Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 3:8 - 3:9

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 3:8 - 3:9

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Gal_3:8-9. 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. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

THE point which St. Paul above all things labours to establish, especially in his Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Jews universally were adverse to this doctrine, because it derogated, as they thought, from the honour of their law. And the Gentiles also were hostile to it, because it cut off from them all occasion of boasting in themselves. But the more the unbelieving world set themselves against it, the more this holy Apostle strove to place it beyond all contradiction or doubt. And well he might, since on the reception or rejection of it depends the everlasting salvation of every child of man. Let it not therefore be deemed superfluous, if on a point of such infinite importance we follow him, and bring it before you in a variety of views. If we have already received it, we still need to be confirmed in it from time to time, lest by any means we be drawn aside from it. There is something “bewitching” in the idea of meriting salvation at the hands of God; and we are but too apt to listen to any statement which shall so flatter the pride of our hearts. Many converts belonging to the Churches of Galatia, after having been for a time established in the truth, were at last turned aside from it; and drew from the Apostle this spirited remonstrance; “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” He appeals to them, that the miracles which he had wrought among them, as also the miraculous powers which they had received through his instrumentality, were all in confirmation of this doctrine; by which, in fact, Abraham himself had been saved; and by which alone they could ever be partakers of Abraham’s felicity. This, he tells them, was the unvaried testimony of Scripture; and it had been declared two thousand years before to Abraham, in those most memorable words, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”

In discoursing on these words, we will shew,

I.       What was that Gospel which the Scripture preached to Abraham—

Abraham was informed, that “in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed”—

[This was repeatedly declared to him, and at an interval of nearly fifty years [Note: Gen_12:3; Gen_18:18; Gen_22:18.]. The full import of this promise was not clearly revealed in the declaration itself; but it was doubtless made known to him by the Spirit of God, and was typically represented to him in the sacrifice of his son Isaac. By the command of God, he took his own son, the child of promise, in order to offer him up as a burnt-offering to the Lord. On this his son he laid the wood which was to reduce him to ashes; he led him to Mount Moriah (the very place where the Promised Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ, was afterwards offered); he bound him, and, in purpose and intention, offered him up a sacrifice to God: and then, having actually offered up the ram which God had substituted in the place of Isaac, he received his son as from the dead [Note: Heb_11:17-19.]: and thus was taught, that, by the death and resurrection of the Promised Seed, the blessings of salvation were to be brought to a ruined world. Such was the view given him of this great mystery; and by his faith in the Promised Seed so “dying for our offences, and so raised again for our justification,” he was justified, as all his believing posterity shall also be [Note: Rom_4:22-25.].

Here it is particularly to be remembered, that the law bore no part in his justification; for it was not given till four hundred and thirty years after the promise of a Saviour had been made to him, and by faith in that promised Saviour he had been justified. It must be remembered also, that circumcision bore no part in his justification; for no less than twenty-four years elapsed between the period of his being justified by faith, and the appointment of that rite [Note: Compare Gen_12:3-4. with Gen_17:1; Gen_17:7; Gen_17:10; Gen_17:23-24.]. It is of the utmost importance that these things be borne in mind: for, if we once admit the idea of his being either in whole or in part justified by any thing but faith, we shall subvert the Gospel altogether; seeing that there is but one method of a sinner’s justification before God for him and for us [Note: See Rom_4:9-14.]. True it is, that before men he was justified by his obedience, as St. James has truly said [Note: Jam_2:21-23.]: for it was by the fruits which his faith produced, that it was seen to be a living, and not a dead, faith: but in the sight of God he had nothing of his own whereon to place the least dependence: it was by faith only, without any work whatever of his own, that he was counted righteous before God: and, if it had not been so, his salvation had been, not a gift of grace, but a reward of debt, to which he was entitled, and in which he would to all eternity have had a ground of glorying before God [Note: Rom_4:1-5.].]

In this promise “the Gospel was preached to him”—

[This way of salvation is emphatically and exclusively called “the Gospel.” It was glad tidings to Abraham, when taken out of an idolatrous state, and ignorant of any means of acceptance with God, to be informed, that God had provided a Saviour for him; and that, through a person who should descend from his loins, a righteousness should be brought in, fully adequate to the necessities of the whole world, and certainly effectual for all who should believe in him. To that event he looked forward; and, beholding it by faith, he greatly rejoiced in it [Note: Joh_8:56.]. And this is glad tidings to us also: for where should we find a Saviour, if this promised Seed had not been given? Or what hope should we have had of ultimate salvation, if we had been required to earn it in any measure by our own works? Were it required of us to produce only one single work on which to rest our claim of heaven, where should we find one? But, blessed be God, we are taught to rely on the Promised Seed, and on him alone: and it is this very circumstance which warrants us to expect eternal happiness; since, unworthy as we are, the free promise of God, duly apprehended by faith, can never fail of its accomplishment [Note: Rom_4:16.].]

Such was the Gospel which the Scripture preached to Abraham: nor does it differ at all from,

II.      What it preaches unto us also—

It declares to us,

1.       That this is the way which God has ordained for us also—

[“The Scripture,” that is, the Holy Spirit who spake by it, “foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached this Gospel to Abraham.” There was not to be one way of salvation for him, and another for us; but one and the same for both. And as God foresaw that men would be ready to catch hold of any thing that might afford in ever so slight a degree a ground of glorying, he took care to cut off all occasion for glorying, by justifying Abraham solely through faith, whilst yet he remained in an uncircumcised state: thus shewing to the uncircumcised of all nations, that, in relation to the great matter of their justification before God, they were on a perfect equality with the circumcised; and that, as faith alone was available for Abraham’s salvation, so it would avail for the salvation of all who truly relied upon the Promised Seed [Note: Rom_3:30.]. True it is, we are to “walk in the steps of our father Abraham,” and not to imagine that we can be saved by a dead inoperative faith [Note: Rom_4:12. with Jam_2:20; Jam_2:24; Jam_2:26.]: but still it is by faith only that we become children of Abraham, and by faith only that we become partakers of his blessings [Note: Gal_3:7; Gal_3:9.]: if we seek these benefits in any other way, “we frustrate the grace of God, and cause the death of Christ to be ill vain [Note: Gal_2:21.].” In the very same promise then that the Gospel was preached to Abraham, it is preached to us: to every one of us it is said, “In the Promised Seed shalt thou be blessed.” And with this agrees the testimony of St. Paul, who, specifying distinctly all the great blessings which the Gospel offers to us, tells us, about nine times in eleven verses, that it is all “in Christ,” “in Christ,” “in Christ [Note: Eph_1:3-13.].”]

2.       That all who embrace it shall be partakers of its blessings—

[There is no exception whatever; no difference between Jews and Gentiles: if only we “be of faith, we are from that moment blessed with all the blessings which Abraham himself enjoyed.” Was he justified? So shall we be. Was he made “the friend of God?” So shall we be. Was God to him “a shield, an exceeding great reward?” Such will he be to us also. Is Abraham now “in the kingdom of his God? We also shall, with him and Isaac and Jacob, sit down there,” yea, and shall be “in Abraham’s bosom” to all eternity. All this, and infinitely more than we can either utter or conceive, shall we receive, if we truly believe in Christ: for “all things are ours, if we be Christ’s [Note: 1Co_3:22-23.].”]

From hence we may see,

1.       The antiquity of the Gospel—

[In every age the doctrine of justification by faith only is stigmatized as a new doctrine: it is very generally represented as such amongst ourselves: and so it was by the Papists at the time of the Reformation: in the apostolic age it was regarded in the same light. When “St. Paul preached Jesus and the resurrection, it was asked, what this new doctrine meant [Note: Act_17:18-19].” But it is as old as Abraham, to whom it was distinctly preached: yea, it must be traced to the time of Adam; for to him also was it preached, when he was told that “the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head.” That persons who have the Scriptures in their hands should speak of this as a new doctrine, is perfectly surprising; since it is written in every page of the sacred volume as with a sun-beam: but that a member of the Established Church should be so ignorant, is yet more astonishing; since it Is that essential and fundamental doctrine on which the very edifice of our Church is built. Let not any therefore reject this doctrine; or at least let them not call themselves members of the Church of England, if they do. The way of justification by faith is “the good old way,” in which all the saints of God have gone from the foundation of the world; and it is the only way in which any man can “find rest unto his soul.”]

2.       The excellency of the Gospel”

[The idea of being saved by faith only, is so simple, that the world can see no excellency in it: but this very simplicity constitutes a very distinguished part of its excellency. Supposing that salvation had been by works, or by faith and works united, who would ever have been able to ascertain what measure of good works would suffice for us, or what measure of imperfection would consist with their ultimate acceptance? Verily, under such uncertainty, no human being could enjoy one hour’s peace in the prospect of his great account: but when we are told that salvation is by faith only, then, whatever our works may have been in times past, we have peace in our souls the very instant we believe; because we know that Christ is “able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him:” we know that “by faith we are Abraham’s children;” and that “all the blessings of Abraham are ours,” and shall be ours for ever [Note: ver. 7–9.].

But the excellency of the Gospel appears no less in the fruits that it produces. Abraham was justified the first moment he believed. And did he on that account become indifferent to good works? See his conduct: he immediately went forth from his family and country at the command of God, though he knew not whither lie was to go. In every place where he went, he built an altar to his God: and, even when called to sacrifice with his own hands his beloved Isaac, he hesitated not, but for three successive days prosecuted his journey to the place where the offering was to be made, and executed without reluctance the Divine command. So shall we do, if we truly believe in Christ. There will be no reserves in our hearts; nothing which we will not do, nothing which we will not sacrifice, nothing which we will not suffer, if only our God may be glorified thereby. Let the world produce a list of worthies like those recorded in the Epistle to the Hebrews, or like the holy Apostles, and shew that they were actuated by a different principle from that of faith in Christ, and then will we confess that the Gospel is not so excellent as it is said to be: but till that is done, we must affirm, that in point of practical efficacy it has no rival; and that in comparison of it the whole world is only as dung and dross.]