In the Epistle to the Galatians the death of Christ is said to have for its object our deliverance from this present evil age. But before the apostle enters upon this subject, he will let the Galatians know his credentials for the position he has taken up, as an apostle of our Lord. He desires them to understand the divine source of his apostleship, as well as the divine source of the gospel he had preached to them, and through belief of which they had found themselves in right relations with God.
The knowledge of this was of the utmost importance to them, for they seem to have supposed he had got that which he preached from the other apostles who were at Jerusalem, and that therefore anyone who came to them from Jerusalem would be as well, if not better than he, acquainted with the truth. Therefore into this matter he goes at the outset, and in rather an abrupt manner, for his heart was hot within him as he thought of the way in which the devil was puzzling these souls by his wicked, deceitful and false apostles.
He was an apostle, “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.” It was not a sort of Christian sanhedrim that had made a choice of him as a preacher of the glad tidings, nor was it a delegate sent from the other apostles at Jerusalem that had installed him in his apostolate: he had it from God the Father, and from the risen Christ.
In writing his Epistles to assemblies, he sometimes associates a brother or two with himself, but here he says: “all the brethren which are with me,” thus bringing before them the serious nature of their defection: they were giving up Christianity. Therefore their dangerous condition was not the concern of an apostle of our Lord only, but of all who had believed. They were heart and soul with him in his condemnation of their departure from the truth, and in his effort to effect their recovery.
As to his previous manner of life, these Galatians were not in ignorance. They had heard of his persecution of the assembly of God, because of his zeal for the doctrines of his fathers But when God who had set him apart, even from his mother’s womb, was pleased to reveal His Son in him, that he might announce Him as glad tidings among the nations, he did not wait for the sanction of men, neither did he go to those who had been apostles while he was still a destroyer of the saints, but, as we read in Acts 9:20, he straightway in the synagogues preached Jesus that He is the Son of God.
The way in which he salutes them is according to his usual formula “Grace to you and peace, from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ,” and then, not as in the other Epistles in which the salutation stands alone and unconnected with what follows, the mind of the apostle hurries on to set before them the object of Christ’s death He says, “Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world (age; aiōnos, not kosmos), according to the will of God and our Father.”
Through the preaching of the Apostle, those who believed had come under the power and into the blessing of “God’s dispensation, which is in faith” (N.Tr.), but the great and tireless effort of the enemy has from the outgoing of the gospel been to negate its effect by linking up with this evil age those who believed it; and the state of Christendom today is the success of that accursed effort.
This age, I suppose, began at Sinai. At that mount there was certainly a new beginning on the part of God with a people He had separated from the nations of the earth, in the midst of whom He set up His throne, and through whom the whole world was to come under His beneficent reign. As regards the blessing of the tribes, we read: “Jehovah came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shone forth from Mount Paran; and He came from the myriads of the sanctuary; from His right hand went forth a law of fire for them. Yea, He loves the tribes. All His saints are in thy hand, and they sit down at thy feet; each receiveth of thy words. Moses commanded us a law, the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. And he was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together” (Deut. 33).
The law was given to a people redeemed out of the hand of the oppressor, to be established in blessing on the earth, but that blessing was to be possessed only on the ground of their fulfilling the righteous conditions imposed upon them by the Lawgiver, from whose right hand went forth that fiery law for them. And though they in the pride of their hearts said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient,” they failed utterly, so that the carcasses of all the men that came out of Egypt by Moses fell in the wilderness, never getting into the land at all. And when their children were eventually brought over Jordan and into the land of promise, they quickly turned away from Jehovah and worshipped the gods of the nations whom they were to dispossess, bringing the wrath of God upon them. They broke the law, persecuted the prophets, slew those who testified of the coming of Christ, and murdered Him when He did come. The ruin of this age is complete. A great mass of mankind has adopted a corrupt form of Christianity, but that does not make things any better. The antichrist has yet to be revealed, a man has yet to be worshipped as God, and the armies of the nations have to be gathered against Jehovah and His Anointed—then everything shall be brought to an issue.
“Whose voice then shook the earth.” The protestations of the people against any act of disobedience on their part could not deceive Him who knew the evil and treachery of the human heart. He knew there was nothing but ruin for the age that seemed to open with ready acquiescence of the people in the terms laid down by the Lawgiver. Therefore in giving utterance to those terms the mount quaked so greatly that the people retired from before it and stood afar off. The shaking indicated that nothing that was that day. being inaugurated would continue: “But now has He promised, yet once more, I shake not only earth, but also heaven” (Heb. 12:26). The devil still has his seat in heaven, from whence he directs his wicked operations on earth. But the day is near in which he shall be cast down to earth, from thence to the abyss, and then into the lake of fire. It is when the Lord comes forth in the thunder of His power that the heavens shall be shaken, and the devil shall be chained in the abyss, until the thousand years of the reign of Christ is over.
And this, “Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things that cannot be shaken may remain.” This earth that bears in its rocky bosom the fearsome wounds it has received in its adventurous career, when possibly for the wickedness and rebellion of its prehistoric inhabitants, whatever they may have been, it was made to feel the wrath of a righteous and incensed Creator, must in the end fly from the face of Him who, Judge of all, sits on the great white throne, and it and all its works must perish for ever. The heavens also must pass away with a great noise, the elements melting with fervent heat. Thus shall the end be of this wondrous theatre, in which has been displayed the enmity against God of fallen angels and of fallen men.
We, however, receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear: for as the God of Israel was a consuming fire, so also is ours. He changes not. The age began with the shaking of the earth and the shaking of both heaven and earth will terminate it, and introduce the advent and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messianic age, the habitable world which is to come.
Into the midst of this age of law, which because of man’s evil propensities has utterly failed and become the theatre of rebellion against the authority of God, the despisal of His holy law, the worship of demons, the murder of His Son, has been heralded in the power of the Spirit sent down from heaven the glad tidings of God’s intervention on behalf of sinful men, His coming to light as a Saviour-God, in sending His Son that by His death propitiation might be made for sins, and that a way of salvation might be available and pointed out, for the whole human race, and that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of God and our Father.
This dispensation of the grace of God,which is in faith, does not in the least alter the character of this age, but is God’s way of delivering out of this age those who believe, and of associating them with the heavenly Man in all the blessed relationships that are His with the Father, which, as far as this Epistle goes, may be comprehended under one word—“Sonship.”
Whatever the work of grace might be in the souls of believers in the past dispensation, they never were positionally other than bondslaves. They were under the elements of the world, elements that had all their application to men in the flesh. There were always those that were children of God, heirs of the eternal inheritance, and who had a sense of the favour of God resting on them, but as to the dispensation under which they were, and ostensibly they were in no other relationship with God than were the children of Belial, they differed nothing from bondmen. They were heirs, but minors; and they had no other standing until faith was revealed as the declared and only principle upon which men could be in vital relationship with God.
But when it was perfectly demonstrated that man was hopelessly evil, and that no power of recovery lay in himself, then “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.” When the trial of man was over, then God could manifest the purposes of His own heart. He had always been working His sovereign work of grace in the hearts of those who were the objects of His eternal counsel. The heirs of promise were always there. If He looked down from heaven upon the children of men, and saw all gone aside and become filthy, there was also “the generation of the righteous,” among whom He loved to be (Ps. 14:2-5). From Abel down to the coming of Christ there had been those who were the subjects of the sovereign grace of God; they were born of God, heirs of promise, but, as I have said, in the position of bondservants. But when the Son came forth and accomplished their redemption, God gave the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, crying, “Abba, Father” thus bringing them consciously into sonship, and sealing them with the Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of the inheritance which we are called to receive.
In this heavenly relationship and glorious position, true liberty is found. A yoke of bondage is utterly inconsistent with the liberty into which sonship introduces us. “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5), is not the same thing as, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet,” or, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest” (Heb. 10:19).
But this is not liberty for the flesh; were it so all men might presumptuously intrude into the holy presence of God, as did Uzziah the king, on whom the wrath of God fell for his temerity. Here the flesh has no place. It has no part in sonship. In the cross we, as after the flesh, have been judicially brought to an end, “I am crucified with Christ.” He came in the likeness of the flesh of sin, and in the judgment of the cross flesh was removed from before the face of God. If we live now according to God, it is Christ that liveth in us, for He is our life. Our old sinful selves have no title to recognition, nor will they at all manifest themselves if we abide in Him.
We are no longer in flesh as regards our relationships with God, and with one another. We are in Spirit, if indeed God’s Spirit dwells in us, neither do we any longer belong to this present age. It goes on with a hypocritical acknowledgment of the law by which it was introduced; and that in the face of the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, and in spite of the fact that before their eyes appear the people who received that law by the disposition of angels as scattered throughout the earth without throne, temple, or priest, and without any practical link with God, or acknowledgment by Him except in a small remnant discoverable in the Church according to the election of grace—the Israel of God.
But these along with ourselves are delivered from this present evil age, and are a heavenly people, sons on our way to glory, there along with the Son, our Redeemer and Leader, to enter upon an inheritance that will take in the vast compass of redeemed creation—an eternal inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, to enjoy it all Him, and best of all to enjoy His love that surpasses knowledge, and to bask in the sunshine of His Father and His God, known to us as our Father and our God.
Knowing all these blessings brought to us in the glad tidings of God’s grace, we can well understand the fierce anathemas of the apostle against all, whether man or angel, who would preach anything as gospel other than that which he had preached, and which the Galatians had received. May we also be found contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.