There are two things presented here which distinguish the Christian. The first is an entirely new life in the presence of the Lord Jesus. (Gal. 2:19, &c.) The second is the possession of the Holy Ghost (chap. 3), in contrast with the law, and also the promises; for the accomplishment is quite distinct from the hope. The difference is immense; for, in order to enjoy the effect of the promise, it is needful that faith come in and that righteousness be accomplished. The perfect righteousness of Christ in God’s presence must be put on. One cannot have the accomplishment of the promise save in Christ.
The Galatians had, to a certain point, succeeded in introducing some measure of works of the law in order to salvation. Not that the name of Christ was set aside, but His work was despised. Now God in His grace has set us before Him without questions: they have been all solved in Christ and God. We are not clear till we have recognized ourselves under the efficacy of all that Christ has done for our salvation, and we cannot enjoy it as long as there are questions to be solved.
To enjoy the efficacy of Christ’s work is the foundation of all. It is the joy of the full revelation of God. Abraham had precious promises. (Gen. 15; 17.) But it is one thing to have promises like those made to Abraham, precious as this is without doubt, a totally different thing to have a full entire revelation of God in respect of us, such as we have in the epistles. The work which has been fully and clearly revealed has put me where Jesus is in the presence of God, happy and without a cloud. What Christ has done the law could not do, and did not pretend to it; for the law, having a shadow of things to come, shewed, after all, that God could not be revealed therein. Why? Because righteousness was not accomplished: it would have been judgment, for the law demanded its fulfilment. The Holy Ghost tells us that the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest. God kept Himself in the thick darkness.
Now they were seeking to add things in order to be saved, when the believer was without questions in the presence of God. Therefore, says the apostle, “If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. I have done wrong then in overthrowing them, I am a transgressor and Christ a minister of sin!” (Gal. 2.) “But,” he adds, “I, through the law, am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
What then is the effect of the law, and wherefore serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, but it is not a thing which I could accomplish. The apostle has not even the idea of such a thing, for the law was given to shew man that he was a sinner. The righteousness which is by faith is quite another thing from abiding under the law. I know all the power of the law; it can only condemn me. But now I am dead to the law. How happy to know the thing by grace, for grace is of little moment to me if I am under law! The knowledge of grace makes me understand that, the more God is good, the more guilty am I if I offend Him. The revelation of this grace of God, if the law enters and I must render an account, makes one more culpable in every respect. When Moses came down from the mountain, he brought a ministry of condemnation and death. (Compare Exodus 34 and 2 Cor. 3.) God had proclaimed Himself as the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and sin, and that would by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. This was not a ministry of pure grace, as some suppose; for God had said, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. (Ex. 32:33.) But under grace he who sins against such a God is more guilty than a sinner under the ministry of condemnation and death. Nor is this a piece of reasoning; for the word says that Moses put a veil on his face, that the children of Israel could not look to the end of that which is abolished. If God impute my sin to me, all this goodness does but aggravate my case.
What is it that I really want? The manifestation of righteousness. For whatever was the goodness of God displayed, it rendered man more blamable, and promise could not take this away. The people were guilty, and the ministry with which Moses was invested was a ministry of condemnation and death. But the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ is unto all, and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:22, 23.) God, knowing that which should be manifested, bore with sins. The cross has only displayed His righteousness which He has declared at this time. We are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood to declare His righteousness. (Rom. 3:24, 25.)
The important thing for our souls is that God’s righteousness has been fully revealed. It is not that faith denies the authority of the law: “yea, we establish the law.” Faith owns that the law demands perfect righteousness; but it also says, “If I seek my salvation by the works of the law, I am condemned and lost.” But now faith says, “I, through the law, am dead to the law.” This is what Christ has accomplished for us personally. Christ has put Himself under the sentence of the cross, and by His death I am crucified with Him. The life in which I was responsible and I had sinned exists no longer. This it is which makes such a total difference. The life in which God saw me a sinner, the life to which sin is attached and consequently condemnation and death, no more exists. “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is not yet all. It is no more a question for me, if I can find the favour of God by keeping the law; for I live no longer according to this life, but in the life of Christ who loved me. My responsibility as to this life is gone: Christ has loved me, and loved me as I am. Such is the sole relation that I know; and I am sure of His love. It is the action of Christ for me which has set me thus, and not mine for Him.
It is true that I have failed; but I am dead. And my responsibility, as a saved person, flows from this that Christ has loved and saved me, and from the relations which exist between Him and me. If my soul has not understood its responsibility before God as saved, I have not understood the gospel; nevertheless, I cannot deny it: God has revealed it to me. It is not any more a question of what I ought to be, but of what Christ has done, and done for me. What I find is, that He has loved me as I was. I find in Jesus the manifestation of the God who loved me. I have the full assurance before God, that I have no longer anything to do with this first life, the life of the first Adam; but that I live now in another life, communicated by the second Adam, even Christ, of whose love to me I am assured.
There is a great difference between the enjoyment of a lost child introduced into a family, and that of him who is adopted there. The child may find the father to be kind, but he has not yet the child’s heart, nor position, as long as he feels himself a mere foundling. As soon, however, as his position is changed, because he understands that the head of the family is become his father by adoption, he enjoys those intimate relations which exist between a parent and his child.
Everything depends on the relations which exist. One cannot enjoy the affections of God without being His child; all depends on the knowledge and enjoyment of this relationship. Then the heart is happy, and such is the place of the Christian. The effect of Christ’s work is to set us thus in the relation in which Jesus stands with the Father.
The apostle presents us with a second position in Galatians 3:2: “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?” To this he replies: “As many [persons] as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” … “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
Now we have the contrast, not only with the law, but also with the promises; for Christ is far above the promises, seeing that He is Himself their accomplishment. Those who are of the works of the law—on that ground and principle—are cursed; those who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. (Gal. 3:9.) Impossible to have joy in God’s presence without the question of sin’s being settled. Can we stand before God without that? No; righteousness is necessary. If I have the least thing upon my conscience, how can I be happy in the light? For one must be there without spot. But Christ has done more than answer to righteousness; and herein we find a glorious manifestation in Christ, for He has accomplished, in perfection, all that was demanded of man, and He is now glorified. We enjoy not merely the righteousness which was required; but this—that God has been glorified; and this is much more. Had God merely shewn Himself just, He would have cut off all men as sinners: without the work of Christ, God’s majesty would have been compromised; but Christ gave Himself up to be the vessel for displaying on the cross all that God is for us. God Himself has been so glorified, that Christ could say, “Therefore doth my Father love me.” The God-man has not only satisfied the righteousness of God, but, besides, the consequence of His perfect work is that we can rejoice in His presence without questions and without trouble of conscience. We have received not life only but the Holy Ghost as the seal of our justification, and in order that we may understand all the effect of this righteousness to enjoy it without a cloud in the Father’s presence.
Another thing besides flows thence—the base on which the Church is founded. For this is not on what man was not, but on what he is in Christ; and in this manifestation Christ has unfolded all that was in God for us. The Church of the living God is the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15.) There is the truth, because God has been manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up in glory. This had not been all promised. For the Church to receive her existence, it was needful that God should be manifested in flesh. Christ having accomplished the work of redemption, God has introduced man in His presence, and set him in glory. Having proved man to be a sinner, He was not contented to take away sin, but He would see him His own, and make him enjoy all His grace in perfect peace, giving him to understand that His righteousness was accomplished in Christ. Such is the Church. Souls convinced of sin enjoy all the fulness of the sovereign grace of God, because there is no more question of sins for them. By the gift of the Holy Ghost this effect is produced; there is the consciousness of the perfect righteousness of God Himself without conscience of sins. Can you say that there is no more question of sins for you? Is this question entirely at rest, and your relation to God founded on that? Have you recognized that your responsibility, your relation with God, is based upon the accomplished righteousness in Christ? If so, you are happy and blessed. Formerly you were sinners, but now you can say, God loves me. I do not speak of your thoughts; but you have made the discovery that you are God’s children by faith in Christ Jesus, that your responsibility as sinners is closed. Are your hearts thus at large? to consider before Him that you are crucified with Christ, and that sin is gone for you? I cannot have the feelings of a bride towards one whom I dread as my judge: I need the consciousness of being in the presence of my bridegroom, according to that lovingkindness which is better than life.
Is God your daily resource in your faults and sins, even when you have committed them? Do you believe that His love can do that? There is where the apostle regards the Christian as set; and, when the contrary happens, the Jewish position is more or less taken by the heart. If I have not full confidence in God, I must seek something outside, instead of having recourse to God to find strength and to restore my soul. If God is your resource, you will not seek the law. The touchstone for the child of God is, whether his resources are in God or in himself. Perhaps, like the Jews, he seeks to offer sacrifices. If Christians, we are under grace, and it is of moment for us to be clear as to the position Christ has brought us into. There we are blessed in His presence; there also we are in possession of the precious things which are promised us. For, I repeat, it is not the promises which constitute our joy, but Christ, in whom we have them all Yea, and Amen, in virtue of the work which has been wrought and accepted; and we can be strangers and pilgrims.
May God strengthen us more and more in the consciousness of His love, which has saved us, and brings us into His presence to enjoy all that He is for us. Then Christ will be the object of all our thoughts. May we have it simple and settled before us, that it is no more ourselves that live, but Christ that lives in us, that nothing is wanting to the accomplishment of the requirements of God, and that our position is based upon His love.