The apostle calls them "foolish" or senseless, for they had not
themselves had the spiritual sense to see whither these false teachers
had been leading them. They had been like men bewitched, and under a
spell of evil, and they had been led to the brink of the awful
conclusion that Christ had died for nothing-that His death had been in
fact a huge mistake! On the edge of this precipice they were standing,
and the Apostle's pungent reasoning had come as a flash of light amidst
their darkness, revealing their danger!
What made their folly so pronounced was the fact that formerly there
had been such a faithful preaching among them of Christ crucified. Paul
himself had evangelized them, and as with the Corinthians so with the
Galatians, the cross had been his great theme. It was as though Christ
had been crucified before their very eyes.
Moreover, as a result of receiving the word of the cross, which Paul
brought, they had received the Holy Spirit, as verse 2 implies. Well,
in what way and on what principle had they received the Spirit? By the
works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? There was but one answer
to this question. For the Galatians to reply, "We received the Spirit
by the works of the law," was an absolute impossibility, as Paul knew
Hence he does not pause to answer his own question, but at once
passes, in verse 3, to further questions based upon it. Having received
the Spirit by the hearing of faith were they going to be made perfect
by the flesh? Does God begin with us on one principle and then carry
things to completion on another and opposing principle? Men are erratic
enough. They change about in this fashion when their earlier plans
miscarry. But is God erratic? Do His plans ever miscarry so that He
needs to change? The Galatians were senseless, but were they SO
senseless as to imagine that? And were they themselves prepared to
change, and to throw away as worthless all they had previously held and
done; so that their earlier sufferings for Christ had all to be treated
as in vain, as null and void? What questions these were! As we read
them are we not conscious of their crushing force?
But why did the Apostle speak of out being made perfect by the
flesh? Firstly, because it is that which is particularly opposed to the
Spirit; and secondly, because it is closely related to the law. It
completes the quartette contained in verses 3 and 4. Faith and the
Spirit are linked together. The Spirit is received as the result of the
hearing of faith, and He is the power of that new life which we have in
Christ. The law and the flesh are linked together. The law was given
that the flesh might fulfil it, if it could do so. In result it could
not. Nor could the law put an effectual curb on the propensities of the
flesh; for the flesh "is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed
can be" (Rom. 8: 7). Yet here were the Galatians inclined to turn from
the all-powerful Spirit to the flesh, which though powerful for evil
was wholly impotent for good. It was folly indeed!
In verse 5 the Apostle repeats his question of verse 2, only in
another form. In verse 2 it concerned the Galatians. How did they
receive the Spirit? Here it concerns himself. In what way and on what
principle did he labour when he came amongst them with the Gospel
message? Miracles were wrought amongst them and when the Gospel was
believed the Spirit of God was received. Was it all on the ground of
works, or of faith? Once more he does not pause for a reply, knowing
right well that only one answer could be given by the Galatians.
Instead he at once appeals to the case of Abraham, that they might
realize that before ever the law was instituted God had established
faith as the way of blessing for man.
From the very outset faith was the way of man's blessing, as Hebrews
11 reveals so clearly. With Abraham, however, the fact came clearly to
light even in Old Testament times. Genesis 15: 6 plainly declared it,
and that verse is quoted here, as also in Romans 4: 3 and James 2: 23.
Abraham was the father of the Jewish race, who had circumcision as
their outward sign, but he was also, in a deeper and spiritual sense,
"the father of all them that believe" (Rom. 4: 11).
The Judaising teachers had been trying to persuade the Galatians to
adopt circumcision, that thereby they might put themselves into a kind
of Jewish position, becoming children of Abraham in an outward way. It
would have been a poor imitation thing, if compared only with the
true-born Israelite. And all the while, if they were "of faith," that
is, believers, they were children of Abraham, and that in the deepest
possible sense, as verse 7 makes manifest.
Every believer is a child of Abraham in a spiritual sense; and not
only so, but as verse 9 shows us, every believer enters into the
blessing of Abraham. Verse 8 indicates what it is that is referred to
as the blessing of Abraham. It was not merely his own personal
blessing, but that in him all nations should be blessed. Not only was
he to be accounted righteous before God and to stand in the blessings
connected with righteousness, but myriads from all nations were to
enjoy similar favour, which was to reach them in him.
But why in Abraham? How could this be? It will be worth while
reading the passages in Genesis which refer to this matter. The promise
of the blessing was first given when God's call first reached him. This
is in Genesis 12: 3. Then in Genesis 18: 18 it is confirmed to him.
Again, in Genesis 22: 16-18 the promise is amplified, and we discover
that the accomplishment is to be through "the Seed" who is Christ, as
verse 16 of our chapter in Galatians tells us. Then further, the
promise is confirmed to Isaac and Jacob respectively, in Genesis 26: 4,
and Genesis 28: 14; and in both these cases "the Seed" is mentioned.
Once introduced, the Seed is never omitted, for in truth everything in
the way of fulfilment is dependent upon Him.
The blessing then was only in Abraham inasmuch as, according to the
flesh, Christ sprang out of Abraham. The Jews boasted themselves in
Abraham as though he were of all-importance in himself. The Galatians
had been tempted to ally themselves with Abraham by adopting his
covenant of circumcision. But the real virtue lay not in Abraham, but
in Christ. And the very circumcision which would outwardly ally them
with Abraham, would virtually cut them off from Christ (see Gal. 5: 2)
in whom everything was found, not outwardly, but inwardly and vitally.
From the outset God intended to bless the heathen (or, the nations)
through faith. It was no after-thought with Him. How gracious was His
design! And how comforting it is to us to know it! He called Abraham
out from the nations that had fallen into corruption, that He might, m
spite of all the defection that marked His people, preserve a godly
seed out of whom might spring in due season, the Seed, in whom all the
nations should be blessed, and Abraham as well. Hence the nations are
to be blessed by faith, as Abraham was, and not by the works of the law.
God is omniscient. He can foresee what He will do, in spite of all
eventualities. But here this omniscience is attributed to the
Scripture! A remarkable fact surely! God's Word is of Himself, and from
Himself, and is therefore to be very closely identified with Him. Let
men beware how they handle it. There are those who utterly deny and
deride the Scripture; and there are those who honour it in theory, and
yet corrupt it. Both will ultimately have to reckon in judgment with
the God whose Word it is. And, woe betide them!
The Scripture itself foresees, and it foretells their doom!
From beginning to end this third chapter is filled with contrasts.
On the one side we have the law and the works that it demanded, the
flesh, upon which the law's demands were made, and the curse which fell
when the law's demands were broken. On the other side we find the faith
of the Gospel, the Spirit given, and blessing bestowed. We have spoken
of contrasts, but after all the contrast is really one, only worked out
in a variety of different ways.
The Spirit and the flesh are brought into contrast in verse 3. Now
in verse 10 we get the curse of the law in contrast with the blessing
of believing Abraham. The curse was pronounced against every one that
did not continue doing all things that the law demanded. No one did so
continue, and hence all who were placed under the law came under the
curse. It was enough to be "of the works of the law"-that is, to have
to stand or fall in one's relations Godward by the response one gave to
the law's demands -to be under the curse. Man being what he is, the
moment any one has to stand before God on that ground he is lost.
The Jews, who had the law, hardly seem to have realized this. On the
contrary they looked upon the law as being the means of their
justification. Contented with a very superficial obedience to some of
its demands, they were "going about to establish their own
righteousness," as Paul puts it in Romans 10: 3. In this of course they
utterly failed, for in their own Scriptures it had been put on record
that, "the just shall live by faith." And faith is not the principle
upon which the law is based, but rather that of works. The whole matter
briefly summed up stands thus:-By law men come under the curse and die.
By faith men are justified and live.
The curse which the law pronounced was a perfectly just sentence.
The Jew having been placed under the law, its curse rested upon him,
and it had to be righteously borne ere it could be lifted off him. In
the death of Christ the curse was borne, and hence the believing Jew is
redeemed from beneath it. In the days of Moses, the curse had been
specially connected with the one who died as a transgressor by hanging
on a tree. Many a one in ancient days, reading Deuteronomy 21: 23, may
have wondered why the curse was thus linked with death on a tree, as
distinguished from death by any other means, such as stoning, or the
sword. Now we know. In due season the Redeemer was to bear the curse
for others, thus honouring the law, by hanging on a tree. It is another
case of how the Scripture foresees!
The bearing of the curse was in view of the bestowal of the
blessing. Verse 14 speaks to us of this, presenting the blessing in a
twofold way. First, there is "the blessing of Abraham," which is
righteousness. Second, there is the gift of the Spirit, a blessing
beyond anything bestowed upon Abraham. The wonder of the work of Christ
is this, that righteousness now rests upon Gentiles who believe, as
well as upon believers who are Abraham's children according to the
flesh. All who believe are in a spiritual sense the children of
Abraham, as verse 7 informed us.
In Old Testament days the Spirit was promised, as for instance in
Joel 2: 28, 29. We who believe, whether Jews or Gentiles, receive the
Spirit today. Thus by faith we anticipate the blessing so fully to be
enjoyed in the millennial day.
For the moment however the Apostle does not pursue the subject of
the Holy Spirit. When we enter Gal. 4 we learn something as to the
meaning of His indwelling, and in Gal. 5, we have an unfolding of his
operations. In our chapter is pursued the subject of the law, and the
place it had in the ways of God, and this in order to lead up to the
unfolding of the proper Christian position-as stated in the early
verses of chapter 4,-which is the central theme of the epistle. And
first of all certain difficulties are cleared out of the way;
misconceptions and objections flowing from a false view of the
functions of the law, held by the Judaising teachers and doubtless
instilled by them into the minds of the Galatians.
The first of these is taken up in verses 15 to 18. In so many minds
the covenant of law had completely overshadowed the covenant of promise
made with Abraham. But as we have just seen the covenant of law
inevitably brings nothing but its curse. Blessing can only be reached
by way of the covenant of promise which culminates in Christ. It cannot
arrive partly by law and partly by promise. Verse 18 states this. The
inheritance of blessing if by the law is not by promise, and this of
course is true vice versa. The fact is, it is by promise. Thanks be
But was not the law intended as a kind of revision of the original
testament, a kind of codicil, so to speak? Not at all, for as verse 15
says, it can be neither disannulled nor added thereto. It is an old
trick of dishonest men to procure the rejection of a disliked document
by foisting into it an addition so contradictory of its main provisions
as to stultify the whole. This is not allowed amongst men, and we must
not conceive of God's covenant of promise as being less sacred than
human documents. The law, which was not given until 430 years after,
has not disannulled it. Nor has it been added to it in order to modify
its blessed simplicity. It was never intended to do either of these
Verse 16 is worthy of special note, not only because it declares in
such an unmistakable way that from the outset the covenant was in view
of Christ and His redeeming work, but also because of the remarkable
way in which the Apostle argues as to the Old Testament prediction. The
Holy Spirit inspired him to hinge the whole point upon the word,
"Seed," being in the singular and not in the plural. Thereby He
indicated how fully inspired was His earlier utterance. Not merely was
the word inspired, but the exact form of the word. The inspiration was
not merely verbal, i.e. having to do with words, but even literal, i.e.
having to do with letters.
Accepting Paul's argument, stated in the verses we have just
considered, a further difficulty might well present itself to any mind.
If then the law, given over 400 years after Abraham, had no effect upon
the earlier covenant, neither annulling it nor modifying it, does it
not seem to have lacked any definite purpose? An objector might declare
that such doctrine as this leaves the law shorn of all point and
meaning, and feel that he was propounding a regular poser in simply
asking, Why then the law?
This is exactly the question with which verse 19 opens. The answer
to this is very brief, and it appears to be twofold. In the first
place, it was given in order that men's sins might become, in the
breaking of it, definite transgressions. This point is more fully
stated in Romans 5: 13. In the second place, it served a useful purpose
in connection with Israel, filling up the time until the advent of
Christ, by proving their need of Him. It was ordained through angels,
and through a human mediator, in the person of Moses. But then the very
fact of a mediator supposes two parties. God is one; who is the other?
Man is the other. And since the whole arrangement was made to hinge
upon the doings of man, the other party, it promptly failed.
In definitely convicting men of transgressions the law has done a
work of extreme importance. What is right, and what is wrong? What does
God require of men? Before the law was given there was some knowledge,
and conscience was at work, as is indicated in Romans 2: 14, 15. But
when the law came, all vagueness disappeared; for all, who were under
it, the plea of ignorance totally disappeared and, when brought into
judgment for their transgressions, not a shred of an excuse remained.
We Gentiles were never formally placed under it, but as a matter of
fact we know about it, and our very knowledge of it will make us
amenable to the judgment of God in a way and degree unknown to the
savage and unenlightened tribes of the earth. So let us take care.
In verse 21 another question is raised, which springs out of the
foregoing. Some might jump to the conclusion that if, as shown, the law
was not supplementary to the covenant of promise it must necessarily be
in opposition to it. This is not so for one moment. Had the law been
intended by God to provide righteousness for man, He would have endowed
it with power to give life. The law instructed, demanded, urged,
threatened and, when it had been broken, it condemned the transgressor
to death. Yet none of these things availed. The one thing needful was
to bestow upon man a new life, in which it would be as natural to him
to fulfil the law, as now it is natural to him to break it. That the
law could not do; instead it has proved us all to be under sin, thus
revealing our need of that which has been introduced through Christ.
Thus the law, instead of being in any way in opposition, fits in
harmoniously with all the rest of God's great scheme. Until Christ came
it has played the part of "the schoolmaster," acting as our guardian
and maintaining some measure of control. In verse 24 the words, "to
bring us," are in italics, there being no corresponding words in the
original. They should not be there. The point is not that the law leads
us to Christ, but that it exercised its control as tutor until Christ
came. When Christ appeared, a new order of things was instituted, and
there was justification for us on the principle of faith, and not by
This new order of things is spoken of in verse 23 as the coming of
faith. Again in verse 25 we have the words, "after that faith is come."
Faith was found of course in all the saints of Old Testament days, as
is shown by Hebrews 11, and by the passage from Habakkuk, quoted in
verse 11 of our chapter. When Christ came, the faith of Christ stood
revealed, and faith was publicly acknowledged as being the way, and the
only way, by which man can have to do with God in blessing. In that
sense "faith came," and its coming marked the inauguration of an
entirely new epoch.
By faith in Christ Jesus we have been introduced into the favoured
place of "sons of God." The word in verse 26 is "sons," and not
"children." The saints under the law were like children in a state of
infancy; under age, and hence under the schoolmaster. The believer of
the present age is like a child who has reached his majority, and
hence, leaving the state of tutelage behind, he takes his place as a
son in his father's house. This great thought, which is the controlling
thought of the epistle, is more largely developed in the early verses
of chapter 4. Before reaching them however, we have three important
facts stated in the three closing verses of chapter 3.
By our baptism we have, as a matter of profession, put on Christ.
Had we submitted to circumcision we should have put on Judaism, and
thereby committed ourselves to the fulfilling of the law for
justification. Had we been baptised to John's baptism we should have
put on the robe of professed repentance and committed ourselves to
believe on the One that should come after him. As it is we have, if
baptised to Christ, put on Christ and committed ourselves to that
practical expression of the life of Christ which in the next chapter is
spoken of as "the fruit of the Spirit." As sons of God, having now the
liberty of the house, we put on Christ as our fitness to be there.
Further, we are "in Christ Jesus," and consequently we are "all
one," with all distinctions obliterated, whether national, social, or
natural. When we get to the last chapter we shall find that in Christ
Jesus there is new creation, which accounts for the removal of all the
distinctions belonging to the old creation. This new creation work has
reached us as to our souls already, though not yet as to our bodies.
Hence we cannot as yet take up these things in an absolute way. For
that we must wait until we are clothed upon with our bodies of glory at
the coming of the Lord. Still even now we are in Christ Jesus, and
hence can learn to view each other apart from and as lifted above these
Let us take note that what is taught here is the abolition of these
distinctions in Christ Jesus, and not in the assembly. We say this to
safeguard the point and preserve from misconceptions. In the assembly,
for instance, the distinction between male and female is very
definitely maintained, as is shown in 1 Corinthians 14: 34, 35.
We have already had three things which mark the believer of today in
contradistinction from believers before Christ came. We are "sons of
God;" we have "put on Christ ;" we are "in Christ Jesus." The last
verse of our chapter gives us a fourth thing: we are "Christ's," and
belonging to Him we are in a spiritual sense Abraham's seed, and
consequently heirs, not according to law, but to promise.