The Sonship of the Believers Opposed to the Bondage of the Law.
The believers sons and heirs through Christ:
v. 1. Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all,
v. 2. but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
v. 3. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world;
v. 4. but when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law,
v. 5. to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
v. 6. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
v. 7. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
The apostle here gives a further explanation as to the purpose of the Law in the Old Testament, namely, that it was not intended to give life and salvation to men, but to serve as a pedagogue unto Christ: What I mean to say is this, For the length of time that the heir is a minor, he differs in nothing from a servant, although he is lord of all the possessions. This principle, or rule, holds true universally, with only slight modifications. A child, a son, not having reached the legal age is a minor and is not permitted to have charge of the property, either the will of the father or the decree of the probate court providing a guardian or trustee for that purpose. At the time of Paul the minor was legally about in the same position as the slave. No act of his had the sanction of the law, unless it was performed through his legal representative. He was under guardians, or tutors, and stewards, or trustees, until the time appointed of the father, who might even make a provision to limit the heir's right to his property beyond the age of legal majority. The men named by the father had charge of the property, counseled the boy, defended and directed him. "An infant was under a tutor until he reached the age of fourteen;... thereafter he is able to make a will and dispose of his own property. But the practical management of the property remains in the hands of a curator till the ward reaches the age of twenty-five. This is exactly the state of things which Paul speaks of. " It is plain, of course, that a father is not acting foolishly, or for the purpose of punishing his son, in imposing such restrictions upon him, but for the minor's benefit, lest he spend and squander his money foolishly. Thus the apostle takes an example from daily life, one with which his readers were familiar, in order to illustrate the relation of the Old Testament believers to the Law, in order to show what object God had in imposing such restrictions upon His children.
The apostle now makes the application: Even so we, when we were minors, were in bondage under the rudiments of this world. Paul here includes himself with the believing Jews, with those that placed their faith in the Messiah. These believers were indeed children of God and heirs of the promise, chap. 3:15. By their faith in the promised salvation they were actually in possession of all heavenly gifts and blessings, of full salvation. But spiritually they were minors; they had not yet come to a mature understanding of God's counsels and plans; they were restricted under tutors and curators. And among these were the elements, the rudiments, of this world. The word "element" really signifies a peg or stylus standing in a row, from which was derived the meaning "letter," and finally "elementary teaching," 2Pe_3:10-12; Heb_5:12. It is here most probably used in the meaning of "letter" or "statute," for such the Law was to the Old Testament believers, a letter written on stones and on paper, governing their actions, but unable to renew their hearts. As Luther writes: "'Elements' is here taken according to the peculiar diction of Paul and according to the grammar for the letters of the Law themselves, of which the Law consists, as he also calls it 2Co_3:6 and elsewhere, Rom_2:27-29, 'the letter,' the conclusion being that elements in the plural is the Scripture or the written Law. " And as for the term "rudiments of the world," Luther explains: "He thus calls the Law 'elements of the world,' that means, external letters, or statutes, that are written in a certain book. For although the Law in civil matters restrains from evil and insists upon doing good, yet, when it is fulfilled in this manner, it does not liberate from sins, it does not justify, it does not prepare the way to heaven, but leaves the people in this world. For I do not obtain righteousness and eternal life in this way, that I do not kill, that I do not commit adultery, that I do not become guilty of stealing, etc. These external virtues and honest conduct are not the righteousness of Christ or of heaven, but are a righteousness of the flesh and of the world... Therefore he [Paul] rejects and condemns with this little word, 'elements of the world, the entire righteousness of the Law which lay in these external ceremonies, although they were ordained and commanded by God to be kept for a time, and designates them with the most contemptible name 'elements of the world. '" See Col_2:8-20.
That was the condition of the believers in the Old Testament: they were God's dear children, heirs of the promise, and were saved through faith in Christ. But they were not yet in full enjoyment of their sonship and of their inheritance. God had laid a yoke upon their necks, the Law of Moses with its many statutes and commandments, with its priests, sacrifices, purifications, etc. Thus they did not yet have free access to the Father, but these statutes stood between them and God. This condition the people were to endure for a time, being under guardians and trustees until the time appointed by God.
And of this time St. Paul writes in a strain of exultant joy: But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, placed under the Law, in order that He might ransom those under the Law, that the sonship we might receive. In the figure used by the apostle, time is regarded as a measure, or vessel, which was filled up to the top. When the time of this present world-age had reached the point which had been determined by God, then His great counsel of love was put into execution. God sent forth His Son, who had been with Him, in His bosom, from eternity. "If He was to send Him, He must have been there before. He must have been in existence before He came and became a man. " God sent forth His Son, begotten out of His own substance, equal with the Father in power and honor, of the same essence, and yet a different person. The Son of God came into the world in a miraculous manner, made or born of a woman, of the Virgin Mary, as a true, natural human being, with flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. Thereby He was placed under the Law, by an act of voluntary humiliation on His part. Unlike the ordinary human being, He was not subject to the demands of the Law, for He Himself was the Lawgiver. But God subjected Him to the Law, and Christ willingly submitted to this humiliation. His circumcision on the eighth day was a sign of this submission, whereby He openly declared that He took upon Himself the obligation to fulfill the Law, to bear the curse and the punishment of the Law. For His object in doing so was to pay the ransom for our deliverance from the power of the Law, which would have continued forever but for His coming. Although Paul refers especially to the believers of the Old Testament as being under the bondage of the Law, his words have a wider application and bring reassuring comfort to the believers of all times. This is brought out by the declaration that we, all believers, whether of the Jews or of the Gentiles, should receive the sonship of God. By fulfilling the Law, Christ has delivered us from the coercion, from the curse of the Law. We are no longer in its power, we are no longer its slaves. The price of our ransom has been paid, the Law no longer has any jurisdiction over us. From the most degrading slavery we have entered into the most honorable relationship to God: we are the children of God, not indeed by nature, but by adoption, by God's deliberate acceptance of our unworthy selves, for the sake of His only begotten Son. How utterly the claims of the Judaizing teachers were refuted by this powerful Gospel-preaching!
What effect this action on the part of God has in our case, Paul shows in a triumphant conclusion: Because, then, you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So, then, you are no longer a servant, but a son, but if a son, then also an heir through God. The sonship is not confined to the believers among the Jews, but is expressly designed for the Gentile Christians as well; now that Christ has come, God accepts all that believe in Christ as His dear sons and daughters. And this sonship involves a relation of the most intimate confidence and love between the heavenly Father and His adopted children. To each individual one God has sent and given the Spirit of His Son into his heart. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is active in the work of regeneration and sanctification: the Father sends the Son's Spirit, but this same Spirit is incidentally the believers' guarantee of sonship, through Him they attain to the consciousness of sons of God. Because He has taken possession of their hearts, therefore the believers are able to speak to God as their dear Father in full confidence, to cry to Him in the full assurance and strength of their faith's persuasion: Abba, Father! The Aramaic and the Greek terms are set side by side, the equivalent expressions being intended to emphasize more strongly the idea of Father. So God sends the Spirit that lives in His Son, in order to make us sure that we are His brothers and coheirs; for just as He addresses God as His dear Father, so we also should have the conviction of the unspeakable goodness and grace of God and trust in Him as dear children will in their dear father. And in order to bring this truth home to each and every one of his readers, Paul says, in the singular, that every one of them is no longer a servant, a slave, but a son. God does not send His Spirit to slaves that are still bound with the shackles of the Law; it is to His sons that He gives the Spirit of sonship. The apostle reminds every member of the Galatian congregation and therefore every Christian of all times of the fact that he, by virtue of the indwelling of the Spirit, is a free child of God. What a disgrace, then, for Christ, our Savior, if we should voluntarily place ourselves under the Law and with this idea attempt to fulfill the Law, instead of showing the loving mind of obedient children! This emphasis becomes all the greater if we remember that children are also heirs of all the possessions of the father. The believing Christians are heirs of God; righteousness and salvation, eternal life with all its bliss, is theirs. All these gifts are theirs by virtue of their baptism and faith, and they will enter into the full enjoyment of these blessings when they leave this vale of tears behind them. Note that Paul has taken the last vestige of a foothold from the Judaizing teachers, for not by good works, by faithful and strict observance of the Law of God, but by God's free grace and mercy, "through God," as He gave evidence of His love in Jesus, the believers are assured of the inheritance of heaven.