Galatians 3:1-14

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This section of the chapter is devoted to the contrast of the principles of law and of faith, not exactly of promise but of faith. The part which follows takes up the subject of promise, and shows the mutual relations of law and promise; but the early verses are devoted to a wider domain. For we must bear in mind that faith has a variety of sphere and operation, besides the promise of God. There is no doubt that the promises belong to faith; but then it may embrace and profit by much more than what was (not revealed, but) promised. For when we talk of promises, it is not merely the general blessings God speaks of, such as His grace to guilty sinners, but certain definite privileges which were assigned beforehand to Abraham, and are now yea and amen “in all” their spiritual power in Christ-promises which will, in a future day, be filled to the letter as well as in spirit, when it pleases God to convert His ancient people. Then there will be the wonderful display of all blessing, heavenly and earthly, made good through the same glorious person, the source and center of it all, the Lord Jesus Christ. But in the part of the chapter before us, it is not so much a question of promise, but rather how the blessing is to be got at all.
The Galatians have been brought, not long since, under the immense privilege of the apostle's preaching, into the enjoyment of the power and blessing of Christianity; and now, sad to say, they were in danger of slipping away, and they had lost the sense of grace in their souls. By what means had they originally got blessing from God? This question was raised by the last verse of the chapter before. Because the apostle had there pressed home the great point the Holy Ghost is illustrating in this epistle-namely, that it is not the law, but the grace of God. in Christ, that freely gives all the blessing the Christian enjoys. He had brought us up to this already, that “I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” He showed how this came to pass in his own case, who was a Jew, and was therefore necessarily under the law of God in a way in which no Gentile, as such, could be; how it was that he had been delivered from it and could now adopt such different language. He says, “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” So that, in one point of view, he speaks of himself as dead, in another as alive; but that life in which he lived now, was Christ in him. The old “I” he treats as a dead thing. All that constituted his natural character, the old self which was amenable to the law, is treated as crucified. The reason is obvious. What is the spring of a man's energy and the end of everything in this world? What mingles with and corrupts all thoughts and desires? It is self. Whether you look at courage, or generosity, or care for one's family, and country, and religion-all these things had been found in Paul before conversion; but one thing lay deeper than any other, and that was self. Yet was it all slain in the cross of Christ, which judged his whole moral being as being founded upon that which was corrupt-i.e., himself. Paul's character was dealt with from its inmost depths, and he started from this principle-I have now another for my life, even Christ; and while he was found entering into His love, and carrying out His will, it was Christ, an object before him, who was the power of life, through the Holy Ghost, in him. Nor is this peculiar to some; Christ is the life of every Christian, but it may not be always manifested. You may find the old man showing itself—pride, vanity, love of case, the force of old habits. Where this is the case, it is, of course, the old nature allowed to show itself afresh through lack of occupation with Christ and of self-judgment. There can be no such thing as Christ dead in us; but when, practically, we are not living on Christ, that soon works out, and betrays itself in our ways, which brought Christ to the cross. The apostle had come to this point: it was Christ living in him, not the law. “I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” All that the law could do was to bring in its killing power upon them that were under it. There was no striving, as we so often see now, to keep the law in a spiritual way now that he was converted, but “I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” That expression, “live unto God,” is very serious and beautiful. The law never produced life in a single soul; it kills. Whereas here you find Paul dead to the law, but alive unto God on a totally different principle. The question was, how did his life come? If all that the law did was to bring the sense of death in his soul (which refers to his going through the sense of condemnation before God), what is the spring of the new life? Not the law, but Christ. He has done with the law, in Christ, and he is left free, yea, and has life in him to live unto God. Hence he says, “Not I, but Christ liveth in me.” So that this shows us not only the source and character of the new life, but that it is all sustained by the selfsame thing which gave it existence. As it was the faith of Christ that produced the life, so it is the faith of Christ that is its power. A person may admire what is good and lovely, but that is another thing from being it. And what gives power? Looking to Christ: the soul feasting itself upon Christ. The objective means is Christ. “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God” —they did— “for if righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” It was their principle that righteousness came by the law, and not alone in Christ dead and risen. Then says he, if it be so, “Christ is dead in vain.” Were it merely a question of the law, all the necessity would have been that Christ should live and strengthen us to keep the law. But He is dead. Your doctrine, he insists, makes Christ to be dead in vain; whereas it is in truth the essential thing, the very and only way in which the grace of God comes to my soul.
Having touched upon this great truth, he cannot refrain from an abrupt and startling rebuke, as he feels, by the contrast, how grievous the loss was. “O, foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you [that ye should not obey the truth]?” The expression, “that ye should not obey the truth,” is one brought in from chapter v. 7. “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” There it is most undeniably and properly inserted, but here it is left out in the best copies of the word of God. I am not founding anything upon it, but merely state the fact by the way, because it is right to do so on fitting occasions. One main source of this meddling with Scripture consisted in transplanting a text, or phrase, that is perfectly true in its right place, from some other part of Scripture. “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” It is plain that he draws particular attention to the cross of Christ—not merely to His blood, or His death, but to His cross. And you will observe, if you examine the word of God, that the particular form in which Christ's death is set forth by the Holy Ghost, is invariably in connection with the use which has to be made of it practically. Throughout the Hebrews the point, with a little but weighty exception, is not the cross but the blood of Christ; while in the Romans it is mainly His death, the blood often, but death the grand staple of the argument. Why does the Holy Ghost here say, not merely that He shed His blood (which is the thing that a Christian, happy in the knowledge of forgiveness, would dwell upon), but “crucified among you.” There is nothing in vain in Scripture: there is no bringing anything into prominence without a divine reason for it. The crucifixion puts shame upon man and upon the flesh more than any other thing. The effect simply of Christ's death, does not give me man made nothing of, and the utter worthlessness of human nature as before God. When the apostle wants to show the absolute separation of the Christian from the world, he says, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Now it is plain that this is a much graver and more forcible way of putting the case. There is nothing the world counted so foolish as the cross. Philosophers scorned the notion that a divine person should thus die: it was something that seemed so weak and objectless. They had no just sense of the horribleness of sin, of man's positive enmity to God, and of God's solemn eternal judgment. The cross is the means of bringing all out. But more than that; the cross not merely shows what the flesh is, and the world, but it also proves the hopelessness of looking to the law to bring in blessing, save in a negative way. There is such a thing as the power of the law to kill, but not to quicken; Christ alone does this. The apostle puts it to their own recollection and experience, how it was that the Spirit had been received, and miracles wrought, and they had got blessing. Was it by the law? The Galatians were heathens, worshipping stocks and stones, and it was out of this state that they were brought, not by the law, but by the knowledge of Christ. This puts it in a very pungent as well as effective form. Had it been God's way to have used the law as a means, would He not have employed the Apostle Paul to bind it upon them? But nothing of the kind. He had brought forth God before them in His holy saving love. In the sermon to the Athenians, on Mars' hill, he had demonstrated the folly of their idolatry; had shown that it was contrary even to their own boasted reason to worship what they made. There was that above them and around them, every day and everywhere, which indicated the finger of One who had created them. Even one of their own poets had said that they were His offspring, not making God our offspring, or, yet less, the work of men's hands; which is just what idolatry does. The apostle always goes to the conscience of men, and shows the evident way in which the devil has perplexed their minds and taken them away from the patent facts outside them, which ought to have shown a God above them, and have furnished proofs of His beneficent goodness; and then he brings out the solemn truth, that God is calling men everywhere to repent; to bow to Him in the acknowledgment of their sin (which is only another way of expressing repentance), on the ground that He had “appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness (not the law, but all in righteousness), by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” It is Christ that is put before them, and not the law. This was the truth habitual with the apostle. So in the case of these Galatians. He is recalling the way in which they had received blessing: “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?” It is an important advance upon the chapter before, which only speaks of life; but chapter iii. introduces the Holy Ghost. Down to the end of verse 15, you will find that, as he begins with the Spirit as the proof of God's blessing men, so he ends with the Spirit. The argument is to prove that the connection of the Holy Ghost is with faith and not with law, which has only a curse for guilty man. Christ is our life, and He gives the Spirit.
It is important to distinguish life and the Spirit, because, when a soul receives the Gospel, though there be ordinarily the reception of life and of the Holy Ghost at the same moment, yet we must bear in mind that the two things are quite distinct. The new life that the Christian receives in Christ is not God, though of God; but the Holy Ghost is very God. The believer's life is a new creature or creation, while the Holy Ghost is the Creator. It is not because we have a new life that our bodies are made the temple of God, but because the Holy Ghost dwells therein. Hence, when Christians do not properly distinguish this, it is very possible to use that life as a thing to comfort oneself with and set us at ease, leading us to say, I know that I shall be saved; and all spiritual exercises closing there. How often souls settle down to rest in the satisfaction that we have got life, or exercise that life only in the desire to bring souls to Christ But, blessed as this zeal is, it is a very inferior thing to loving Christ; as love to Christ is an inferior thing to the enjoyment of His love to us: and I believe this to be the true order in the souls of the saints of God. The great thing that God calls upon me for, is to admire and delight in and learn more and more of the love of Christ. What is the effect? Love to Christ is produced in the very same ratio that I know his love to me. What is it that judges self and keeps it down, and raises a person above all groveling ways and ends? Entrance into the blessedness of His love. Being filled with the sense of it, we love souls in a different way, because we see them in His light, and we view them out of His affections, and not merely as having some link with ourselves. This is the true secret of all spiritual power, at least, in its highest forms. Take any little suffering we undergo for Christ's sake, any work undertaken for Him—whatever God calls us to—in all these things, the true blessing of the Christian is not to abstract them from Christ, but to have Christ Himself as the spring and pattern and measure of all our service, so that all our service should flow from our enjoyment of Christ. In one way, worship is a nearer thing to God, and ought to be a dearer thing to the child of God than even service; whereas it is no uncommon thing to find zealous servants who know very little of true worship. I say this, not that we should serve Christ less, but that we should enjoy Him more, and serve Him in the spirit of enjoying what He is, apart from all circumstances. What is the basis of this measure of enjoyment? It is the absolute peace and rest of our heart in Him and His work. We see how completely every sin is met and every need of our soul supplied in Christ. We are put as children in the presence of a father, who knows that his father uses all his resources for the good of his Child. In the poor sinner there is the sense of need, and the soul must go through that first. In the experience of almost every regenerate soul there is a state where there is life, but in the midst, perhaps, of the greatest ignorance yet deep feeling of sin. This is not properly the Christian state; which, when rightly apprehended, supposes rest in Christ, with the consciousness that all is given me of God in Him. I have received the spirit of adoption, not the spirit of bondage. It is not merely that my soul is awakened to feel sin, but the Holy Ghost dwells in me; and the result of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost is, that I know I have received this full blessing from God.
In chapter 2, as we have remarked, life is in question; but now, in the beginning of chapter 3, he speaks about the reception of the Spirit. This was not merely a matter of enjoyment, but also accompanied by miraculous power. When at that time the Holy Ghost was given, there were outward external ways in which He showed Himself, which were not continued in the Church. He puts the two together here. “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” or, “are ye being made perfect by the flesh?” It was a process that they were hoping to be perfected by because flesh can easily be satisfied with itself. “Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.” He will not give them up; he will not suppose that the enemy is gaining such a victory over them but that they may be recovered from this state. “He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
This refers to Paul himself. It was God that gave the Spirit, but He worked by means: by those who had been preaching the Gospel had they received the Holy Ghost. It is the hearing of faith that is followed by the gift of the Spirit, after we have received Christ; but there is always a distinction between the two things. You will find in Scripture, that the reception of the Spirit was, at least sometimes, after believing in Christ. Take the instance of the Samaritans. Was not the Spirit communicated to them some time after conversion? And so, not to speak of Cornelius, was it with the Ephesian disciples, Acts 19. Thus we see many a soul that hears the Gospel, filled with joy, but it passes away; and perhaps they will have to go through a very painful process afterward, because they had not really understood the application of Christ's work to their souls. They have simply embraced the reality of a blessed divine person who is full of love, even the Lord Jesus; but then, when they have received that, the sense of failure comes up, and they fall under the power of the law, and they go through much heart-breaking and plowing up. I could not say of such persons, that they have received the Spirit of God as One to dwell in them, the seal of the blessing they have found in Christ. But when they are brought to rest in Him, with all the sense of their sin and of what they are, and yet, in spite of it all, to, rest in the redemption that is in Christ, so that, in the face of everything, knowing what God is, what Satan is, what they themselves are, what the law of God is—still, being justified by faith, they have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; such persons have received the Holy Ghost; they have not only life, but the Spirit of God. In early times this distinction was brought out very clearly; but the same principle is, of course, true now. There are no souls that have looked to Christ but what God will give them the Spirit of adoption, and they will thus be brought into full blessing. But often this may be upon a deathbed, which ought not to be the case with a Christian.
There is such a scanty measure of truth preached even among real Christians in the present day, that souls have not the consciousness of their relationship nor of the completeness of redemption. Hence it is that they may be kept from their proper comfort and enjoyment for many a day. It was not so with these Galatians, and the apostle refers to their full blessing. At once they were brought into the possession of the Holy Ghost. They had received Him by the hearing of faith: and I take it, that this means His reception in every way; not only with a view to miracles and powers, but the Holy Ghost yet more as One dwelling within them. Where souls were not born of God, but had merely outwardly professed Christ, they might receive the Spirit for gifts of power, but not in the way of communion. Thus in Heb. 6, you have persons who were once enlightened, and had tasted of the heavenly gift, and been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and had tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, and who yet had fallen away. It is nowhere said that they were quickened, or that they had life; but they were enlightened and had tasted of the heavenly gift; they had been baptized and had the powers of the world to come; all these things were true of them, yet they fell away—they deserted Christ; they went back from Him to Judaism in order to make their conscience good with God. Where this was the case, the apostle says, “it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance.” They are apostates, and that is the point of the question. For on a large scale, similar will be the means of bringing in the worst doom, which must inevitably follow the denial of Christianity. And necessarily so, for God has nothing better to bring in; nothing whereby he can act upon man when He rejects Christian revelation and the grace of Christ. These Galatians were convicted by this very thing. They knew that they had not heard about the law, and yet they had received the Spirit personally. Let them think what the reception of the Holy Ghost involves—that it is not only the manifestation of power, but the deeper blessing that abides now. And how good of God that it should be so, that He has not taken away the spring of enjoying Christ. We might have thought that, so deep had been the failure, if anything had been likely to be taken away, it would be that enjoyment of Christ.
At Pentecost the saints were all, or most, at any rate, babes. It is a moral misunderstanding of that day, as well as of the previous state of the disciples, to suppose that the wonderful display of power there was then, showed that there was a deeper enjoyment of Christ then and there than elsewhere afterward. And so one sees now that there is a danger of persons fancying that the richest harvest-time of peace and joy possible is at the hour of conversion; but, at best, it is the enjoyment of a babe. There is a mighty sense of deliverance; but sense of deliverance is not necessarily Christ, nor the sweetest way of tasting Him. It is connected with our sense of the love of Christ, and this we assuredly are privileged to enjoy; but there is a knowledge and delight in Christ Himself which is a deeper thing still, and it is based upon a growing acquaintance with His personal glory and love, as well as His work.
These Galatians were getting under the law, and the apostle brings the folly of it all before them. They were seeking to be made perfect by the flesh. This is mere nature, working upon what has to do with self, and not with the unfolding of Christ. There were certain things they thought which were quite necessary for them to do. Well, he argues, that is the flesh. “Have ye suffered so many things in vain?” Then he shows that it had all been by the hearing of faith, and he goes up to Abraham himself. “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” There is a great force in his reference to Abraham; for every Jew would appeal to him as the root of circumcision; and the mode in which the law was brought in among the Galatians was by attaching great importance to the right of circumcision. No doubt the argument of these Judaizing men was, You cannot have the inner blessing of circumcision without going through the outward form of it. The apostle summons Abraham to prove the contrary. In his case, it was a question of faith, and not of law, or of circumcision. When was it that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness? Before circumcision came in; for the rite, as was evident from the history, came in, we are particularly informed, after Abraham had believed God, and God had accounted it to him for righteousness. “Know ye, therefore,” he continues, “that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” This is the deduction he draws from it. If Abraham was brought into his place of blessing by faith, all his seed are blessed similarly. He begins with the natural seed, the Jew; but brings in the Gentiles also. “And 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.” We shall find afterward that he does not refer to the promise to Abraham himself only, but to his seed; but he purposely leaves out the seed here. He refers to the first promise to Abraham, because, when that was made, there was no thought of circumcision. He says, “The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” It showed that they would be blessed as Gentiles—not by becoming Jews virtually; for the blessing would flow out to them as Gentiles. “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” There he closes that part of the subject, proving that the blessing depends upon faith, and not upon the works of the law or circumcision. Abraham was blessed by faith, and God had promised him, “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” —not in circumcision, but in Abraham: so that we find in Abraham's case the principle of a promise comes in. Abraham was an idolater at the time when God revealed Himself to him, as we learn from Josh. 24: and true blessing is always the effect of God's revealing Himself to the soul. The effect of this revelation to Abraham is, that he leaves his country and his father's house, and goes forth at the word of God, not knowing whither he went. He counted upon God's goodness towards his soul. He receives from God the promise of blessing—and of blessing, for others, too; as it was said, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” And here is the manner of it: “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” As blessing depended upon faith, so, he argues, does yours. Then, in a most solemn and sweeping sentence, which bears the very stamp of God upon it, he adds, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Would that those who desire to be teachers of the law only understood such a word as this! Not as many as have broken the law, but as many persons as take their stand upon legal ground are under the curse; whoever attempts to please God on this principle is fallen under it. And why? Because there is such a thing as sin. And if man with sin upon him, or in him, essays to make good his cause by the law, as far as the principle goes, he is under the law's curse. We need not await the proof as a matter of fact: he who does so is condemned. If God were to deal with men as they deal with God, they must be adjudged to death; and there could be no help nor deliverance for them. Regeneration does not deliver, and cannot be urged as a plea. If they are governed by the law as their rule, it necessarily condemns those who break it. Nothing can be more conclusive: “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse,” &c. So that, if I stand upon that ground, there is not the slightest provision made for failure, unless I also plead sacrifices and offerings for sin. If I do not continue in all things as they are written in the book of the law—if I do not succeed in observing it all faultlessly, I am accursed. Could such a standing ever do for a Christian? Impossible; and therefore all is inconsistent with those who so speak; for they do really rest after all on Christ. But what says Paul? “That no man is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident;” because, as another Scripture announces, “The just shall live by faith.” It is a total mistake to suppose that it is by law, as its source, its power, or its measure. “And the law is not of faith: but the man that doeth them shall live in them.”
In verse 13 he closes this part of the subject, and shows that our position as Christians is entirely different. He begins with the Jew. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” It is exceedingly blessed to find that, as in 2 Cor. 5, it is said that Christ was made sin, so here it is said, that “He is made a curse for us.” In Corinthians he is merely putting himself with the believers—he is not drawing a contrast between us and the Jew; consequently the “we” in Corinthians includes all. But here the “us” means the Jewish part of the believers; for he refers particularly and distinctly to the Gentiles afterward— “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ.” And then he puts them all together— “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” The “us” there is emphatic; whereas in verse 14 the word “we” is not so at all, but is used in a general way of all believers, whether Jews or Gentiles. So that the point is very plain. First, if Jews were concerned, he would say, We equally needed Christ; because we had not continued in all the things that are written in the book of the law to do them; and Christ came and redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. Then, as to you Gentiles you who never had anything to do with the law, are you seeking to be blessed on the very ground where we can only expect cursing? The apostle quotes from Deut. 27, where we have a very striking disclosure. Half of the tribes were to stand upon one mountain to bless, and the other half upon another mountain to curse. But when, immediately after, the provision comes out, only the curses are mentioned, and there is no blessing at all! Why? “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” God had spoken of the tribes being divided for blessing and cursing; but when you come to the fact, only the curses follow, and not the blessings. What a very solemn confirmation of the truth we have been looking at God did not positively provide for any to get the blessing. As sure as they took legal ground, they could only get a curse; and accordingly the curses alone are heard.
The apostle therefore triumphantly closes this part of the subject. After coming to the full acknowledgment of the law's curse because of sin, then through the grace of God can the believer say, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” It is not merely that He has been made accursed for us, but “a curse.” What could more forcibly convey how fully He identified Himself with that condition as a whole? The consequence is, that those He represented in grace are completely delivered from it; yea, and the blessing, once flowing, bursts far beyond the old channel. So he says, “As it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ.” First of all, God must remove the curse out of the way; and when that was holily done with for these believing Jews, the same cross of Christ overflows with mercy to the Gentiles. Christ had accomplished the work of redemption; and though its primary application was to the Jew, yet surely the efficacy and glory of it could not be hid. The blessing of Abraham comes on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ— “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
This concludes the argument based on the promise of the Spirit; and the points decided are these:—the law never brought a blessing upon those who were under it, even though they were Abraham's seed—and this, because they were sinners: nor was it ever the means of their receiving the Holy Ghost as the power of enjoying Christ. On the other hand, the hearing of faith, as of old for Abraham himself, is the one simple means that the Holy Ghost uses for all real peace and blessing; and this avails through redemption, not only for the proud but accursed Jew, but even for the poor Gentile, now expressly contemplated in the blessing, and the richest part of it, the promise of the Spirit.