secure by ordinances; and as the apostle had gone through an immense deal about them in their first coming to the knowledge of Christ, - had known, as he expresses it himself, deep painful throes about it, so he went through all, in spirit, again now. "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you." Legalism had so disfigured the truth in their souls, that they needed to be rooted and grounded in the first elements of grace over again. They had lost their hold of the cross, and the apostle stood in doubt of them. Outwardly they might be very zealous; but as far as testimony for Christ, and their souls' enjoyment of Him, was concerned, all was gone. The apostle desired that the work should be renewed from the very beginning in their souls. "I desire to be present with you and to change my voice, for I stand in doubt of you." The meaning is, he wished to deal with them according to what he found their condition called for. There might be an effect produced, and he would speak softly to them; or they might be light, proud, and hard, and then he must deal sternly: he would change his voice, as he says to the Corinthians: "What will ye? shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and the spirit of meekness?" Here the apostle was perplexed as to them.
"Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?" He uses the word "law" in two different senses in this verse. Ye that desire to be under the principle of law, do ye not hear what the books of the law say? That is, the early writings of the Bible. "Law" is sometimes said about the word of God in general as then revealed, as in Psalm 19, "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." But when spoken of as that which the Christian is not under, it is the principle of the conscience being put under certain obligations, in order to acquire a standing with God. This is the fallacy which St. Paul is laying bare. Therefore, says he, "Ye that desire to be under law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free-woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free-woman was by promise." There you see the connection between flesh and law, promise and grace. The Spirit has to do with the promise, the law with the flesh. This he illustrates from Genesis.
The Holy Ghost has taken particular pains to lay hold of facts in the Old Testament which we should never have thought applicable, in order to bring out blessed truths in the New Testament. Who would have discerned the difference between law and promise in Hagar and Ishmael striving with Sarah and Isaac? The Spirit of God not only saw it, but intended the record of the circumstances to be the beautiful foreshadowing of the two covenants; that of law, which has only a child of the flesh: and that of promise, which, on the contrary, brings forth in due time the child of the Spirit. The apostle does not leave us to our own imaginations. He shows that Hagar answers to Jerusalem that now is - the city of scribes and Pharisees, poor, proud, miserable Jerusalem, that had no liberty towards God, groaning under the Roman bondage, and the still more bitter slavery of sin. The apostle applies this to what was then going on among the Galatians. Let them beware of becoming virtually the children of Hagar. Did they not tale the place of being zealous for the law? Yet after all they did not understand its voice; "desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." The law was thoroughly against them. It clearly showed that God attached the promise not to the mere offspring of the letter, but to the children of the Spirit.
Every religious system which takes its stand upon the law, invariably assumes a Jewish character. We need not look round far to understand this, nor to apply it. Why is it that men have magnificent buildings, or the splendour of ritual in the service of God? On what model is it founded? Certainly they are not like those who gathered together of old in the upper-room. The temple is clearly the type, and along with this goes the having a peculiar sacred class of persons, the principle of the clergy being founded upon the notion of the Jewish priesthood. The service, where that is the case, must depend upon what would attract the senses - show of ornament, music, imposing ceremonies, everything that would strife man's mind, or that would draw a multitude together, not by the truth, but by something to be seen or heard that pleases nature. It is the order of what the word of God calls the "worldly sanctuary." Not that the tabernacle or temple had not a very important meaning before Christ came; but afterwards their shadowy character became apparent, and their temporary value was at an end, and the full truth and grace of God were manifested in the person of Him who came from heaven. When Christ was rejected from the earth and went back to heaven, all was changed, and the heart-allegiance of God's children is transferred to heaven. The true sanctuary for us is the name of Christ. What the Old Testament connected for an earthly people with the temple, the New Testament does with Jesus. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." If there were ever so few true to that, they would reap the blessing. It is of great importance to trace things to their principle. When the apostle wrote to the Galatians, only the germs were showing themselves; they had not got to the length of consecrated buildings and castes of men, with all the pomp and circumstance of religious worship suited to the world, which we see around us now, the result of the gradual inroads of error upon the Christian professing body. But still there was the beginning of the mischief, the attempt to bring in the principles of the law upon Christians. And what is the effect? You only fall into the position of Ishmael, out of Isaac's. To be thus identified with the law is to be an Ishmael, to forfeit the promises and to become a mere child of the bond-woman. This is the argument that the apostle uses to deal with the Galatians, who were flattering themselves that they had made immense progress; but it was really a slip out of liberty into bondage.
"But Jerusalem, which is above, is free, which is the mother of us all." The word "all" has been added to this verse. The true text ends with "us," and obviously the sense is fuller and better without it. "All" was added, probably, by those who thought to strengthen the connection of all the children of God; whereas the inspired writer particularly refers to those that had been Jews. He says, We are no longer children of Jerusalem which is below, but we belong to Jerusalem which is above. As to the earthly Jerusalem, we owe her no allegiance now; we belong to Christ, and consequently to the heavenly Jerusalem. For it is written - and now he refers to a passage in the prophets - "Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not; for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband" The meaning may be a little obscure at first, but adds much, when understood, to the force of what the apostle insists on. It is connected not so much with Hagar and Sarah, as with the reference to Jerusalem. See Isaiah 54, where Jerusalem in a future day is looking back upon her past trials, and God makes a remarkable reckoning of grace. He. is speaking of the time when she was long desolate, of her present season of trial, when she is reft of all her outward privileges; but of that very time it says, she has more children than even when the Lord was her husband. In Hosea Israel is spoken of as one most guilty, and the Lord about to put her away. Then she is the desolate one: the Lord has forsaken her because of her sin; but in due time, before there is any outward deliverance from under Gentile captivity or oppression, grace begins to work, and all those who are brought in under Christ now are counted in a certain respect her children. But all is connected with Jerusalem that is to be - Jerusalem that will have ceased to be Hagar and have taken the ground of grace. So that when she looks upon the Christians who will then be in their own heavenly place, the Lord will count them as children of the desolate wife. He will say, "Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not; for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband." It is a comparison of herself during her time of desolation with herself when she had a husband. The latter was the time when she was owned in her earthly standing, and she had few children then; but now, in her desolation, there is a mighty outpouring of God's grace, and a wide ingathering of souls, who are counted, by grace, as her children.
The Epistle to the Galatians never takes up the standing of the Church properly, not going beyond the inheritance of promise. There are certain privileges that we share in common with every saint. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. We too believe and are justified. Substantially, faith has so far the same blessings at all times. We are children of promise, entering into the. portion of faith as past saints have done before us; and this is what we find in Galatians, though with a certain advance of blessing for us. But if you look at Ephesians, the great point there is that God is bringing out wholly new and heavenly privileges. This is in no respect what is taken up in Galatians. There we are ml the common ground of promises. "' If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." But in Ephesians there are certain distinct and superadded privileges that Abraham never thought nor heard of: I mean the formation of the Church of God, Christ's body, the truth that Jews and Gentiles. were to be taken out of earthly places, and made one with Christ in heaven. This was the mystery concerning Christ and the Church, hidden from ages and generations, but now revealed through the Holy Ghost. So that, in order to have a right view of the full blessing of the Christian, we must take the Ephesian blessing along with the Galatian. The special time is while Christ is on the right hand of God. Even as to the millennial saints, do you think they will enjoy all that we have now? Far from it. They will possess much that we do not, such as the manifested glory of Christ, exemption from sorrow and suffering, etc. But our calling is totally different and contrasted. It is to love Him whom we have not seen; to rejoice in the midst of tribulation and shame. If a man ware to form his thoughts of Christianity from Galatians only, he might confound the saints now with those of the Old Testament, always remembering the difference that we find here, that the heir as long as he is under age differs nothing from a servant; whereas we are brought into the full possession of our privileges. But there are other and higher things in Ephesians, called, or at least flowing from, the eternal purpose of God. So that it is well to distinguish this double truth - the community of blessing through all dispensations, and the speciality of privilege that attaches to those who are being called now by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.
"Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But, as then, he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was horn after the Spirit, even so now." There he shows the practical fruit; nevertheless, he adds, "What saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman." What a death-blow to all who maintain that the child of God has anything to do with the law, as that which determines his own relationship to God! The law is a powerful weapon for probing the ungodly; but in our own standing we have done with it. "So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free." Such is the conclusion of the apostle's argument. And what could be more conclusive? Out of the law itself he contradicts all they were using the law for; and before the law was given at Sinai, we have, set forth in this remarkable type, the true position of the Christian in contrast with the legalist. The Jew answers to the child of the bond-woman, and was then in bondage too. The apostle shows that such is the inevitable portion of the Gentile also who desires to take that place, and who must suffer even more the consequences of his own folly in it. He is leaving freedom in order to be a slave. "But what saith the scripture? Cast out the bond-woman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman." So that we have, in the clearest manner possible, God resisting all this attempt to foist in the law among the children of the free-woman. On the contrary, to the child of the free the promises are firmly bound by God Himself in Christ risen.
Thus, then, it is of the greatest importance that we should seize clearly our position, and understand what it is that God has given us. He has called us, even had we been Jews, into another condition than subjection to the law. He has made us to be children of the. free-woman and brought us into liberty