J. W. H. Nichols.
Genesis contains in germ every elementary principle afterward developed in God's ways with man. It has fitly been called "The seed plot of the whole Bible." We are not surprised, therefore, to find in Galatians 4. that Sarah and Hagar are taken as representing the two great principles of law and grace. It is important to understand that the law applies to man in the flesh, and produces a condition of bondage. Ishmael is a type of the natural man, "born after the flesh," who for a time dwelt in the house of Abraham, until Isaac, the true heir, was born. Ishmael speaks of our condition by nature, when the flesh has undisputed possession, and we live to gratify self; while Isaac typifies that which is born of God — the new man: as the apostle wrote: "That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterward that which is spiritual" (1. Cor. 15.). It was not an improved Ishmael, that was to become the depository of God's promises, but Isaac, the new man, child of Sarah and child of faith (Gen. 17:15-17). But, the birth of Isaac brought conflict, it soon manifested the character of the bondwoman's son. New birth is not a change of the old nature, and does not in the least alter the character of the flesh. The flesh "is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). The cultured natural man remains man still. Ishmael might become "a great nation," the father of twelve princes, but he was the son of the bondwoman still. Ishmael and Isaac in Abraham's house were a striking illustration of the two natures in the believer. "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh and these are contrary one to the other" (Gal 5:17). There was a struggle in the house of Abraham as to who was to have first place. He that was born of the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit (Gal. 4:29); even so it is now, there is a struggle between the flesh and the Spirit in the children of God, until "He that is born after the flesh" is cast out — disowned as heir. Of Ishmael, God had said: "He shall be a wild man." Could fitter words be used to describe what the flesh is? So we must learn — as the apostle said: "I know that in me — that is in my flesh — good does not dwell" (Rom. 7:18, N.T.). Therefore, to walk according to the mind of God, the flesh (the Ishmael in us) must be disowned. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh and the affections and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). Shrined with the blessed truth of what God has made us "in Christ" we are enabled to "put off the old man with his lusts and put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:22-24). Isaac's place in the house of Abraham as the heir, was manifested on the day he was weaned. It was a day of rejoicing for all in the house. Henceforth Isaac was supreme, and Ishmael was cast out (Gen. 21:8-12). All this is full of salutary instruction for the people of God. The flesh cannot be allowed to hold sway in our lives, and our Lord Jesus Christ has His rightful place, and while such a state may exist there can be no fruit for God. What a day of gladness dawns, when the soul is able to say: "For me to live is Christ," and the flesh with its lusts is disowned. Worldly associations and desires (everything that savours of "Ishmael") lose their hold then, and the soul seeks "those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God" (Col. 3:1). May we be true to all this, not striving to see how much "Ishmael" can be tolerated in the presence of Isaac but absolutely refusing the flesh a place. Alas! how often we apologize for the bad conduct of our "Ishmael," instead of casting him out! While dallying with the flesh, what blessing we alas forfeit! The day of feasting and gladness in the house of Abraham only came when Isaac was weaned; not until Christ has His rightful place in our hearts and lives, can we know full liberty and blessing. It is one thing to be "sealed by the Spirit" (Rom. 5.) and quite another to be in the liberty of the Spirit, as developed in Romans 8.