Galatians 3:15-29

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In the former part of the chapter, we saw the contrast between the portion of faith and that of law. We found that the law necessarily brings in a curse; not that the law is bad, but because men-because Israel were sinners. The law, therefore, just because it is holy, just, and good, must condemn those that were not good but evil. The conclusion of the law, for such, accordingly, was a curse. It was the law of God; but all that His law could or ought to procure for sinners was condemnation and a curse. On the other hand, God loves to bless. How can these things be? How is it possible that God could bring in a blessing for poor lost man? The answer is, that “they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” Abraham got not a curse, but a blessing, and this because of faith and not law. The apostle thence proves that since the law, no matter how good in itself, can only bring a curse upon every soul who takes this ground in its dealings with God, “as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” Nothing could be more universal or more conclusive. The law involves nothing but a curse upon every child of Adam who attempts to take his stand on it as a means of relationship with God. Am I seeking and vowing to obey God in order to get a blessing from Him? I only earn a curse. I ought to obey; but, I being a sinner, the effect of the law is to bring out my sin and curse me. On the other hand, faith brings me into a blessing, yea, all blessing through God's grace.
Now we come to the question of promise, which is a very different thing. Faith involves, at any rate, the condition of soul in the person who believes the promise looks at the dealings of God; and although we have seen that those who have faith are the only receivers of the blessing, and not those essaying to do the law. Now we have to consider God promising, as well as law given. “Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man's covenant, yet, if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made"-not the law given. Abraham knew nothing about the law, neither did his seed or son: yet they could not deny that Abraham got the blessing. So that here he stands on a new ground. It is not only that souls which have faith will get the blessing, but why not have faith in the law too? The latter part of the chapter takes up this question, and shows that God has given promises; and the question is, how to reconcile God's law with His promises. What did He give these two things for? Were they meant to produce the same end? Were they on the same principle The Holy Ghost settles these questions. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ.”
Now it is plain, that the allusion is to two distinct and signal occasions in Abraham's history. These two occasions were, first, to Abraham alone (Gen. 12); and secondly, to Isaac, or rather in Isaac alone. (Gen. 22). In the last chapter, both the numerous seed and the single seed are referred to. With the numerous seed he connects the possessing the gate of their enemies—that is, Jewish supremacy. But this is not what one acquires as a Christian. I do not want my enemies to be overthrown, but rather to be brought to Christ. But the Jews, as such, will have not only blessing through Christ by-and-by, but their enemies put down. Israel will be exalted in the earth, which God never promised to the Gentiles. In Gen. 22 the two things are quite distinct. Where the seed is spoken of without allusion to number, the blessing of the Gentiles comes in; but where they are said to be multiplied as the stars and the sand, then the character is unequivocally Jewish blessing. Such is, I believe, the argument of the apostle. Where Christ, typified by Isaac, is meant, it is “thy seed” simply, without a word of seed innumerable as the stars or the sand. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promise made;” namely, of the blessing of the Gentiles, and not merely of the putting down of the Gentiles. The promises were made first to Abraham, and then were confirmed in his seed. “He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and of thy seed, which is Christ,” He takes Christ as the one intended by Isaac.
Let me recall the circumstances under which God made the promise in Isaac as a type of Christ. In Gen. 22, Isaac is ready to be offered as a sacrifice, and Abraham did not know till the last moment but that his son was to die. For three days Isaac was, as it were, under the sentence of death. Abraham had confidence in God, who had promised that in Isaac he should possess the land; and he was, therefore, certain that in this very Isaac the promise must be accomplished. It was not a question of Sarah having another son, but of this son, his only son. He was perfectly assured, therefore, that God would raise him up and give him back again, to be the head of the Jewish family. A beautiful type this, of God's sparing not His own Son. Abraham had as good as offered up his son, and God not only gave Isaac back again, but then and there gave the promise, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Thus it is in Christ risen from the dead that our blessing comes. Christ dead and risen again is perfectly free to bless the Gentiles. As long as He was merely living on the earth, He said, “I am not sent save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel;” but, when risen, all is changed. Accordingly, He commissions His disciples, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations.” And so He predicted the gospel must be published among all nations. The apostle draws attention to the fact, that this early oracle does not connect the numerous seed when God spoke of blessing the Gentiles, but the one seed, Isaac, as the type of Christ, and of Christ after He had been under death and had passed into resurrection. The importance of this is immense; because, while Christ was upon the earth, He was under law Himself. Risen from the dead what had He to do with law? The law does not touch a man when he is dead. The apostle argues that the Christian belongs to Christ in resurrection. When one is baptized into Christ, this is what He confesses: I belong to Christ dead and risen, taken out of my old place of Jew or Gentile. The Jews had to do with a Messiah who was to reign over them on the earth: but we, Christians, begin with Christ's death and resurrection. All our blessing is in Christ raised from the dead.
“And this I say, that the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ” (or, as it should be rendered, “to Christ”), “the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” God took care that, between the promise given to Abraham and Isaac and the law, there should elapse a period of more than four centuries. Had He given the law a short time after, they might have said it was all one and the same thing. But how could this be thought, seeing that four hundred and thirty years elapsed between? The promise has its own special object, and the law its design also and we are not to mingle the two things together. Not that we are to set aside either. On the contrary, I maintain that no man has a right value for the promises of God who could despise His law. I own the immense value of the law; but what is its object This we have here, and are not left to our own conjectures. The covenant of the law, that came in four hundred and thirty years after giving of the promise to Abraham, cannot disannul what God had said before. If a man in holding out a reward annexes a condition, it is all fair. But supposing you said to another, I intend to leave you my house and garden, without adding any condition; if, after a year or two, you should say to the man, you must pay me a thousand pounds for the house and garden, he might answer, What do you mean? Do you repent of your promise? You gave the property to me unconditionally, and now you call upon me for payment! There was God's absolute promise to Abraham • this must ever remain untouched. But four hundred and thirty years after conditions come in. “If ye will obey my voice indeed, then ye shall be,” &c. Then it was God made the blessing to depend upon obedience. Is it, then, that God sets one principle against another In no wise. He permitted the lapse of time, among other things, to show that the two things are perfectly distinct, as their object also. Therefore, as the apostle reasons here, the principle of condition that came in with the law cannot disannul that of grace, which came in with the promise. When God said to Abraham, “I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession,” He did not add, If you will do so and so. The Lord was to give him certain blessings there, which depended entirely upon the goodness and undeserved favor of God. This was the way of God in the promises. But in the law all hinged on its observance by him who was put under it. The voice of the law is for the righteous a blessing, and for the guilty a curse, “The man that doeth these things shall live in them.” “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the law to do them.”
The apostle next proves that, if the inheritance “be of the law, it is no more of promise.” If a man possesses a thing through something he has given or done for it, it is no more of promise, but what he deserves. It is like a person doing so much work for so much wages. Of course, if a master makes his servant a present, the man is thankful for it; but where it is only an equivalent for positive work done, it is clearly a matter of debt, and not of gift. The law is the principle of what is due, if there could be such a thing found among men; but all that was deserved was a curse, because man was a sinner. “But God gave it to Abraham by promise,” not by the law. Then comes the question, What is the good of the law If God meant to give the inheritance by promise, why bring in the law? As this is a most important question, I will call attention particularly to it. If you examine the dealings of God with His people in early days, God promises them a blessing, and they take it from God without looking at themselves to see whether they deserve it or not. This unquestioning confidence is all very blessed; but it is not for a man's good not to know what he is. It is of great moment that I should learn what my state really is. Now the object of the law was to bring out the sinner's true condition of soul; not at all to bring him into blessing, but to bring out the fearful ruin into which man had got by sin. The law was not meant to be the rule of life; indeed, it is rather the rule of death. If a man had no such thing as sin, it might be the rule of life; but he being a sinner, it is an absurd misnomer to call it the rule of life.
“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions.” It is not said, Because of sins. God never would do anything to make a man a sinner—but “it is added because of transgressions.” What is the difference? Sin is in every child of Adam; sin was in man before the law, as much as after. When the whole world was corrupt—when all flesh became so violent that God was obliged to judge it by the flood, it is too clear that they were all sinners. After God gave the law to Israel, they were no longer merely sinners, but became transgressors. Rebels against God's authority, they became the actual violators of His law. The law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient. And whoever was made righteous by the law? Is he an honest man who merely refrains from taking your watch for fear of being transported? The only really honest person is he who has the fear of God before his eyes. The law has the effect of punishing those that break it; but it is not what makes a man honest, even in a human sense, still less in the divine. Through the faith of Christ one becomes a new man, the possessor of a new nature which is dependent and obedient, loving to do the will of God, because He wishes it, and not merely through dread of going to hell. It is quite right to have the consciousness that we deserve hell; but were this the source of the motive for obeying, is such an one really converted?
Here, then, we have the law's object: it is to prove that men were sinners by bringing out the fact that those under the law broke it and earned its curse, “The law entered that the offense might abound,” —not exactly that sin might abound. God could never do this; but men being already sinners, the law by its very holiness provoked the sin so as to make it manifest to themselves and to all. The children of Israel were sinners like all others; but they would not acknowledge their sin, and therefore God brought in the law by Moses. Before the ten words, they might have said, We do not see the evil of worshipping images, or of not keeping the Sabbath day. The law was enough to leave an Israelite without excuse. And therefore, as the Apostle insists, “it is not made for a righteous man,” though this is what people apply it to in our days; that is, for a rule of life. But then, besides justifying the believer, Christ is the means of making him righteous and keeping him so, or restoring the soul—there is no other efficacious way. Just as Christ is the life and the truth, so is He the way. There is no path nor power of righteousness and holiness but Christ revealed by the Holy Ghost. If you take the law as well as Christ, you become at least half a Jew. We are called to look at Christ, and Christ only (2 Corinthians 3) as the one who creates, and fashions, and constitutes every particle of righteousness that the Christian possesses. So the apostle prays that they might be more and more “filled with the fruits of righteousness,” &c. The natural man would allow the need of the works of righteousness which are demanded by the law; but he knows nothing of those “fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.” The law was the rule of death for a sinner; Christ is the rule of life for a saint. “Wherefore then serveth the law?” Everyone ought to admit both the end and the limits here set forth, The law “was added because of transgressions, till the seed (i.e., Christ) should come to whom the promise was made.” God was pleased to use this platform negatively at any rate for a time; but now the seed is come, and the platform is gone for the Christian. It is all-important for convicting the sinner, the standard of what a sinful man ought to do for God. But it is neither the reflection of God nor the pattern for the saints: Christ is both, and Christ only.
Besides, “it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” This is to show the contrast with the promise, which was direct and immediate between God and man, without the intervention of angels or any mere human daysman. In the case of the law, creature mediation is prominent. Hence the immense superiority of the promises as compared with the law. All showed distance between God and the people. But in the promises God comes, speaks, works personally and in love. He has as directly to do with every converted soul as He had with Abraham: nay, now that redemption has been effected and Christ is risen, we have to do with God in a still nearer way.
“Now,” he adds, “a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one.” Under the law you have God and man as the two contracting parties, and you have also a mediator between the two. Moses stood thus between God and men, and what is the result? God's part was safe and sound, but man broke down. And so it was, is, and must be; and this not from any fault in the law, but from man's guilt and evil. The law is like a bridge that may be ever so strong, but resting upon a rotten foundation. There can be but one issue. So with man's trial under the law. The law does not depend upon God alone, save as exacting; but, thanks be to God, the promise does. Under law, man is, in one sense, the chief actor. He is rendering to God, not God to him. Whereas, when God promised the land to Abraham, He did not say, It must depend upon what you do. It was His own free, absolute gift. In the law there are two parties, and the whole thing comes to pieces, because man is the one on whom practically all turns; and what is he to be accounted of? In promise there is but one party, and there can be no break-down, because God cannot fail or lie: His promise must be accomplished. This then is the Apostle's conclusive reasoning, “a mediator is not a mediator of one;” that is, where legal mediation is required, there must necessarily be two concerned, one of whom is the sinner, and so all is lost. “But God is one.” Such is the character and the strength of promise. God stands alone, brings about all He said, and the believer has only to give thanks, enjoy the blessing, and seek to walk worthily and consistently with it.
“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.” There the children of Israel were, and the law locked them all up together under sin. And this, “that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” Not to the Jews, as such, but “to them that believe.” “But before faith came we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterward be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster unto Christ.” “To bring us” has no business here. The meaning is that the law was a schoolmaster dealing with these Jews, until Christ came; as it is said before, “It was added because of transgressions till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” It is not a question of bringing people now to Christ: the effect of the law is rather to minister death and condemnation, as we are so clearly told elsewhere. God may let people thus come under sentence of death, and afterward by Christ bring them out of it; but no man can say that a killing power is in itself the means of bringing people to Christ. “The law was our schoolmaster.” It did the office of the slave who had the charge of children under age. It dealt severely with those under it till Christ came. The Galatians were Gentiles who had never been under the law, but he is describing to them the manner of God's dealings with the Jews that were. Speaking of such he says, “The law was our schoolmaster unto Christ.” When Christ came there was a new object manifested, and the negative process of legal discipline closed, “that we might be justified by faith.” The law made souls feel their state; but God opened their eyes when in that state to see that the only hope of righteousness was in Christ. “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” Not even Jews who believed were any longer under the law! The moment they had Christ revealed, they passed from the dominion of the law and owed their new subjection to Christ. Christ is the Master and Lord of the Christian. The Jew had had the law for his tutor. When he received Christ, the law's office terminated, and he entered a new domain altogether.
Observe the remarkable change from ver. 26. It is no longer “we,” but “ye.” “For ye are all the children of God, by faith in Christ Jesus.” Now he is addressing the Galatians, who had of course been sinners of the Gentiles, and yet they enjoyed the nearness of sons of God. You, he implies, are brought into this high relationship by faith in Christ Jesus, without the intervention of the law, which, after all, deals with bondmen, or at least treats its subjects as if they were slaves. Paul did not preach the law first and Christ afterward, but rather “Jesus and the resurrection.” This was the sum and substance of his preaching, and these Galatians had at first received it accordingly. They were all sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus—Gentiles as well as Jews.
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The great point of the whole argument was, that the seed was risen, the seed, Isaac, after he had been appointed to die, and actually under the knife, but now risen from the dead in figure, to show that this is the condition into which we Gentiles are admitted as having to do with Christ. Was Christ under the law when He rose from the dead? Nothing of the kind. So, says the apostle, it is with us Christians now. You have nothing to do with the Jewish schoolmaster. Faith has come in alike for us and for you Gentiles; you have become sons of God without passing under the law at all. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Do you not know what your baptism meant? What does a man confess when he is baptized? That he belongs to a Savior who died and rose again. “So many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ (says our apostle elsewhere) were baptized into his death.” And the death of Christ is that which forever dissolves even a Jew's connection with the law. Up to death, the law had a righteous claim upon the Jew, but the moment he confessed Jesus dead and risen, even he at once passed out of it into a wholly new condition. With a Savior who is risen from the dead as his life and Lord, his business is to walk as a man that is united to Him: the connection is broken with the old husband, and he belongs to another. Were he to attempt to have Christ and law together afterward, it would be like a woman having two husbands; that is, spiritual adultery. The effect of it, too, is most palpable. Who has not seen a Christian one day joyous, the next day very much cast down in spirit, not sure whether he have eternal life or not; trembling at the thought of the Lord's coming; and yet that same man admiring, loving, adoring Christ? How comes this? He knows not death to the law. No wonder, then, he is in a miserable plight. The law presses him to death, and Christ is only known enough to keep his head above water, but with constant tendency to fall under it. How good for his soul to learn that God has broken all such ties by the death of Christ. My very baptism is the confession that, even had I been a Jew, I am dead to the law— “being dead to that wherein we were held.” “Wherefore ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead.”
Of course, if dead to the law, it would be a most unhappy state not to be married to another. How great would be the danger of thinking oneself at liberty to do what one liked 1 But if belonging to Christ, then come the new feelings of one who is thus near to Him. Now, I belong to Him, and I am to do what He likes; our husband gives us liberty to do His will, not to do our own— “to bring forth fruit unto God.” This is what baptism sets forth in a Christian; it is the confession of the death and resurrection of Christ. The believer should know, then, that he has done with the law, and is called to live unto God. “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” —not the law, but Christ.
The object of the whole is to show that, important as the law was for bringing people's transgressions plainly before them, yet now that a Christian had Christ, he had already confessed his sins, and had to do with another state of things altogether. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female. He takes up the grand distinctions of men naturally, and shows that these things did not characterize them as Christians. The thing that stamps me as such, is that I have Christ, and have put on Christ. “For ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” That is to say, they had not to pass under circumcision, or any other rite of the law, in order to get the promises. The Holy Ghost brings into these promises by having Christ. If you are striving to gain them by the law, you lose them; if you receive Christ, they are assuredly yours. He is the true seed of Abraham, and, having Christ, I have all the promises of God. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen, unto the glory of God by us.” Thus, you see, he is giving the final ii touch to the great argument of the Holy Ghost throughout the whole passage: that the Gentile believer has nothing whatever to do with the law as a means of blessing from God; that he may use the law as a weapon against the ungodly, but that in Christ he has done with the question of law—has emerged definitely out of it all, and now he is in Christ. And if I am there, I have all that Christ can give. The point is, to give all the glory to Christ. The force of the passage must strike any thoughtful mind in looking round upon the present time. The evil against which Paul was warning them has now become overwhelming. In one shape or another the law is mingled with Christ: and therein you have poor Christians endeavoring to keep the two husbands at the same time. It is not something that we merely describe about others, but most of us know it from experience. We have proved both its misery and the blessing of deliverance from it. And may God be pleased to vouchsafe the same deliverance to every child of His who has tasted as yet only the misery and not the deliverance.