"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, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." (Gal. 3:21, 22.)
The apostle having shown that there was no second party to the covenant into which God entered with Abraham, but that that covenant was an absolute and unconditional covenant, of the same character with the covenant which God made with Noah, and "his seed, and every living creature," and under which we now sow and reap; the question arises, "Is the law then against the promises of God?" Not so, says the apostle. Righteousness and life are inseparably connected together, both in the law and in the gospel. The law pointed to righteousness as the way to life. "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." "This do, and thou shalt live." But the law could neither give life, nor righteousness. Such was the condition of man, that the holy, just, and good law of God, instead of being to man the ministry of righteousness, became the ministry of condemnation instead of the ministry of life, it was the ministry of death. The fault was not in the law, but in man. It could show man his sinfulness, impotence, and hopelessness; but it could do nothing for his deliverance. The law helped to force man out of the place of a doer, into that of a receiver. The law was given by Moses, but it could not give; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ; and of that fulness 'do we receive.' It is a hard lesson to learn, that from beginning to end we are only receivers. We become Christians by that which we receive, not by any thing we do. We receive in the way of gift, and of the grace of God, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, eternal life, even Christ Himself. The language of the apostle is remarkably strong as to the hopeless misery of man, whether without law or under law: "The Scripture hath concluded all under sin." Here sin is represented as a tyrant, keeping men in such bondage, that the very effort to deliver themselves only rivets their chains more firmly. But it is when this is really acknowledged to be man's condition, even that he is emphatically 'lost,' that light bursts in upon him; even that that which is "impossible with men, is possible with God" that which is impossible in the way of man's works, is possible in the way of faith. All are shut up hopelessly under sin, in order that the promise faith-wise in Christ Jesus might be given to them that believe. Those who thus were shut up under sin are now, by faith in Christ Jesus, made free from sin.
"But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children [i.e. sons] of God by faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:23-26.)
If all are shut up in hopelessness under sin, the very law itself, to which men look for deliverance, takes the place of a jailor, as the very strength of sin, in order to make men conscious how entirely they were under the dominion of sin. They are alike 'shut up' under sin, and under the law. This verse remarkably shows to us the necessary spirit of one quickened by the Holy Ghost, yet in his conscience under law. His spirit is and must be the spirit of bondage. He is "a prisoner of hope," craving liberty, yet not knowing how to get it. "Before faith came," means evidently that new and wondrous way of righteousness in the way of faith, and not in the way of works, now so clearly and fully manifested. The law kept even the saints who were under it, as it were, in jail. Look at Hezekiah. He was in bondage under fear of death, shut up in prison unto the faith that was afterwards to be revealed. It is in reference to saints of old in the condition of Hezekiah, that the Lord says to His disciples, "Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear; for verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them."
The apostle having regarded the law as a jailor, imprisoning those who are under it, in verse 24 changes the figure, and presents the law as a schoolmaster, or rather as the confidential servant of the house, who conducted the youths to and from school, and watched over them in their games; and this, too, till they were emancipated from school, and were able themselves to take the place of men. This place the law had till Christ. It so strictly controlled those who were real saints, that they had no more liberty than the youth under the vigilant and strict care of a tutor. Just in proportion as saints dispensationally under the law rose above the law, looking to the faith, or the object of faith to be revealed, did they know liberty. Such there were even in the worst times: those who, "fearing the Lord, spake often one to another, and thought upon His name." Such there were, a faithful remnant, "when the fulness of time was come, and God sent forth His Son" — a Simeon or an Anna — waiting for the consolation of Israel, looking for redemption in Jerusalem. The Lord's own personal disciples never stood in conscious liberty till fully emancipated from the law. How different the state of the same disciples before and after Pentecost. When the Holy Ghost came down from heaven as the witness of Jesus in glory, and the witness of the preciousness of His blood as known in heaven, then they were free; they acted as those who were not servants, but sons. They were justified by faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus, and were no longer under the rigid or even suspecting care of the tutor. They were grown up, come to man's estate, had attained their majority, and could enter into the enjoyment of their rich inheritance. It would have been more forcible, and more in keeping with the illustration, had the word rendered 'children' (verse 26) been rendered 'sons,' not infants, but sons; those who had come into possession, and not merely into the title, of all their privileges. Now, after attaining to this standing and condition, to turn back to the law, would be to turn from the liberty of sons, who have access to the Father through Jesus, to the rigorous and irritating control of a tutor. How clearly does this illustrate the condition of many real Christians; still in their conscience they are under law, and not standing and acting in the liberty of sons of God. They make salvation a future object, instead of enjoying it as a present reality. And while this is the case, there will ever be the tendency to serve God and mammon, instead of walking in the happy consciousness of an emancipated people.
"For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to promise." (Gal. 3:27-29.)
How important is the doctrine of baptism, but how little understood or realized. The believer in Christ is regarded by God to have died in Christ, to have been buried with Christ, to be raised up with Christ, and to have put on Christ. Surely, if we have put on Christ, we need neither our works nor our service to commend us to God. The believer appears before God in that which he has put on — even Christ. This is the doctrine taught by baptism. All the differences and distinctions which exist in the human family are merged and lost in the one grand characteristic of the family of faith; they have put on Christ, and therefore are all one in Christ. In this marvellous distinction, difference of nation, Jew and Greek; difference of social condition, bond and free; difference even of sex, male and female, are lost in the paramount distinction — "all one in Christ Jesus." How full of comfort is this doctrine. The weak believer appears before God as the strong; the one who tremblingly touches the hem of the garment of Jesus has the same standing before God as the apostle Paul — "all one in Christ Jesus," They have alike "put on Christ," the grand and essential distinction before God.
But there is a difficulty to be met; the promises were to Abraham and his seed. How then shall a sinner of the Gentiles get connected with Abraham, so as to be interested in these promises? Here the Judaizer might presume that he was on strong ground, and might use it to teach the disciples. "Except ye be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, ye cannot be saved." It seems not unreasonable to insist on any hereditary title to which we can lay claim. On this the Jews insisted in their controversy with the Lord. (John 8.) The Lord allows their hereditary claim to be the seed of Abraham; but they lacked faith, and therefore were not the children of Abraham, as the father of the faithful. Hereditary claim, however valid, must be set aside, because it is of the flesh. The Lord struck at the root of their confidence by showing them what they were in relation to God. They were about to kill Him, because He had spoken to them the truth which He had heard of God; this did not Abraham. The Lord allowed they were the natural children of the kingdom, but only to be cast out. (Matt. 8:12.) Peter addressed them as "children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with Abraham." (Acts 3:25.) Paul gave the Jews the place of hereditary title. "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." The Jews, resting in their hereditary privileges, "much every way," despised and rejected Him who was Abraham's seed, and the sum and substance of all promises. "Their table became their snare;" a solemn word of warning to ourselves. The Gentile, who had no hereditary claim on God, by believing on Christ (Abraham's seed), became connected through Christ with Abraham himself. He had the faith of Abraham, who saw Christ's day and rejoiced. It was not, therefore, by means of proselytism, or by means of the law, that the Gentile became connected with Abraham, but by means of Christ. The Gentile became Abraham's seed, not in the legal but the promise order. "If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to promise."
"Now I say, That the heir, so long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world but when the fulness of 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." (Gal. 4:1-5.)
Having mentioned "heirs according to promise," he contrasts that condition with the condition of heirs under the law. The heir under the law is like an infant under guardians, until either, according to the law of the country, or the arbitrary will of his father, he is of age and competent to act for himself. Now all this while he differs nothing from a servant. Though he is in title possessor of all the estate, he cannot act even on his own property without the permission of his guardians. This, says the apostle, aptly represents the condition of those who were heirs under the law. The elements of the world, their much-boasted ritual and ordinances, acted the same part toward them as the guardian towards the minor. The ordinances of the law kept the very heirs of God in a state of pupilage and bondage, until God's set time came for sending forth His Son, the promised seed of the woman, to which the eye of faith had been directed from the moment of the fall; yet "made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." "Fulness of time" is a remarkable expression. Many preparatory steps were needed to show to man that he could only stand in blessing in redemption. Redemption was the original thought of God, but this thought was only brought out in full relief at Pentecost. Man stood not in innocence; man stood not under law. Those who, being under the law, were quickened by the Spirit, were waiting for redemption. At length the time came, and God sent forth His Son, made under the law: magnifying it by His implicit obedience, He magnified it further by bearing its curse, and thus redeeming from under it even the very heirs, that they might come into their proper place as sons, which they could not do so long as they were under the law; for the law kept them in the position of servants, and they could only have the spirit of servants.
"And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Gal. 4:6, 7.)
The apostle here contrasts the state of the Gentile believer, standing in the full liberty of the gospel, with that of the saint of old under the law. He thus points out to the Gentile believer the folly of putting himself into that condition from which the saint of old needed the work of Christ on the cross to redeem him, in order to take the place and have the spirit of a son. They were sons, not servants — heirs who had attained their majority, and had liberty of access with all confidence to the Father. Would they again go back to a state of pupilage, and only think and act as a child in that state? The argument is very cogent; there is an intended contrast between, "that we might receive the adoption of sons" (verse 5), and "because ye are sons" (verse 6). The Spirit of adoption was not the portion of Old Testament saints; it is the blessed fruit of accomplished redemption, for which even the disciples of the Lord Jesus had to wait till after His ascension. (See Acts 1:4-8.) The Gentile had never been under law, but had been "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" on his believing the testimony to forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus. (Compare Acts 10:43, 44, Acts 11:15-17, with Eph. 1:13.) The Spirit of adoption may not be realized by Gentile Christians, because of their Galatian state; but where it is realized, it makes the believer say, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage." And this is the portion of him who knows the Father, and has the Spirit of adoption. Little cares, little trials, little perplexities, make up the sum and substance of our little lives. To meet these, we need to have the Spirit of adoption; for we need a parent's care, and a parent's heart, and it alone "sufficeth us" to be shown "the Father." We lose much holy joy, because we so little know the Father. How would the thought, My heavenly Father knoweth what things I have need of, deliver us from being cumbered with many things. Rarely do we find Christians going as children to their Father, telling Him the little things that try and vex them, sure of finding a Father's heart into which they may cast their cares. We may be strict and busy in public acts of worship; but it is in the closet where we specially have to do with the Father, and to tell Him our own private necessities in secret. Legality obscures our sense of relationship with God, as the Father. It makes us think of legal adoption, instead of real relationship. Legal adoption must needs be accompanied with the spirit of a servant. Such was Israel under the law, legally adopted, yet turned out (John 8:35, 36); but if the Son makes free, then are we free indeed. It is well to dwell on the confidential nearness into which grace brings us through Jesus. We have access through Jesus by one Spirit to the Father. Legalism effectually bars this access. We need not wonder, therefore, at the strength of the apostle's language, when he saw God's own children debasing themselves as the Galatians were, by putting themselves under law.
"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, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." (Gal. 4:8-11.)
The Galatians had been before their conversion idolaters, and were now in much danger of again lapsing into the principles of idolatry, if not into its more gross form. The prescient eye of the apostle — prescient, because he was under the guidance of the Spirit — looked at that which might have been thought harmless or indifferent as necessarily leading back to idolatry, as it assuredly has done and is doing. Hence his very determined language. What a happy turn does the apostle give from their knowledge of God to God's knowledge of them — "rather are known of God." At the best, our knowledge of God is imperfect, but He thoroughly knows us; and He who knows the worst of us is the very God who has "justified us freely by His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." Omniscience, if we regard ourselves as under law, is arrayed against us, but in the gospel, God is for us; and the blood of Jesus Christ not only cleanseth us from all the sin which we know, but from all that which the light of Omniscience can detect. It is well solemnly to mark the strength of the language which the apostle uses. God's own legal ordinances are here said to be "weak and beggarly elements." Beautiful and excellent in their time and place, as shadows of good things to come, they sink into weakness and beggary before Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the one grand ordinance of God. They are not only profitless, they are actual hindrances. Yea, says the apostle to these bewitched Galatians, you are going back again to your old idolatrous ways, by observing days, months, and years, and are dealing with the living God as you did with your dumb idols. And all my labour in preaching to you the gospel of the grace of God appears to be thrown away. How painfully applicable is all this to much of the Christianity of the present day. There are now principles at work which are essentially idolatrous. Men still think that God is served by men's hands, as though He needed something. They know not God in His blessed character of 'Giver,' and therefore come not unto Him as receivers. It is truly distressing to see those who once seemed to love evangelical truth bowed down under a system of ordinances, observing days and months, to the obscuring of their own vision of the one object which God sets before us, even His blessed Son, in the glory of His humiliation, and the glory of His exaltation.
"Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you." (Gal. 4:12-20.)
The apostle here, as at the beginning, argues from his own case. "I am as ye are." I take no vantage ground over you, because I was an Israelite, "touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless." No, I come down from this my legal standing to your level, and take the same ground as a sinner of the Gentiles. The apostle Peter does the same. "We [Jews] believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." "There is no difference; all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." It is not for Gentiles to take Jewish ground, but for Jews to take the place of 'no difference.' The apostle reminds the Galatians that he held out no attractiveness to them, but the attractiveness of the Cross of Christ to the really awakened sinner. (John 12:32.) They had overlooked his personal infirmity in receiving the blessed message of which he was the bearer; and, as the bearer of such a message, they had received him as "an angel of God, even as Jesus Christ." But what was the blessedness they spake of and gloried in? Did it make them happy to hear Paul propound to them the works of the law as the ground of their acceptance with God, or a system of ordinances as the ground of their approach to God? He knew and they knew that had this been the substance of his preaching, it would have been no blessedness to them. He had set forth before them the Cross of Christ, and, through that, death abolished, sin made an end of, everlasting righteousness brought in, and the law no longer able to keep in prison. (See Rom. 7:6.) And as a blessed consequence, such nearness to God as may be known in the loving confidence of a child toward an affectionate parent. Was the apostle their enemy in afresh pressing upon their hearts and consciences that truth which he had formerly preached to them, and by means of which they had been made free? False teachers were trying to set the Galatians against the apostle, as though he were an enemy to their blessing, whilst these teachers were themselves diligently trying to undermine the very groundwork of their blessing. And they did not try in vain; for hardly had the apostle left them, when their professed love for the apostle, and zeal for the truth he preached, vanished away. How different the Philippians: they had obeyed the truth, not only in his presence, but "much more in his absence;" but the actual presence of the apostle could alone keep the Galatians in the strait path. He travailed anxiously for them in spirit, and desired to be present with them, that he might change the stern voice of reprehension for mild encouragement to persist in the truth; for he was in great perplexity about their state. And it was this constant pressure — the care of all the churches — which weighed more on the apostle than all his outward hardships.
We ought not to be surprised, however sorrowful the fact, at seeing a return to ordinances among Christians. It is to be traced up to the legality which is in all our hearts. The reason that real Christians know so little of present joy is that they are legal; and when they are so they try to make others as miserable as themselves; judging alike those who are above and those who are below their standard. The only antidote to legality is to have "Christ formed in us." This is the special office of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth, who glorifies Christ, taking us away from the law unto its real end and object, even righteousness; for "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."