Book traversal links for Galatians 4
The opening verses of chapter 4 gather up the thoughts that have
occupied the latter part of chapter 3, and summarize them in very crisp
fashion. The custom that prevailed in the houses of the nobility-and
that still in measure prevail is such circles-are used as an
illustration. The heir to the estate, so long as he is in infancy, is
placed under restraint, just as the servants are. Tutors and governors
hold him in what appears to him to be bondage. He just has to do as he
is told, and as yet he knows not the reason why. He cannot yet be given
the full liberty of his father's house and estate, for his character
and intelligence is not yet sufficiently formed. However his father
knows when the time will arrive, and the day is fixed when he will come
of age and enter into the privileges and responsibilities of life.
It was thus with God's people in the former day under the law, which
was as a schoolmaster to them. Children they might be, but they were
treated as servants, and rightly so. It was no question of their
individual eminence as saints of God, but simply of the dispensation in
which they lived. No greater man than John the Baptist was ever born,
yet as the Lord has told us, "he that is least in the kingdom of heaven
is greater than he" (Matt. 11: 11). In their days God had not yet been
fully revealed, redemption had not been accomplished, the Spirit had
not been given. Until these three great events had come to pass, the
conditions were not established which permitted the "coming of age" of
the people of God. All three did come to pass when on the scenes there
arrived the Son of God.
When He came God's people passed from under the schoolmaster of the
law, whose control was exercised according to the "elements," or
"principles," of the world, and they came under the control of the
Spirit of God, exercised according to the principles of grace and of
The trouble today with a good many of us is that we have been
brought up on loose and easy-going lines, and consequently we know very
little of the stern dealings of the righteous old schoolmaster! If only
our consciences had been brought more fully under the righteous
admonition and condemnation of the law, we should possess a far keener
sense of the mighty emancipation which has reached us through the
advent of the Son of God.
The coming forth of God's Son was the event which marked the
commencement of a new epoch in God's dealings with men. The steps, by
which that new epoch was inaugurated, are given to us in verses 4 to 6.
First, the Son of God was sent, "made of a woman," or, more
literally, "come of woman." Thus His incarnation is expressed, the
guarantee to us that He was a Man, in the full and proper sense of the
Second, it could be said of Him, "come under law." When He came
God's attention was focused upon the Jew, as upon a people who were in
outward relationship with Him and responsible as under His law. Amongst
that people He came, assuming all the responsibilities, under which
they had wholly failed.
Third, He wrought redemption for those under the law, thus
delivering them from its claims, in order that a new position might be
Fourth, as thus delivered we receive "the adoption of sons," or,
"sonship." This wondrous position in regard to God is ours as a free
gift, according to His eternal purpose.
Fifth, bang made sons, God has given to us the Spirit of His Son, in
order that we may be enabled to enter into the consciousness and
enjoyment of this new relationship, and respond to God as our Father.
By the Spirit given we cry, "Abba, Father!"
The above is a brief summary of these remarkable verses, but now let us notice in them a few points of importance.
The redemption spoken of in verse 5 goes further than the truth
which we met with in Gal. 3: 13. We might have been redeemed from the
curse of the law and yet left under the law, and consequently left
still in the place of servants. The glorious fact is that the believer
is not only redeemed from the curse, but also from the law that
righteously inflicted the curse; so that now we stand in the liberty of
sonship and the days of bondage under the "schoolmaster" are over.
Notice also the change from the "we" of verse 5 to the "ye" of verse
6. Only the Jew had been in the bondage of the law, hence redemption
from law applied to Jewish believers of whom Paul was one. Consequently
he says, "we." But, on the other hand, the place of sonship, in which
Christians are set, is the portion equally of all, whether Jew or
Gentile by nature. Hence the change to "ye." The wonder is that those,
who once were degraded Gentiles far from God, should now be sons and
happily responding to God the Father's love by the Spirit given to them.
The Spirit of God's Son does not give us the place of sons. That is
ours as the fruit of God's purpose and gift on the basis of redemption.
The Spirit gives the consciousness of the relationship and the power to
respond to it.
In verse 7 the Apostle brings home the fact of this wonderful
relationship to us each individually. And not only is sonship an
individual blessing, so that he can say, "thou art . . . a son," but
heirship is individual also. Each of us is, "an heir of God through
Christ." This shows us that when the Apostle used "the heir" in verse 1
as an illustration of his theme, he was using an illustration which
applied in a very exact and literal way. Such is the amazing grace of
God to us as believers, whether we were Jews or Gentiles. How little we
have taken it in!
We call upon our readers to pause at this point and to meditate upon
this truth. It is an established fact, and so stated without any
qualification. The Galatians were not in the enjoyment of the fact.
They were actually behaving themselves as though they were servants and
not sons, yet the Apostle does not say, "Wherefore thou oughtest to be
no more a servant but a son," but, "Thou art no more a servant but a
son." Our relationship does not flow from our understanding of, or our
response to, the place we have, nor from behaviour suitable to it; but
rather our behaviour flows from the relationship, once it is understood
and responded to. Let us each say to ourselves again and yet again, "I
am a son and heir of God through Christ." Let us take time that this
wonderful truth may sink into each heart.
When once the fact has really laid hold of us we shall be able to
appreciate how Paul felt as he penned verses 8 and 9. The Galatians
were formerly in bondage, not to the law indeed, but to false gods; and
now having been brought to know God, as the fruit of God having taken
them up and brought them into this wealthy place, what possessed them
to turn again to the old principle of standing before God in their own
merits-or rather demerits? What indeed?
The principle of the law of Moses was that each should stand before
God according to his own doings. This too is a root principle with
every false religion, and thus the Galatians had proceeded in their
former days of paganism. In now turning aside to Judaism they were
slipping back into the old principles which are weak and beggarly. What
expressive adjectives! Weak, since by them man accomplished nothing
that counted for good. Beggarly, because they left him stripped of all
merit and of all excuse. But if we wish to realize how weak and how
beggarly we must view them in contrast with the principles of the
Gospel, and its results in making us sons and heirs.
In verse 10 the Apostle gives an instance of what he alluded to,
when he spoke of their turning back to legal principles. They were
taking up Jewish feasts and customs. That might seem a small matter,
but it was a straw which showed the way the wind was blowing, and it
made him afraid lest there should be with them a lack of reality-lest
their professed acceptance of the Gospel were not sincere after all;
and consequently the labour he had expended upon them should be in vain.
This was a sad thought, and it leads directly to the touching appeal
which follows in verses 12 to 20. He beseeches them in the first place
to be as he was as to their experience and practice, inasmuch as both
he and they were just on the same footing as to their place before God.
Alike they had been brought into sonship, and therefore alike they
should all be walking in the liberty of sons. It was not a personal
matter at all. He nursed no sense of personal injury against them.
This leads him to recall the great reception that they gave him when
first he came amongst them with the Gospel message. He was at that time
in much infirmity of a physical sort, and it would seem that his
eyesight was particularly affected. On turning to Acts 16: 6 we note
that his first visit to Galatia was during the early part of his second
missionary journey. The stoning of Paul even to the point of death took
place at nearly the end of his first journey, as recorded in Acts 14:
19. It is more than likely that there is a connection between the two
events, and that this "temptation . . . in my flesh" resulted from the
ill-treatment that he received, and is the same as the "thorn in the
flesh," of which he writes in 2 Corinthians 12: 7. Be that as it may,
he arrived amongst them in fullness of power and they received him with
great gladness. Now it would appear that in speaking the truth to them
he had become their enemy!
The fact was of course that the Judaising teachers, who had got
amongst them, were aiming at producing alienation between the Galatians
and Paul, their spiritual father, in order to capture them as followers
for themselves. In verse 17 the Apostle in few words unmasks this,
their real objective. "They are very zealous after you" he says, "but
not in the right way. They are simply anxious to shut you away from us,
in order that you become zealous adherents, following them." What Paul
wanted was to see them always zealous after the things that are really
good, and that as much when he was absent as when he was with them.
As things were however he could but stand in doubt of them. When
first he visited them it was with great exercise and travail of soul.
He did not preach himself but Christ Jesus as Lord, and their spiritual
birth only came to pass when Christ was formed in them. The
photographic artist takes care to have a good lens in his camera, that
will throw on the screen a very accurate picture of the features of the
sitter. But the photograph only comes to the birth when the sitter's
features are formed in the sensitized plate as the result of the joint
action of light and certain chemicals. This may serve as an
illustration of the point. Paul travailed that as the fruit of Gospel
light Christ might be formed in them. Then his birth pangs on their
behalf were over.
But along come these Judaising teachers, and lo! instead of Christ
these men, their sabbaths, their new moons, their circumcision, seem to
be forming themselves in them. No wonder that Paul, in his ardent
affection for them as his children, felt as though he must go through
birth pangs again on their behalf, and was perplexed about them. Under
these circumstances he wished that, instead of being at a distance and
having to communicate by writing, he were in their midst, able to judge
of their exact state and to change his voice, speaking to them in
instruction, in rebuke, or even in severity, as the occasion demanded.
However as they seemed to be so anxious to place themselves under
the law, they would at least be prepared to listen to what the law had
indicated! Hence from verse 22 to the end of the chapter he refers them
to the allegorical significance of an occurrence in Abraham's life.
Abraham was the great example of faith and promise, as we saw when
reading Gal. 3. Yet before ever he received by faith the child of
promise, there was the episode in which by works he obtained a child
through Hagar. Ishmael was born after the flesh, whereas Isaac was by
We can now see that there was an allegory in this, and that Hagar
and her son picture for us Sinai, whence was proclaimed the law system
which results in bondage, and also "Jerusalem which now is," i.e., the
Jewish people, who though under law are still in virtual unbelief. The
Christian, on the other hand, is in the position of the child of
promise, and connected with "Jerusalem which is above", which is free.
The proud orthodox Jew might rightly boast that according to the
flesh he was a true-born son of Isaac. Yet in a spiritual sense he was
only a son of Ishmael and in bondage under the schoolmaster. True the
schoolmaster regime came first, and later came the promise, which
materialized in the advent of the Son of God. But that only confirmed
the type, for Ishmael came before Isaac. The type was further confirmed
by the fact that it was the proud Jews who persecuted the humble
Christians, as verse 29 points out.
Again, the truth of the allegory finds a corroboration in the words
of Isaiah 54: 1. That verse indicates that Israel in the time of her
desolation would be more fruitful than she had ever been when she was
acknowledged as in relationship with Jehovah. But then that verse is
the immediate consequence of the glorious truth predicted in Isaiah 53.
It was to be as the fruit of the advent of the suffering Messiah, and
not as the result of law keeping.
When the law was imposed from Sinai no one broke forth into song.
Very soon there were cries to the effect that such words should not be
spoken any more into the ears of the people. Yet when Isaiah unfolds
before us the marvellous story of the Christ who suffers and rises
again for sins not His own, the first word that follows is, "SING."
Bondage is over, liberty is come!
Of old there was the inevitable dash between Ishmael and Isaac, just
as now there is between the Judaiser and the believer who stands in the
liberty of the grace of God. And yet it is not the clash that decides
the question, nor even the persecution of the one " born after the
Spirit" by the one "born after the flesh." What decides the matter is
the voice of God. And that voice reaches us in the Scriptures.
"What saith the Scripture?" That is the decisive question. And the
answer is that, "the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the
son of the freewoman." The servant is displaced in favour of the son.
He, who would stand before God on the basis of the law, falls. He, who
stands in the fullness of grace, stands indeed.
Happy indeed it is for us if we can truly say, "We are not children
of the bondwoman, but of the free." Then indeed we stand in Christ, and
Christ Himself is formed in us. We are in the liberty of sonship, and
that is liberty indeed.