Galatians 4:1-12

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We have already reviewed the admirable contrast the Holy Ghost has given in the latter part of the previous chapter between the promises and the law, showing their entire distinctness, not only in date and circumstances, but also principle, character, and purpose. In this, of course, they agree: both came from God. But, then, the object for which God gave them was as dissimilar as possible. His promises were the fruit of His own love; His purpose to bless, His joy in blessing, and this not Jews only, but Gentiles. And we have seen that particular stress was laid upon those promises which were made to Abraham first, and then to Isaac, in which the Gentiles were expressly to be blest of God. The remarkable fact the Holy Ghost takes up is, that where there is particular promise of blessing to the Gentiles, there is no reference to the numerous seed of Abraham, so frequently mentioned in Scripture; but where the seed, as many as the stars or the sand, is spoken of, the Jews are meant. And when we examine it still more closely, we shall find that the time when the “one seed” meets us, was after the type of death and resurrection had been gone through in the person of Isaac (Gen. 22): emblem of Christ who, risen, lets in the Gentiles to the full blessing of God apart from the law. And I am persuaded that this is so little understood that it will not be in vain just to give this slight passing notice now, in addition to what has already come before us. There is no one part of foundation truth on which Christians generally are feebler than in their laying hold of the place into which the resurrection of Christ brings the believer. It is the death of Christ that terminates all our questions. If it were our own death it would, as judgment, be ruinous; but the death of Christ has precisely as much, yea, infinitely greater, efficacy in the way of grace. And Christ rising into a new condition, where there is no possible condemnation, the believer passes before God into the same sphere. The power of God in the death of Christ puts away evil; the power of His resurrection brings us into the good of which He is the center and the head. In this fourth chapter the apostle takes up another subject. If the law and promises were opposite in their nature—not contradictory, but totally different in scope and object—what was the state of the believer under the Old Testament? It is answered in the beginning of chapter iv., and this particularly with a view to the condition in which any of the Jewish believers had been, and what their present relationship to God is in virtue of redemption.
“Now, I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant though he be lord of all.” This is a principle true of believers under what we may call the old covenant. They were heirs, no doubt, and blessing is to be their portion; but the heir is no more than the bondman or slave, as long as he is an infant, which is the force of the word “child” —the word that was used among the ancients, as our legal term is still, for a person who is under a legal age, and incapable of entering into contracts and engagements or of acting for himself. That was precisely the position of an elder under the law. He was not arrived at full age; he was really an heir destined to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—there was no difference as to this. Conversion and regeneration are the same in all times and dispensations. There may be greater fullness, simplicity, and joy now: but as to the substance of the thing even from the fall, before the flood and after it, either with law or without it, the heir was in truth lord of all. He really is to have a part in the kingdom of Christ, to reign with Christ; but if we inquire into his condition while he is in this world, we have it here described as servant ship. God's purpose is, that when glory comes, he shall have a bright, blessed place; but while in this world he was an infant, “under tutors and governors, until the time appointed of the father:” the first word, I suppose, referring to the person, the other to his possession. He is under these till the time appointed of the Father. “Even so we, when we were children” —he applies it particularly to what they had been as Jewish believers— “were in bondage (servitude) under the elements of the world: but when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
Nothing can be clearer than this. All is adjusted with divine perspicuity and force. The blessing of the Old Testament saint is in view, or of one who knew Christ in the days of His flesh, because there was no substantial difference between them: Peter, James, and John all were then infants. It was true Christ was present in person, and there was an immense accession of blessing; their eyes saw, their ears heard, what prophets and kings had desired to see. Nevertheless, they were still infants; they were not delivered from the law; they were as yet kept bound down by its injunctions and ordinances, and the terror arising from it always kept them in a measure of uncertainty and darkness; and it ought to have been so. A man under the law was not entitled to be thoroughly happy. If I have to do with the law at all, I ought to feel the law: if I am conscious of having failed under it, I ought to have the pressure of its condemnation on my spirit. It was so with the saints under the old covenant. They were under bondage, because they were under tutors and governors. “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” It was quite necessary that Christ should be a man and a Jew. If He had not been a mall, there could have been no basis for meeting any child of Adam, under all circumstances; and if He had not been a Jew, where had been the law or the promises either? But being both, now comes in an infinitely greater thing—redemption. He came as a man and under the law, but the object was, that He might redeem them that were under the law. God had chosen to put the Jews in a special place for particular purposes; and the issue of that experiment was that the Jews brought greater dishonor on the name of God than even the “sinners of the Gentiles.” We know that, if ever there was a people bent on destroying themselves and forsaking their own mercies, it was Israel. If there was an idol among the Gentiles they took the pattern of it; and King Ahaz even went so far as to command that all the offerings were to be offered upon the altar that he had devised after the pattern of the heathen one that he had seen at Damascus, thus insulting the altar of God. The great crime for which Israel were carried away at the last was, that they set up the golden calves. In Jerusalem, in the temple, they had re-asserted the old sin, for which God had smitten them in the wilderness. They were unfaithful to God, and they stuck to idolatry as a heritage too precious to give up. The Jews who had been called out to be the special witness of God against image-worship, were not satisfied with following idols of their own, but must adopt those of their heathen neighbors around them—and God swept them away. Hence it is that we read in Kings and Chronicles of the sin of Jeroboam, wherewith he made Israel to sin. That was the one thing which God had in remembrance. All sorts of new dynasties were continually arising in Israel; but no matter what, if it was only a man reigning for a month, it was always the same uniform sin, the sin of Jeroboam, that God bore in mind, and that most insulting of all idolatries, the golden calf. It was set usurpation before His face: “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” So far we see what Israel was; and if we look at the prophecy of Jeremiah, we shall find that God reproaches Judah that backsliding Israel had justified herself in the presence of Judah, because. Judah was far more guilty. But we must not confine this to Israel; we must read the Bible as a lesson of the heart, the lesson of what man is to God. And when we hear of Israel and Judah, let us apply it to ourselves. This is what God shows me that I am—this is the kind of stuff that my heart is composed of—this is what human nature does when God puts it to the proof. Idolatry, then, governed; and as we know, calamity after calamity came upon Israel. They were carried away captive into Babylon, and the remnant are afterward brought out of captivity to receive the Son of God. When He came from heaven, it was in the fullest grace. Sin had entered in by the woman, and here we have the Savior. And the law having brought in what was crushing to the hopes of the sinner, Christ comes, made of a woman, made under the law; but it was to redeem them that were under the law. The mere keeping of the law could not have redeemed any one: it was essential to the vindication of God that the Lord should show He was perfect man under the law, perfect Son of man, perfect Israelite, perfect Son of God above law—in all things perfect. But whatever might be His glory, and whatever He might come down into, the end of all was redemption here to redeem them that were under the law. God was waiting that He might bring them into the place that He intended His people to have. It was no pleasure to Clod to see children trembling. He was waiting for the blessed moment when Christ's death would give the righteous title to deliver His people from that condition, to bring them into a new state of things, when the bond of the law would be forever broken by the death of Jesus the Son of God. And so it was. He therefore redeemed them that were under the law.
And here comes out another thing. No negative deliverance will ever satisfy God. It was “to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” But even that does not satisfy Him; for there might still have been the thought that this adoption of sons was only for the believers in Israel—that this was what they were brought into now. But the apostle turns round to the Gentiles, and says, “And because ye are sons” —changing the person, and addressing the Galatians in a very pointed manner, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” Here we learn most clearly that the Jew by the law only got into a position of bondage: that was all the law could do for him. It was impossible that it could be otherwise. It could condemn what was wrong, and no more. But now Christ came, and in Christ there is power to deliver, and this is what ruined. man wants. There is delivering power, and God introduces it in Christ. “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son.” It was God Himself introducing this blessed work; indeed, what God delights in. When the law was introduced, though God gave it, yet He simply says, “it was ordained by angels.” He merely puts servants to the work, comparatively distant servants, that never had the link of life and the Spirit, the link of Christ Himself, which we have. Angels may be holy, but an angel never rises out of the condition of servant; they are even servants of the saints, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. But now, when he comes to speak of redemption, he makes God most evidently and thoroughly the source of it. “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons (ye Gentiles).” Of course, believing Gentles alone are meant; but without any question of our being put under the law, without the least thought of putting us under the disciplinary process which the Jews had known.
The Jewish believer had been in the condition of an infant, a bondman under the law; the Gentile never was. It is true he was a bondman, but of a totally different character. His bondage was to idolatry—the Jew's bondage was to the law. The one, therefore, was under that which, in itself, was intrinsically good but destructive to him; the other was under bondage to that which was of Satan, and had nothing which linked him to God. The more religious the Gentile was, the more thoroughly was he the slave of Satan. We shall find the force of that shortly. In the case of the Jew they had been under this system of guardians and stewards; they had known what it was, though really believers, to be only at a distance, far from God, unable to draw near to God and pour out their hearts before Him as children. They were able to cry to Him, to groan to Him: that is what you have in the Psalms, which are full of this blessed confidence in God; but it is the confidence of servants who count upon God to interfere for them, who hope in God, but who are not able to praise Him yet—they are not brought near to Him. Even in some of the brightest of the Psalms, they pray that God's anger may not burn against them forever. They do not know that it is entirely put away for them. On the other hand, they enter into the judicial feelings of God against His enemies: they look forward, as if it were a privilege to put down the enemies of God, and ask Him to make them as stubble before the wind—to use them and their dogs that they might drink the blood of enemies—to us a thought full of the most painful associations which all Christians would turn from. Many are even in danger of condemning the word of God because such desires are in it. There you have language suited to souls under the law; but now we are under grace, and no longer under law, and we pray for persons that despitefully use us and persecute us; whereas the whole tone of the Psalms, where they speak of the happiness of dashing the children of Babylon against the stone, is anything but returning good for evil:—it is evil meeting with its just doom. I maintain that every word in the Psalms is of God—that all these imprecations are divine. Each curse, threat, and warning—all this sympathy with divine retribution, is as much from God as the Christian's now interceding for his enemies; but they are not suited to the same time nor the same persons, nor is God accomplishing the same end. As long as God carries on the day of grace, all these things are entirely inapplicable, and not what God is bringing out now. They remain true forever, each always in itself a right thing. But the fact is, that God has now brought in Christ, full, sovereign grace; and therefore God puts those who belong to Christ in a position to show forth, not earthly righteousness, but heavenly grace. The other is in reserve, and yet to be accomplished to the letter; and God will use His people Israel to be the special instruments of executing these divine judgments.
-Let us take the Revelation. There you have it after the Church is taken to heaven—after the twenty-four elders are enthroned and crowned before the throne, representing the heavenly redeemed that God is now calling out of Jews and Gentiles. God then begins to work upon His ancient people Israel, who understand and cry to God and ask Him, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dolt thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” Is not this the counterpart to the tone of the Psalms? Yet are they saints of God. But mark the consequence of confounding these dispensations now. The Bible requires to be rightly divided. If you take up parts of Scripture and misapply them, one way or the other, you will be a workman that needs to be ashamed. Alas! how men pervert the Sermon on the Mount. They see certain words laid down by our Lord for His disciples; they find Him insisting that they were not to resist evil, not to return a blow for a blow, nor to use any earthly means for asserting their claims or vindicating them against personal violence, spoliation of their property, &c.; the very things men resent as an infringement of their rights. Were a Christian to make out of this a code for all men now, what could be more contrary to the mind of God? It would be to attempt governing the world on principles of grace. If you experimented on men as they are, it would become a far more dreadful bear-garden than even in the times of the great Rebellion, when they tried to act out the retribution of the Psalmist. There, Christians were put under the spirit and principle of the law; but the attempt to put the world under that which was intended for the guidance of God's children, would be still worse confusion. The knave and rogue would be pardoned and caressed; the thief allowed to help himself to as much more as he liked. Evidently such principles never would do for the world, neither were they intended for it. The uninstructed may cry out that this is to take away the Bible, or much of it, but it is totally false. It is only an effort to lead them to understand the Bible; to teach them the real meaning of its various parts.
The practical point is, that Gentiles, such as ourselves, have been taken clean out of all the condition of sin in which we were. We were not under law, but we were under sin—in total in subjection to God—under every kind of evil. It might not be necessarily open moral evil, but we lived to self, and lived without God, and that is a very gentle way of describing the condition in which all of us have been. These Galatians were under the grossest forms of ignorance and idolatry, but such is the spirit of grace, that they were taken quite out of it all, and, by faith of Christ, made sons of God, without passing through any intermediate steps. They repented, they received the Gospel, they were children of God. “And because ye are sons, God path sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father;” —the very word which He, the blessed One, in full communion with His Father, uttered. Think into what a place we are brought! That he who was but the day before a wretched, defiled, idolatrous Gentile, is empowered of the Holy Ghost to utter that same sweet expression of relationship—Father! What a place has God given His children now! And it comes out, not in speaking about the Jews, who were expressly said to be redeemed from under the law, and brought into sonship; but the Holy Ghost expands when He speaks about the Gentiles. There might have been the notion that the Gentile, as he had known nothing about the law, could not be brought into so blessed a place all at once, as the believing Jew. But not so: the Jew had to be brought out, not merely of sin, but from the law. The Gentile had nothing but his sin to be brought out of, and therefore in him the work was done, if I may so say, far more simply. The Jew had to unlearn, the Gentile merely to learn. All that the Gentile had was mere corrupt nature, till he was converted, when he was brought at once under the shining of God's grace; whereas the Jew had to be brought out of the law, and was hampered—perhaps fettered—by what still clung to him of the legal system.
Remember that he who understands grace never weakens the law, which is a very great sin. The doctrine of faith establishes the law. If you think the Christian is under the law, and yet can be saved and happy, you really destroy the authority of the law. Jewish believers under the law never had the full peace and joy which the gospel now brings; and where you have souls now under the law in spirit, they may be saved, but they never have the full rest to which the work of Christ entitles them. The reason is most simple. Though they received Christ, they do not apply His work. If they did, they would see that one of the effects of redemption is to deliver a person—not from subjection to Christ, but to make him more than ever subject to the will of God, and yet not under law. Therefore the apostle shows that what they were brought into is the place of sons. Now the position of the son is intelligent subjection to his Father; the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of His Son, teaches to cry, “Abba, Father;” but not to say longer, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” That is the cry forced out of the heart of one under the law, crying out in anguish of spirit, always having the sense that there is something to be delivered from; comforted a little sometimes, and then down under the pressure of the law. Whereas, where this fullness of blessing that God has brought us in Christ is known, the heart is prompted by the Holy Ghost to cry, Abba, Father. The flesh is done with in the sight of God, and we are entitled to say that we have done with it ourselves. God cannot trust me, nor can I trust myself; but I know that I can trust God in His beloved Son, who has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, so that this is perfect rest for the heart. The cry of the Spirit is Abba, Father: thus is the child of God led out into the proper language of his relationship with God. Other people may admire His creation, may dwell upon the wonders of the heavens and earth, but the cry of the Spirit is Abba, Father; and you can feel it far more than you can express it. What is the gladness of dwelling upon the attributes of God, or the outward effects of His power, compared with the joy of the heart that feels its relationship? Thus we have the Galatian saint here reminded of his relationship; it was the cry which the Holy Ghost produced, and suited to the relationship into the consciousness of which he was brought out of his idolatry. For all depends upon this: the simplicity with which my soul receives the great truth that, as to all that I am, I saw it judged on the cross; and now there is a new man before God, and a new man before me—Christ risen from the dead; and I am entitled to say, that is the One in whom I stand before God. Can we cry anything else than, Abba, Father.
But then there is a warning as well as a conclusion. The conclusion is, “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Just as in chapter vi., where he says, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.” The Holy Ghost then puts it to each individual's soul—considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. So, if God gives a warning that is individual, He gives a comfort, and this before it. “Wherefore,” he says, as the result of all the reasoning, “thou art no more a servant but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Observe, it is not what they shall be; not that we are always infants in this world, and shall get our blessing in heaven, but “thou art no more a servant, but a son.” If you were a Jew, you would be the servant of the law. But now, no matter what you were, if you had been an idolater, having received Christ, you have passed into the fullness of the blessing that is due from God to His beloved Son: God has no blessing too great for the heart that bows to Him— “if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” He enlarges the sphere; it is not merely heir of this or that, but heir of God. What God possesses, what God will have in the blessed day that is coming, He will share with His children. And that is the meaning of the last clause in Eph. 1:1818The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, (Ephesians 1:18); also Rom. 8. Such, and no less, is the place for which God destines us; He does not mean to keep anything back. As grace has been, so the glory will be, God's answer to the devil's insinuation in Eden.
Now for the warning. “Howbeit, then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods! But now, after that ye have known God, or rather, are known of God,” &c. It is plain he means the Gentiles; he does not say, when we knew not God, because the Jews had a certain knowledge of God under the law; but “when ye knew not God,” clearly is about the heathen. “How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” Weigh that expression well. There cannot be a more solemn statement as regards the present state of Christendom. What does he mean by saying that these Galatian saints were returning again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which they desired again to be in bondage? They must have been perfectly shocked. Turning again to idolatry! How can that be? They might say, We are only taking up the principle of the law: do you call that the weak and beggarly elements? Why, says the apostle, when you were unconverted, you worshipped false gods—idols; but if you Christians go and take up Jewish principles, even these feast days or other principles of the law, you are in principle idolaters, turning back again to that idolatry out of which God delivered you. How can this be? The reason is plain. It was not that the law in itself could be idolatrous, and God forbearingly bore with the prejudice of those that were Jews. But here were the Gentile believers going to these legal elements. Who told them? These things had lost all their meaning, and a Gentile had nothing to do with them; they had their value as a shadow of Christ, before Christ came; but to turn back from Christ risen from the dead to these mere shadows was in God's sight going back to idolatry. Whenever professing Christendom takes up the law, and external ceremonies and shadows (quite right as all this was under the law), and adopts it as Christian worship, it has unconsciously but really fallen into idolatry.
Supposing a person were to say, I find myself very cold in worshipping God, and I want something to arouse my soul; what more proper than to have a picture of my Savior, that as I look upon Him and the crown of thorns, I may feel more deeply His love and have my heart's affections more drawn out to Him? That is idolatry, and would have been so at any time. But there were certain of these things allowed under the legal system, because of the hardness of their heart: they were allowed sacrifices and an earthly priesthood; but for a Gentile to turn to these things is going back to idolatry in the sight of God. The Holy Ghost presses this upon these Galatian believers, for the evil was only in the germ. If this be true, what a sin to take part in, to countenance or sanction in any way, that which is idolatry in God's judgment? The evil is increasing most rapidly. It is not confined now to popery, but the stride which has been made of late years towards Catholic principles is the same thing. If it has any religious element at all, it is an idolatrous one, making use of certain feelings of awe in our fallen nature to make people feel more reverent in worship. That is precisely the thing that is opposed to faith. The essence of our blessing lies in the soul's enjoying Christ by the word of God—the Holy Ghost giving this enjoyment of Christ apart from everything that acts upon the natural eye or mind. For it is precisely this very abuse that the apostle here so strongly denounces, and which he calls the weak and beggarly element. What God prizes in worship would now be generally considered meager and poor; for it supposes the absence of outward decoration, in order that it may be the real power of the Holy Ghost acting among the saints.
“Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” Not to do this now is the wonder. Alas! the Galatian evil is thought a proof of religion. He marks that as an error; and not merely so, but as a proof of idolatry. In heathenism these festivals were of great account; and God permitted it in Judaism because they had a means of religion suited to their state and the worldly sanctuary. But now all is completely changed, and the observance of these special feasts and seasons as a means of pleasing God is put down with a high hand by the Holy Spirit. “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.” Is it not most solemn, that, whatever might have been the evil of the Corinthians, he never says of them, “I am afraid of you.” Had we known an assembly with so much flagrant moral evil in its midst—some, too, seeking to overthrow the resurrection—should we not have said there never was so pitiable a thing as their state? But the apostle writes to them in confidence, that they would be brought out of their evil. Not but that he deeply felt it, and puts before them their critical condition; but he writes to them, assured that God would touch their hearts. “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son.” And then he begins to bring out their conduct when he has touched that great chord in their hearts. But when he writes to the Galatians, there is no such expression. Afterward the Holy Ghost gives Him comfort about them, but it is far short of what he feels in writing to the Corinthians. Legalism is an insidious thing, because it looks fair. When this is the case, men fancy that they become practically more holy; but the contrary is the fact. What produces true holiness is, that it is not merely the name of a day, or of an hour, or of a season or place, but God working in the soul, both to will and do of His good pleasure; and this, because “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.” God brings that person into the presence of God, and puts him there as a child.
Persons may be really breathing the very life-breath of popery who think that they have the most wholesome dread of it. Let us search and see for our own souls. We can always look up to God and count upon victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Let Satan rage as he will, yet God will always be God, always be true to His own word and Spirit.