Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 3:21 - 3:26

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 3:21 - 3:26

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Gal_3:21-26. 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, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might he given 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 to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But, after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

THE true nature and intent of the moral law is by no means generally understood: and, if the question put by the Apostle into the mouth of an objector, “Wherefore then serveth the law?” were addressed to the great mass even of considerate Christians, very few among them would know what answer to return to it. Hence it is that such opposition is everywhere made to the free offers of the Gospel. We have continually the very same contest to maintain against the generality of Christians, as the Apostle had against the Jews. The Apostle preached, that the Messiah, the Seed in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, was come: and that all were now to be justified by faith in him, precisely as Abraham had been two thousand years before. The Jews maintained, that this could not be the true way of salvation; for that God had given a law to Moses; and that law was of perpetual obligation; and, if we were now to be justified by faith alone, the law would be made void, and had in reality been given to no purpose. To this the Apostle answers, that the law, which was given to the Jews alone, could not invalidate the promise which had many ages before been given to Abraham and all his believing seed, whether among the circumcised Jews, or the uncircumcised Gentiles; and that there was no such opposition between the two as the Jews imagined; the law being in fact designed to introduce the Gospel with more effect, and to endear it to all, when it should come to be more fully revealed. This was the state of the question between the Apostle and his opponents; to whom a complete answer is given in the words before us. The question simply was, ‘Is there any real opposition between the law as given to Moses, and the promises as given to Abraham?’ No; says the Apostle: there is a subserviency of the one to the other; and both the one and the other proclaim to us, in fact, the same salvation—salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and by faith alone.

To make this clear to the comprehension of all, I will distinctly mark what he says respecting,

I.       The use of the law—

The law, when originally given to Adam in Paradise, “was ordained to life [Note: Rom_7:10.],” and would, if perfectly fulfilled by him, have given him a title to eternal life: but, having been once broken, it is no longer capable of giving a title to life, and is only “a ministration of condemnation and death [Note: 2Co_3:7; 2Co_3:9.].” Had it been possible to have given a law which should have rendered the salvation of fallen man consistent with the Divine attributes, God would never have given his only-begotten Son to take our nature and die for us: the publication of a new law would have been so obvious and so easy, that he would undoubtedly have preferred that [Note: ver. 21.]. But no such law could be given: for, if it required the same as the original law did, namely perfect and perpetual obedience, it was impossible that that should ever be rendered to it by fallen man [Note: Rom_8:3.]: and, if it required less, it would dispense with obligations, which of necessity exist between the creature and the Creator, and would, in fact, give a license to sin: which it is impossible for a holy God to do. The law then, as given to Moses, was not intended for any such purpose as this: it was intended,

1.       To prepare men for the Gospel—

[The Gospel is a revelation of mercy through the incarnation and sufferings of the Son of God: and that mercy is freely offered to all who will believe in Christ. Previously to the coming of Christ, this mystery was but very imperfectly understood: but the law as published on Mount Sinai was well calculated to prepare the minds of men for the fuller manifestation of it. For it made known to men the true extent of their duty: it shewed that we were bound to love God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength: and to love our neighbour in all respects as ourselves. Nothing less than this was to be paid by us from the earliest moment of our existence to our latest breath, Revealing this, it further shewed to men the inconceivable depth of their guilt. By this standard are we to be tried every moment: yet in no one moment of our lives have we acted up to it, either towards God or man. On the contrary, we have been at an infinite distance from it, having been altogether engrossed by self, and caring nothing either for God or man, any farther than the interests of self might he promoted by them. Thus, not to speak of any particular actions, the whole state and habit of our minds, every day, every hour, every moment, has been as contrary to the law as darkness to light, and hell to heaven. Hence the law proceeds still further to shew men their infinite desert of wrath and condemnation. For every single deviation from this perfect standard, the wrath of God is denounced against us; agreeably to that sentence of the law, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” Consider then our duty as ramified in all its extent, and in one single day our sins against it are more numerous than the stars of heaven, or the sands upon the sea-shore; and of course, a proportionable weight of wrath and condemnation is entailed upon us.

Such is the light which the law reflects on our state before God: and does it not endear to us the offer of a free and full salvation? Doubtless it does: and for this end it was given, that we might the more thankfully accept the promises made to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.]

2.       To shut men up to the Gospel—

[Men naturally go to the law, having no idea of obtaining salvation in any other way than by obedience to its commands. Hence the sinner, when once awakened to a concern about his soul, and sensible that he has not obeyed the law in its full extent, hopes to make a composition, as it were, and to he accepted on paying a part for the whole. But the law thunders in his ears, ‘Thou must obey me in all things.’ He then hopes, that the law will accept his repentance for past transgressions, and sincere obedience for the time to come. But the law replies, ‘I know nothing of repentance, or of sincere obedience: thou must pay me my lull demands, and “continue obedient in all things” from first to last: I have stated the extent of your duty; and I have said, “Do this, and thou shalt live.” These are the only terms on which I can offer thee any thing: if thou canst not bring perfect obedience with thee, it is in vain to come to me: thou must seek a remedy elsewhere: for I can afford thee none.’ Thus the law, being inflexible in its demands, and inexorable in its denunciations, compels the sinner to look out for some other way of escape from the wrath to come, and “shuts him up” to that which is revealed in the Gospel: it declares to him, that, as long as he continues to found his hopes on the law, he is, and must be, under its curse: and, just as at the first promulgation of the law, the people, trembling with apprehensions of immediate death, entreated that God would give them a mediator, through whom they might venture to approach him; so now the terrors of Mount Sinai constrain men to look for mercy solely through the mediation and intercession of the Lord Jesus [Note: Deu_5:23-28.]. In this view “the law was to be a schoolmaster to us, to bring us to Christ:” it was by instruction to inform us, and by discipline to constrain us; that so the promises made to us in the Gospel might become available for their destined end.]

The law thus viewed, opens to us in all its grandeur,

II.      The benefit of the Gospel—

“Before faith came,” and whilst the way of salvation through a crucified Redeemer was but darkly and partially disclosed, the law kept men in a state of bondage, like prisoners shut up, and looking forward to a future deliverance: but, “when faith did come,” and the Gospel was fully revealed, then it appeared what unspeakable mercy God had kept in store for the sinners of mankind: for by the Gospel,

1.       We are liberated from the law—

[The very instant we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and lay hold on the covenant of grace, we cease to be any longer under the covenant of works. The law, as a covenant, has no longer any power either to command, or to condemn: it is abrogated with respect to us; yea, it is dead: and has no more power over us, or connexion with us, than a man who is dead has with the widow whom he has left behind him. This is not only affirmed by the Apostle, but is illustrated also by this very image. “If,” says he, “her husband is dead, the woman is loosed from the law of her husband: so we are become dead to the law and the law is become dead to us, by the body of Christ; yea, we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held [Note: Rom_7:1-6.].” And this effect is produced by the law itself; as he also tells us in the chapter preceding our text: “I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God [Note: Gal_2:19.]:” that is, the law so utterly condemns me, that I can have no hope from it whatever, and am forced, whether I will or not, to renounce all dependence upon it, and to live no longer as one who hopes to earn life for himself, but as one who seeks only to honour and glorify his Redeemer. Hear the account which St. Paul gives of this matter in another epistle. Speaking to those who had believed in Christ, he says, “Ye are not come unto the Mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of the trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard, entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: but ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, and to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel [Note: Heb_12:18-24.].” In a word, the moment we believe in Christ, “we are no longer under a schoolmaster,” or, as it is elsewhere said, “we are no longer under the law, but under grace [Note: Rom_6:14.].”]

2.       We are brought into possession of all spiritual and eternal blessings—

[“We are justified by faith [Note: ver. 24.];” we are “justified freely from all things, from which we could not be justified by the law of Moses [Note: Act_13:39.]:” Our “sins, whatever they may have been, are put as far from us as the east is from the west [Note: Psa_103:12.]:” “nor shall they ever more be remembered against us [Note: Heb_8:12; Heb_10:17.].” Nor is this all: we are brought into the very family of God, and “made the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus [Note: ver. 26.].” Nor are we children only, but children of full age, who are “no longer under tutors and governors,” but already admitted to the most intimate communion with our God, and enjoying, as far as in this world we can enjoy, the inheritance prepared for us [Note: Gal_4:1-7.].

And here we cannot but call your attention in a more especial manner to the means by which all these blessings are secured. It is again and again said, that they become ours “by faith in Christ Jesus.” There is no other way: it is simply and solely by faith: there is no mixture of works: works, so far from augmenting our title to these things, or contributing to the acquisition of them, will, if wrought for this end, cut us off from all hope of ever coming to the possession of them. So inconsistent with each other are the covenants of grace and of works, that the smallest portion of works utterly excludes grace [Note: Rom_11:6.]; and the slightest imaginable dependence on them invalidates all that Christ has done and suffered for us. The instant we blend any thing with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we make “the promise of no effect,” and “Christ,” with respect to us, “has died in vain [Note: Gal_2:21; Gal_5:2-4.].”]

And now, in conclusion, let us inquire,

1.       Whence is it that there is so much occasion to insist on these truths?

[Is it that there is any difficulty in them? No; in all personal matters we find it easy enough to distinguish between a gift and a debt. We are at no loss to make this distinction, if a man, who has never done one thing for us in all his life, claim a reward at our hands. It is to little purpose that he compliments us with an appeal to our generosity: the single circumstance of his founding his hope, though in a small degree, on services which he professes to have rendered us, especially if, instead of having done us any service, he has all his days been adverse to our will and hostile to our interests, is quite sufficient to cut him off from all hope of receiving the benefits he expects. And much more may this be the case when a sinner presumes to prefer a claim of merit before his God. For what is this but the most abominable pride? Take an illustration, which will serve to place the matter in its true point of view. A prince offers pardon to his rebellious subjects, provided they will sue for it through the mediation of his son, to whom he has committed the whole government of his kingdom. Some apply in the appointed way, and are pardoned: but others say, ‘We will not accept of pardon on the terms he offers it: if the king will levy a fine upon us, we will pay it; or, if he will appoint us a service, be it never so difficult, we will perform it: but to stoop to the method which he has prescribed, namely, that of asking pardon through the mediation of his son, is a humiliation to which we will not submit.’ Who does not see, that pride is the principle by which these persons are actuated; and that, if they perish as rebels, it is altogether through their own fault? Know then, that it is pride, and pride alone, that keeps any from seeing the excellency of the Gospel salvation. It is pride that makes any so averse to be saved entirely by faith without the works of the law: and, till the proud hearts of men be humbled, the Gospel will always be to them a stumbling-block, and rock of offence. But be it known to you, that, how desirous soever you may be “to establish a righteousness of your own,” you can never do it, but “must submit to the righteousness of God [Note: Rom_10:3.].”]

2.       Why are we so earnest in enforcing them?

[If the present life only were concerned, we might be content to let you go on your own way. But on your acceptance or rejection of the Gospel salvation depends your happiness both in this world and the world to come. This accounts for St. Paul insisting so much on this doctrine in his Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians; and for his declaring so repeatedly, that, if they did any work whatever with a view to recommend them to Christ for justification, “Christ himself should profit them nothing.” See what he says on this subject respecting his Jewish brethren. He tells us, “that the Gentiles, who had not followed after righteousness, had attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith: but that Israel, who had followed after the law of righteousness, had not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? (says he:) Because they sought it not by faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law: for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone [Note: Rom_9:30-32.].” So it will be with all who will not submit to the righteousness of faith. If they would “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, they should never be ashamed:” but if, through an ignorant zeal for the law, they will not embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as their only hope, they must inevitably and eternally perish. This is the reason that, in going through this epistle, we bring the matter before you in such various points of view, and with such an earnest desire to fasten a conviction of it on your minds: and we entreat all to bear in remembrance the importance of the subject, and not to give sleep to their eyes or slumber to their eye-lids, till they have embraced the Lord Jesus Christ with their whole hearts, and made him “all their salvation and all their desire.”]

3.       Are the promises any more against the law, than the law is against the promises?

[The law, as has been shewn you, is subservient to the promises, and was given on purpose to make us more earnest in apprehending them, and more simple in relying on them. So the promises in return secure obedience to the law; as St. Paul has said, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law [Note: Rom_3:31.].” To this truth the whole Scriptures bear witness. “The grace of God which brings salvation, teaches us obedience [Note: Tit_2:11-12.];” and the faith that apprehends that salvation, secures it; for it “works by love,” and “purifies the heart,” and “overcomes the world.” The state into which we are brought by the promises, precludes a possibility of our living in any wilful sin [Note: Rom_6:1-7.]: it would be contrary to the very idea of our being servants of Christ, to render service to that which he so abhors. A spiritual man cannot endure the thought of so grievous an inconsistency [Note: Rom_6:15-16.]. On the contrary, the promises afford him encouragement to aspire after universal holiness, because, whilst they set him free from all slavish fears, they assure him of a constant supply of grace and strength proportioned to his necessities [Note: 2Co_12:9.]. Hence, apprehending and living upon the promises, he will “cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2Co_7:1.].” Let this then appear in all our lives: so shall it be seen beyond all contradiction, that, though we build not on our works, we diligently perform them; and that the doctrine we profess is in truth “a doctrine according to godliness.”]