The apostle has been speaking to the Galatians in chapter 2 as having had a sense of what they had gained in Christ, and now in chapter 3 he has to address them thus: “Who hath bewitched you”—to make you go back to law when you have been justified not by the works of the law, but in Christ? It is impossible for a man to be justified by the law. I cannot live to God till my accounts are settled with God. I have no fortune to spend until my debts are paid. The effect of the law being given is to kill man, but the apostle can triumph in the killing power of the law, because it has killed Christ instead of him, “I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live,” etc.
All the promises were made to Christ, or rather confirmed to Christ. They were first made to Abraham (Gen. 12) and then there are gospel promises in view of the Gentiles. It is “thee,” not “thee and thy seed,” as in Genesis 17, where the nation is spoken of, and which was to be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore. This is a Jewish promise, but in Genesis 22 it is to Abraham’s “seed,” not to him and his seed, but to his seed Christ; for Isaac, received back from the dead in a figure, is a type of Christ, and it was to Isaac that the promise was confirmed or ratified, though given to Abraham. The promises are taken up in Christ, as risen; and this is of the last importance to us, because before they are made over to us, there is a righteousness wrought out for us. The law comes in meanwhile to raise the question of righteousness, and in such a way as to condemn men. God was righteous and the question has to be raised on that subject, not as to goodness. Man could not meet the demands of the law, because it required a perfect righteousness; but Christ could and did, and has put us into the place in which we can receive the promise. The law has dominion over a man as long as he liveth, but when he is dead, he is freed from that law. Well then, the law has no more power over me. If a man who is in prison dies, there can be nothing more done to him. The apostle not only says “dead to the law,” but “crucified with Christ.” I have died to the law through Christ having died to it. It killed Christ, and now I live by Christ. The death of Christ closed the whole scene morally. It was the end of law, the end of man, the end of the world; and a wholly new scene commenced from that point.
There are two ways of looking at righteousness. If I had kept the law, I should have been a righteous man. But to keep it I must love God with all my heart, soul, and spirit, and my neighbour as myself. This is human righteousness, which is never found in any man save in Christ. The law is founded on the knowledge of good and evil which he got by sinning; then there is a righteousness needed to meet its requirements. There is another thing needed, which we read of in scripture, and that is, God’s righteousness. All that God is was displayed in Christ; human righteousness was perfect in Him; but there was another thing needed, and this need He met on the cross. He was not keeping the law on the cross. If God were to shew perfect righteousness towards sinners, they must die. Then there would be no love displayed. But if love were shewn to the sinner irrespective of the question about his sins, there would be no righteousness. Christ glorified God on the cross in the display of His righteousness and His love. Then, having thus glorified God, He had a title to be glorified by God, and therefore God raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in glory. There is the righteousness of God. All in which Christ glorified God on the cross, I am accepted in; therefore there is more than the cleansing from my sins, through the blood of Christ. All the devotedness of Christ to His Father’s will as far as death, is accepted of God, and by virtue of God’s acceptance of Him, He is at the right hand of God, and in that I stand. I am as Christ, as Luther has expressed it.
Christ was born of a woman; born under the law. As a man He was obedient to it; but God could not be obedient to the law. He emptied Himself and humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. “If a law had been given which could have given life, verily righteousness had been by the law.” Law was not given till long after promise. The law was not given in paradise. There was a law, but the question of right and wrong was not raised, but simply obedience then. There was no knowledge of good and evil in paradise, and therefore no law required to measure the evil. The delusion people fall into about trying to be justified by law, is owing to man taking up that, which God gave to prove what a sinner he is, to work out a righteousness for himself. The law was not given to bestow life, but to make sin appear sin.
As a man, Christ did what He was bound to do, in fulfilling the law; and therefore there would have been none in that righteousness to impute to us. If He had failed (which, of course, He could not), if He had had a blemish or a spot, He could not have been a fit sacrifice for our sins. He had to make good to God, He had to make good before Satan, a perfect human righteousness. Therefore this was a part of the thing, because it proved the fitness of the sacrifice. Promise preceded law, and it was abstract and unconditional. It was revealed that it was part of God’s counsels that they were to be blessed, but the question of righteousness was untouched by promise. The law comes in and raises that afterwards.
If God had made the accomplishment of promise dependent on the fulfilment of the law, it would not have been pure promise. If you make a promise to your child, and he disobeys you afterwards, you do not make him forfeit the promise, to do which would be to break your word; but you cannot pass over the offence without taking any notice of it. Your promise stands, but you must deal with him about his conduct, and not let him take what you have promised him, as if he deserved it. God made a promise, and man would come in and take the promise on the ground of his desert. Then God must bring in a law to prove his unrighteousness. The gospel is not promise but good news, after all is broken, to put us into possession of divine righteousness. Israel in their folly took up the law, as being able to keep it, instead of throwing themselves back upon God’s promise to Abraham; and in their pride and presumption, they thus took on themselves that which God alone could fulfil as the accomplishment of promise. Now the promise was really given to Christ. How? Was He to enjoy it alone? No! This was not God’s thought. But how then can He bring in all these sinners, these law-breakers? He works out a righteousness for them before He claims the promise, that we poor sinners might share the promise: and this is the gospel. Much as man boasts of conscience, he gained a conscience by sinning. There are two characters of conscience—the conscience of responsibility to God and the knowledge of good and evil, and this man got by sinning.
The promise is made to Christ (not the Jewish but the original promise of blessing). God does not make a promise to man as a sinner—He could not do that; but the serpent is told what He will do to Christ; and Abraham becomes the root through which the promise is to come. “He saith not unto seeds as of many, but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ.” After that the law comes in to shew the utter sinfulness of man: in his lusts, he is corrupt; and in his will, perverse. Thus man, as to corruption and rebellion, was proved to be bad by the law. So in 1 Corinthians 15 it is said “the strength of sin is the law.” It brought out the sin which was there already, because it immediately created the desire to do the thing forbidden.
Man shewed his inability to take the promise, because Christ was the embodiment of the promise, and they rejected Him. Man is left by the cross, convicted not only of a bad conscience and a broken law, but of a rejected promise.
Verse 13, 14. The blessing is put upon all who are along with Abraham, through Jesus Christ, and the curse on all under the law. The promise takes its unhindered course through the blessing of Abraham which comes by faith. God could not disannul, by another act, a previous one. The mind of man having a good opinion of himself, the law brings out all the rebellion of the will. The law was not against the promises, but put man under obligations. The law does not promise life, and gives no power to do it, because it does not give life.
Verse 20. This is on the ground of the contrast between promise and law. When the law was given, there was a mediator needed, because there are two parties, God and the people to whom the law is given. The stability of promise depends on the faithfulness of One: there is no need of two. Under law, God does not reveal Himself. He reveals what He requires of man, but there is no love and no grace in love. The mediator Moses reported the words of God to the people. The thought in this verse, “A mediator is not of one, but God is one,” is not about Christ, the Mediator, as in 1 Timothy 2, but rather the abstract notion, that if you have a mediator you must have two parties; whilst, by contrast, a promise is given from one. God giving promise and Christ receiving it are one—God is one. The church, as such, was never the subject of promise. It was hidden from ages and generations, and revealed now. That which makes obscurity in the passage is that the conclusion is not drawn, though the premises are laid down.
Covenant in scripture is different from covenant as understood by us in common language. It is the form of dealing God takes with man, not an agreement between God and man, or man and God. The church gets all the spiritual blessings of the new covenant, because in Christ. Thus we have all the moral blessing of the new covenant, in the Spirit, though not in the letter. “The blood of the everlasting covenant” in Hebrews 13 is that which is finished and done with, and will go all the way through, and is available for all. The blood will never lose its value. It is the groundwork of all God’s dealings with man in all ages. The full display of the value of Christ’s death was made in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The power of it was proved in the salvation of the thief on the cross. Psalm 40 may be a sort of embodiment of the book, or counsel between God and the Son from all eternity; and the divine power of the Son was shewn in His being able to accomplish what was written in the volume of the book. For there was as much the power of God needed to be able to say, “Lo I come to do thy will,” as to will it. If Christ undertook to do God’s will, He must be able to create a world if God wills it. The Father gives them to the Son, and He takes them back with Him into glory. The “sheep” in Hebrews 13:20 are not looked at in the unity of body, but as individuals (as they are throughout the epistle), and in that way I want the power of the blood.
“The law is a schoolmaster unto Christ.” God does not reveal Himself in law. The schoolmaster is not the Father, but one under whom the child is put to be taken care of, until he is fit to come into direct communication with the Father’s mind. Under law, it was like saying to a child under age, Do this, and do that, without giving reasons. But “ye (those who are brought to be Abraham’s seed by being put in Christ) are all the children (sons) of God, through faith in Christ Jesus.”