“Who Hath Bewitched You?”
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham, (vv. 1-9)
We now enter upon the strictly doctrinal part of this epistle. In verse 1 of this chapter the apostle Paul uses very unusual language. What he really means is this, “How is it that you seem to have come under a sort of spell, so that you have lost your grasp of the truth and your hearts and minds have become clouded by error?” Error affects people in that way. It is quite possible for one to have been truly converted and to have begun with a clear, definite knowledge of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus, and then because of failure to follow on to study the Word and to pray over it, to come under the influence of some false system, some unscriptural line of teaching. And so often when people do come under some such influence you find it almost impossible to deliver them. They seem to be under a spell.
Of course the apostle is not saying that one person has the power of bewitching another, but he is using that as an illustration. He says, “These men who have come down from Jerusalem, teaching that you cannot be saved unless you are circumcised and keep the law of Moses, have gotten such an influence over you that you are like people bewitched, and under a spell; you are not able to reason things out, or to detect what is true and what is false.” It was not exactly that they had been “given up to strong delusion.” When God offers men the truth and they deliberately turn away from it, they stand in danger of being delivered over judicially to that which is absolutely false, but here he has something else in mind. In all likelihood these people were real Christians, but real Christians acting like men under a spell.
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” When once one has laid hold of the blessed truth that the Lord Jesus has been crucified on our behalf, that in itself ought to be the means of delivering us forever from such error as that into which these people had fallen. If Christ has actually given Himself for me it is because it was impossible for me to do one thing to save myself. Because I could not fit myself for the presence of God, because I could not cleanse my heart from sin, because no work of righteousness of mine could fit me for a place with the Lord, He had to come from heaven and give Himself for me on the cross. How then can I think of turning back to the ground of human merit as a means of securing salvation, or of maintaining me in a condition of salvation before God? I deserved to die, but Jesus Christ took my place, and He has settled for me. He has met all the claims of divine righteousness, and through Him I am eternally saved. Shall I go back to the law to complete the work He has done? Surely not.
The apostle now refers to the beginning of their Christian lives and says, “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” In the previous chapter he has shown how a man is justified before God by faith alone, and has declared that the law really is honored more in the recognition of the fact that its penalty has been met in the cross of our Lord Jesus, than by any poor effort of man to keep it as a means of salvation. Now he adds to justification by faith the truth of the reception of the Holy Spirit. He says, as it were, “Go back in your own Christian experience. You received the Holy Spirit when you believed in the Lord Jesus, when you accepted the gospel message as I brought it to you (he is referring to his own ministry among them). God gave you the Holy Spirit, not on the ground of any merit of your own, not because of any good thing that you were able to do, certainly not because of law-keeping or ritualistic observances, for you were uncircumcised Gentiles. Yet when you believed in the Lord Jesus, God gave you the Holy Spirit.” Now he says, “Think it out; did you receive the Spirit by works of the law? Surely not. How then? ‘By the hearing of faith.’”
“Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” In other words, if the Holy Spirit came to dwell in you in the condition you were when you came to Christ, do you think you need to complete the work by your own self-effort and by putting yourself under legal rules and regulations? You who know the love of the Lord Jesus Christ have received the Holy Spirit. Some of you may say, “I wish I were sure of that.” But Scripture says definitely, “After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13)—you were born of the Spirit. You ask, “Do you mean that when I was born again that was the reception of the Holy Spirit?” Scripture distinguishes between new birth by the Spirit and the reception of the Holy Spirit, but there need not necessarily be any interval between our new birth and the reception of the Holy Spirit. New birth is the work of the Spirit. The Spirit Himself is the One who does the work; He comes to dwell in the man who is born again. New birth is new creation, and the Holy Spirit is the Creator. New birth is the work of God, but the Holy Spirit is God. There is a difference between being born of God and being indwelt by the Spirit of God. In past dispensations men were born of God and yet not indwelt by His Spirit, but with the coming in of the dispensation of the grace of God, when people are born again, the Holy Spirit Himself comes to dwell in them. In the case of these Galatians, if He did not approve of the work that Paul had done, if He did not approve of the stand they had taken in receiving the Lord Jesus Christ, He never would have come to dwell in them as they were. If it were necessary to be subject to the Mosaic ritual He would have made that clear and said, “I cannot come and dwell in you until these things are settled, until you submit yourselves to these regulations and rules,” but He did nothing of the kind. They believed, they took their places before God as lost sinners, they turned to Him in repentance, they accepted Christ by faith as their Savior, and the Holy Spirit says, as it were, “Now I can dwell in them, they are washed from their sins in the precious blood of Christ, and I will make their bodies My temples.” Do you not see what a clear argument that was in meeting the teaching of these people?
“Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” He reminded them of what they went through in those early days. It meant much for people in their circumstances to step out from heathenism and take a stand against their friends and relatives, to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, and to declare that the idols they had once worshiped were dumb images and powerless to save. To step out from all that in which they had participated for so many years meant a great deal, and exposed them to suffering, bitter persecution, and grave misunderstanding on the part of their fellow men. Yet for Jesus’ sake they gladly took the step, for Jesus’ sake they bore reproach, they suffered, many of them, even unto death, and those who were still living counted it all joy to have part with Christ in His rejection. But they were being brought under the power of an evil system, teaching that they were not really saved until they submitted themselves to what these Jewish legalists had put before them.
“Have ye suffered so many things in vain?” All that they had gone through for Christ’s sake—was it in vain? Was it simply a profession? If not, how is it that they seem to have lost their assurance? And then he adds, “if it be yet in vain.” He cannot believe that it is in vain, for he looks back and remembers the exercises they went through, the joy that came to them when they professed to receive Christ, and the love that seemed to be welling up in their hearts one for another, and for him as a servant of God and for the Savior Himself. He says, “I remember the afflictions you were ready to endure on behalf of the gospel; I cannot believe you were not converted, that it was not real. You have been misled, you have gotten into a fog, and if I can, I want by the grace of God to deliver you.” He had no ill will against them, and none against the men who came down from Jerusalem, but he detested the doctrine they brought. Some people find it difficult to distinguish between a hatred of false doctrine and a love for the people themselves who have come under the influence of it. When we stand up for the truth of God and warn people against false teaching, that does not imply for one moment that we have any unkind feeling toward those taken up with that false teaching. We love such a person as one for whom Christ died, and pray that he may be delivered from his error and brought into the light of the truth.
Then the apostle reminds them that when he came among them to preach the gospel of the grace of God, there were marvelous signs and manifestations that followed. They themselves had seen him and Barnabas work wondrous miracles and some among the number had similar gifts granted to them. These miraculous evidences accompanied the testimony. “He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” I think he intended them now to contrast the ministry of these false teachers who had come among them with that of his own and Barnabas when they came in the simplicity and fullness of the gospel of Christ. Are there any miraculous attestations of these false teachers? Is their testimony accredited by miraculous power? Not at all. But when Paul went preaching Christ and Him crucified, God Himself put His seal of approval upon that testimony by giving them the power to work miracles. People say, “Why not the same today?” Even today miraculous signs accompany the preaching of the truth which are not found when error is presented. When the gospel of the grace of God is preached, men and women believing it are delivered from their sins, the Holy Spirit works, creating a new life, a new nature, and sets them free. The drunkard listens to the gospel and believes it, and finds the chains of appetite are broken. The licentious man who reveled in his uncleanness like a swine in the mud, gets a sight of the Lord Jesus; his heart is stirred as he contemplates the holiness and purity of the Savior, and he bows in repentance before God, abhorring himself and his sin, and becomes pure and clean and good. The liar who has not been able to speak honest words for years hears the gospel of the grace of God and falls in love with Him who is the truth, and learns henceforth to speak right words, true words. That bad-tempered man who was a terror to his family, so that his wife shrank from him, and his children were afraid when he entered the house, is subdued by divine grace and the lion becomes a lamb. These are miracles which have been wrought down through the centuries where the gospel of the grace of God was preached. Error does not produce these things. It gives men certain intellectual conceptions in which they glory, but it does not make unclean lives clean, nor deliver from impurity and iniquity. But it is the glory of the gospel that when men truly believe they actually become new creatures in Christ Jesus. There were no such signs and wonders accompanying this law-preaching. And so he comes back to Abraham. These false teachers had said, “God called Abraham out from among the Gentiles and gave him the covenant of circumcision, and therefore unless these Gentiles do follow him in this they cannot be saved.” Even as “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Abraham was a Gentile just as these Galatians were, and God revealed His truth to him. In verse 8 we read, “God … preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” And Abraham believed it, and God justified him by faith. When did God preach the gospel to him? He took him outside his tent one night and said, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars” (Gen. 15:5). And Abraham said, “I cannot count them, they are in number utterly beyond me.” And then He told him to count the sand and the dust under his feet, and Abraham said, “I cannot do that.” And God said, “So shall thy seed be. In thy Seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
God gave Abraham the promise of a collective seed, as numberless as the stars of the heaven, as the sand of the sea, as the dust of the ground, and also the individual Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the son of Abraham, for in Him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. Abraham was a childless old man, but “he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:20-21). And when God saw this faith in Abraham He justified him. The covenant of circumcision had not yet been given to him, but he was justified by faith. What is the inference? If God can justify one Gentile by faith, can He not justify ten million by faith? If Abraham is the father of all the faithful in a spiritual sense, then we Gentiles need not fear to follow in his steps. And so the next verse goes on, “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” You see, Abraham has a spiritual seed as well as a natural seed. Those born of Abraham’s lineage after the flesh are not really Abraham’s sons unless born again; they must have the faith of Abraham to be his sons. But all over the world, wherever the message comes, wherever people, whether Jews or Gentiles, put their trust in that Seed of Abraham, our Lord Jesus Christ, and receive Him as Savior and Lord, God says, “Write him down a son of Abraham.” And so Abraham has a vast spiritual seed. Throughout all the centuries the millions and millions of people who have believed God as he did, and trusted in the Savior in whom he trusted, will share his blessings, and will be with Abraham for all eternity.
“And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith [not through faith and works, not through faith and ordinances, not through faith and sacramental observances], preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” The gospel is God’s good news concerning His Son. Abraham received that good news and believed it, and if you and I have received and believed it we are linked with him, we are children of Abraham.
“So then they which be of faith are blessed with [believing] Abraham.” On what are you resting for your salvation? I have received letters from people who are indignant because I have said that salvation is through faith alone. It makes one start sometimes to find that after all our gospel preaching so many people who make a Christian profession have never yet learned that salvation is absolutely of grace through faith. We almost forget that there are hundreds of people who do not believe these things. And yet how can anyone profess to believe this Book and yet insist upon salvation by human effort? In Romans we read, “If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom. 11:6). Can you not see how the Holy Spirit of God shuts us up to this, that salvation is either altogether by grace or it is altogether by works? It cannot be by a combination of the two. Someone says, “But do you not remember the old story about the two preachers who were in the rowboat, who were debating as to whether salvation were by grace or by works, by faith or by works? The boatman listened to them, and when they were unable to come to a solution of the problem, one said to the boatman, ‘You have heard our conversation; what do you think of this?’
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘I have been thinking it is like this—I have two oars. I will call this one Faith and this one Works. If I pull only on this oar the boat goes round and round and does not get anywhere. If I pull on that one it goes round and round and gets nowhere. But if I pull on both I get across the river.’”
And people say that is a beautiful illustration of the fact that salvation is by faith and works. It would be if we were going to heaven in a rowboat, but we are not. We are going through in the infinite grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and like that lost sheep that went astray and was found by the shepherd, we are being carried by the Savior home to glory, and it is not a question of working our way there. And so we come back to what Scripture says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). If I had to do as much as lift my little finger to save my soul I could strut up the golden streets saying, “Glory be to the Lord and to me, for by our combined efforts I am saved.” No, it is no works of mine, no effort of mine, and so Jesus shall get all the glory.
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow!
Are you in perplexity and wanting the assurance of salvation? Possibly you have prayed and read your Bible, have gone to church, have been baptized and partaken of the sacrament, you have tried to do your religious duty, but you do not have peace and rest and you do not know whether your soul is saved. Turn from self and self-occupation, and fix your eyes upon the blessed Christ of God; put all your heart’s trust in Him and be assured that, “Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Redeemed From The Curse Of The Law
For as many 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. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulled!, or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (vv. 10-18)
Naturally one might ask, “What do we mean when we speak of the curse of the law?” Is it a curse to have good laws? Was it a curse for God to give to the people of Israel the Ten Commandments, the highest moral and ethical standard that any people had ever received and that ever had been given to mankind, until our Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed the Sermon on the Mount? Is this a curse? Surely not. It was a great blessing to Israel to have such instruction, showing them how to live and how to behave themselves, and it kept them from a great many of the sins to which the Gentile nations round about them were given. Yet we have this expression in Scripture, “The curse of the law,” and read, “For as many 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.”
When God gave that law, He pronounced a blessing on all who kept it, and declared that they would receive life thereby. “The man which doeth those things shall live by them” (Rom. 10:5), but on the other hand, He said, as quoted here, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Every one who recognizes in that law the divine will as to the life of man here on earth and yet fails to measure up to it comes under its curse. And who is there today who has ever kept this law? I know people say, “If we do the best we can, will that not be enough?” Scripture negates any such thought. In James we read, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (2:10). We know how true that is in regard to human law. Suppose that I as a citizen of the United States violated none of the laws of my country except one. By violating that one law I have become a lawbreaker and am, therefore, subjected to the penalty of the broken law. When we speak of people being under “the curse of the law” we mean that they are subject to the penalty of the broken law, and the penalty is death, spiritual and eternal. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). Therefore the law is well called “the ministration of death” and “the ministration of condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:7, 9), for all who are under the law but have failed to keep it are under condemnation; they are condemned to death, and therefore under the curse. But our Lord Jesus Christ has died to deliver us from the curse of the law.
Can we not deliver ourselves? Though we have broken it in the past can we not make up our minds that from this moment on we will “turn over a new leaf,” and be very careful to observe every precept of the moral law of God? In the first place, we could not do that. It is impossible for men with fallen natures to fully keep the holy law of God. Take that particular commandment, “Thou shalt not covet”; you cannot keep yourself from coveting though you know it is wrong to do so. You look at something your neighbor has and involuntarily your heart says, “I wish that were mine.” On second thought, you say, “That is very unworthy; I should really rejoice for my neighbor”; but still, have you not coveted? The apostle Paul says that as far as the other commandments were concerned his life was outwardly blameless. He was alive without the law until the commandment came, “Thou shalt not covet.” “But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence” (Rom. 7:8). And so he was slain by the law that he could not keep. But suppose you were able to keep it from this very day until the last day of your life, would not that undo and make up for all the wrong doing of the past? Not at all. The past failure still stands on God’s record. “God requireth that which is past” (Eccl. 3:15).
“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” Notice, no man is justified by the law of God, no man ever has been justified by the law of God, no man ever will be justified by the law of God. In Romans 3 we read, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19-20). In other words, God did not give the law to save man, He gave the law to test him, to make manifest man’s true condition. And that explains a passage that puzzles some, “The law … was added because of transgressions” (Gal. 3:19). It was really given in order to give to sin the specific character of transgression.
I was strolling across the park the other day when I suddenly looked down and saw almost at my feet a sign, “Keep off the grass.” I was on the grass, but the moment I saw the sign I hurried to get onto a path. If I had continued to walk on the grass after seeing the sign, I would be a transgressor. I was not a transgressor before this, for I did not know I was doing wrong. I saw other people walking on the grass, and did not realize that there were certain sections where this was not allowed. I did not know that it was forbidden in that particular place. Until the law sin was in the world, and men were doing wrong in taking their own way, but “where no law is, there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). God set up His law to say, as it were, “Keep off the grass.” Now if they walk on the grass they are transgressors. If men disobey God, they transgress. The sinfulness of man’s heart is shown up by the fact that men do deliberately and willfully disobey. It is impossible to be justified by the law, for to be justified is to be cleared from every charge of guilt. The law brings the charge home, the law convicts me of my guilt, and the law condemns me because of that guilt.
It was written in the prophets, “The just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4), so it was made known even in Old Testament times that men were to be justified, not by human effort, but by faith. Three times those words are quoted for us in the New Testament. In the epistle to the Romans the apostle says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17). In the epistle to the Hebrews we have exactly the same words quoted, “The just shall live by faith” (Heb. 10:38). And here we have them in the epistle to the Galatians. It has been very well said that these three epistles expound that text of six words, “The just shall live by faith.”
How do men become just before God? As we have already remarked, Romans answers that question and expounds the first two words, “The just.” It tells us who the just are, those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But if justified by faith, how is one maintained before God in that position? Is it not now by works of their own? Galatians answers that and puts the emphasis on the next two words, “The just shall live by faith.” And what is that power that sustains and strengthens and enables just men to walk with God through this world, living an unworldly life, even as “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Gen. 5:24)? Again the answer comes to us, as in Hebrews the last two words are expounded, “The just shall live by faith. “It takes three epistles in the New Testament to expound one Old Testament text of only six words, “The just shall live by faith.” It gives us an idea of how rich and full the Word of God is.
But if “The just shall live by faith” then men never can be justified by efforts of their own, for verse 12 tells us, “And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.” The law did not say, “The man who believes shall live,” but, “The man who does shall live.” The latter might seem to us to be the right thing; if a man does right he ought to live. The trouble is, man does not do right. We read, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). If one commandment out often has been violated that man has forfeited all claim to life. Suppose a man falling over a precipice reached out his hand as he went over, and caught hold of a chain fastened to some stump in the cliff, and there hung on to the chain. The chain had ten links. How many would have to break to drop the man into the abyss below? Only one. The law is like that chain; when you sinned the first time you broke the link and down you went, and you are in the place of condemnation if not saved. You never can fit yourself for the presence of God by any works of righteousness that you can do. The law says, “The man that doeth these things shall live in them,” but men have failed to do, and therefore are condemned to die.
Now see the glorious message of reconciliation! “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law!” How did He do it? “Being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Here was One who had never violated God’s law, here was the holy, eternal Son of God, the delight of the Father’s heart from all eternity, who came into the world, who became Man, for the express purpose of redeeming those who were under the curse of the law. He Himself said, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). But if He Himself has violated that law, He is subject to its penalty and never can redeem us; but how careful the Word of God has been to show that He never came under that penalty. He was holy in nature from the moment He came into the world. The angel said to Mary, His mother, “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). His life was absolutely pure as He went through this scene. He magnified the law and made it honorable by a life of devotion to the will of God. “[He] was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Sinless, though tempted; and at last God “made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). He against whom God had nothing, voluntarily took our place, went to the cross, and there paid the penalty that we should have paid. If I had to pay, eternity would be too short for it, but He, the Eternal One, hung on the cross, settled to the utmost farthing every claim that the offended law had against me, and now I receive Him, trust Him as my Savior, and what is the result? I am delivered from the curse of the law.
Free from the law, O happy condition!
Jesus hath bled, and there is remission,
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all.
Now we are free—there’s no condemnation,
Jesus provides a perfect salvation;
“Come unto Me,” oh, hear His sweet call!
Come, and He saves us once for all.
Has your soul entered into this?
I shall never forget, after struggling for so long to work out a righteousness of my own, the joy that came to me when I was led to look by faith at yonder cross, an empty cross now.
I saw One hanging on the tree,
In visions of my soul,
Who turned His loving eyes on me
As near His cross I stole.
I knew He was there on my behalf. He, the sinless One, was suffering there for me, the sinner, and I looked up to Him. In faith I could say, “Lord Jesus, I am Thy sin; I am Thine unrighteousness. Thou hast none of Thine own, but art bearing mine.” And I looked again, and that cross was empty and my Lord’s body had been laid in the tomb. “He was delivered for our offenses,” and buried out of sight as I deserved to be buried out of sight. But I looked again and that tomb too was empty, and He came forth in triumph, “[He] was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). I looked not to the cross now but to the throne of God, and by faith I saw Him seated there, a Man exalted at God’s right hand, the same Man who stood mute in Pilate’s judgment-hall, and did not say a word to clear Himself because I could not be cleared unless He died for me.
Who would want to work out a righteousness of his own when he can have one so much better through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”
And now because of that, the blessing of Abraham may come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus; we may receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” What is “the blessing of Abraham?” Long ago God had said, “In thee and in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed.” But centuries rolled by and the nations of the Gentiles were left outside; they were outside the pale, strangers to the covenant of promise, they knew nothing of the blessing of Abraham, nor what God had promised through his seed. But now Christ has died, not for Jews only but for the Gentiles also, and because of His work the message goes out to the whole world that God can save every one who believes on the Lord Jesus, and all believers become in faith the children of Abraham and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of God. The blessing of Abraham is justification by faith for every believer, even as “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). The apostle draws attention to the fact that when God said to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed,” He was not referring merely to the nation that should spring from him but to one individual Person, for it had been settled in the purpose of God from eternity that the Christ was to be born of Abraham’s lineage.
“Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.” When men make covenants we expect them to live up to them. God made a covenant of unconditional grace to Abraham long years before. Later the law came in, but did that invalidate the covenant of pure grace made to Abraham? “To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Through the Lord Jesus, then, the blessing of the covenant goes out to every poor sinner who will believe in Him. “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” God was not playing fast and loose with Abraham when He gave him this unconditional covenant of grace. He did not say, “If you do thus and so, and if you do not do certain things, all the world will be blessed through your seed.” But He said, unconditionally, “In thee and in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed.” It is not a question at all of human effort; it is not a question of something we earn.
When the apostle discusses this same subject in Romans 4, he says, in the opening verses,
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. (Rom. 4:1-4)
What does that mean? It means that if you had to do something to earn your salvation you would not be saved by grace. Suppose you work six days for an employer, and at the end of that time he comes in a supercilious kind of attitude, hands you an envelope, and says, “You have been working well the last six days, here is a little gift, I want to give you this as a token of my grace.” You look at it and find it contains your wages, and you say, “Sir, I do not understand; this is not a gift. I earned this.” But the man says, “I want you to feel that it is an expression of my appreciation.” “No,” you would say, “you owe me this; you are in my debt, for I earned this money.” If I could do anything to save my soul I would put God in debt to save me, but all God does for me He does in pure grace. And so we read, “To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). And though the law came four hundred and thirty years after this promise of grace for all nations through Abraham’s seed, it did not alter God’s purpose; it was given only in order to increase man’s sense of his need, to make him realize his sinfulness and helplessness, and lead him to cast himself on the infinite grace of God.
“For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” If it comes through self-effort it is not a question of promise at all. But God gave it to Abraham by promise, and, “The promise,” Peter says, “is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). Perhaps, reader, you have been struggling for years to fit yourself for God’s presence, you have been trying hard to work out a righteousness of your own, “trying to be a Christian.” Let me beg of you, stop trying, give it up! You cannot become a Christian by trying any more than you could become the Prince of Wales by trying. You are what you are by birth. You are what you are as a sinner by natural birth, and you become a child of God through second birth, through believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. The blessing of Abraham is yours when you receive it by faith.
The Law As Child-Leader Until Christ
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (vv. 19-29)
We have been considering in our studies of the earlier part of this chapter the relationship that the law had, the law as given at Sinai, to the unconditional promise of grace which God gave to Abraham 430 years before, and we have seen that the law coming in afterward could not add to nor take away from the covenant already made. That naturally leads to the question of verse 19, “Wherefore then serveth the law?” If the law did not add anything to what God had given by promise to Abraham, and surely it could not take anything from it, what was its purpose? Why did God give it at all? The apostle answers, “It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” I think perhaps we may understand it better if we read it, “It was added with a view to transgressions,” in order that it might make men see the specific character of transgression, and thus deepen in each soul a sense of his sinfulness and his need.
We are all so ready to excuse ourselves, to say if we had known better we would not have done the wrong thing. How often you hear people say, “I do the best I know, and endeavor to do the best I can.” But where has a man or woman ever been found who could honestly utter those sentences? Have you always done the best you knew? Have you always done the best you could? If you are absolutely honest before God, you know that you have not. Again and again we have all sinned against light and knowledge, we have known far better than we have done. Thus we have failed to glorify God, and by going contrary to His revealed will we have proven ourselves not only sinners but transgressors.
Both in the original language of the New Testament and that of the Old Testament, there is a word for “sin” which literally means to “miss the mark.” I remember having this brought before me when working among the Laguna Indians of New Mexico. One day my interpreter, a bright Indian, said, “I am going to spend the day hunting; would you like to go with me?”
I am no hunter, but I went with him for the exercise. He had a fine new rifle which he was very eager to try out. He gave evidence of his prowess with that weapon. Standing on one side of a canyon he would say, “Do you see that creature moving yonder?”
At first I could not possibly see it, but as he pointed it out I would see something that was just a moving speck away over on the opposite wall.
He would say, “Wait a minute,” and level his rifle, and the next moment I would see the creature that looked like a small speck leap into the air and then drop down dead. He was a wonderful shot with a rifle, but when we got home he said to me, “I want to show you what I can do with our old weapon, for I have kept up with the bow and arrow. That seems so typical of our people that I have wanted to keep it up.”
So we went into the field, and the Indian hunter set up a very small twig of a willow, and enacted a scene something like that described in Scott’s Ivanhoe. He fitted the arrow to the string and said, “Now I am going to split that twig in two.” Letting fly the arrow, he shot right by the twig but did not touch it. “Oh,” he said, “I have sinned.”
For the moment I did not ask him why he used that expression.
Then he said, “I didn’t take the wind into account, as I should have done.” He fitted another arrow to the string, and let it fly, and split that twig right in two. I could hardly believe that any one could do such a thing.
He said, “There! I did not sin that time.”
I said to him, “Why did you use that term sin? You were not doing anything wrong when you did not hit that wand. Why did you say, ‘I sinned,’ and when you did hit it, ‘I didn’t sin that time’?”
“Oh,” he said, “I was thinking in Gowaik (that is the language of the Laguna Indians) and speaking in English. In our language ‘to sin’ means ‘to miss the mark.’”
“That is a very singular thing,” I said, “for in the Greek and Hebrew ‘to sin’ is ‘to miss the mark.’”
That is what is involved in the expression, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). But in the law we have something more than that. God has set up a standard of righteousness. The law with its ten definite ordinances, “Thou shalts and thou shalt nots,” makes known to man exactly what God demands of him. Now if man sins knowing the revealed will of God, if he fails to obey that law, it is evident that he is not only a sinner but a transgressor. He has definitely violated a specific command of God; he has crossed over the line, as it were, and, “Sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Rom. 7:13). That was one reason for which God gave the law—that men might have a deeper sense of the seriousness of self-will which is the very essence of sin, of rebellion against God. When God gave the law He gave it in the hands of a mediator, and Moses sprinkled the book of the covenant and also the people with the blood of the covenant, testifying to the fact that if man fails to keep his side of the covenant he must die, but also signifying that God would provide a Savior, a Redeemer.
“Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.” Two contracting parties suggest the thought of the need of a mediator, but when God gave His promise to Abraham there was only one. God gave the Word, and there was nothing to do on Abraham’s part but to receive it. He did not covenant with God that he would do thus and so in order that God’s promise might be fulfilled, but God spoke directly to him and committed Himself when He said, “In thee shall all nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:8). The question arises, Is the law against the promises of God by bringing in certain terms which were not in the original promise? Does the law set the promises to one side? God forbid. But a certain principle was laid down in the law which declared that “the man that doeth them shall live in them” (v. 12), and if any man had been found to do these things perfectly he could have obtained life on the ground of the law. But the law said to man, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4), and no man was ever found who could keep it. “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.”
A gentleman said to me in California one night, “I do not like this idea of being saved by Another. All my life I have never wanted to feel indebted to other people for anything. I do not want anybody’s charity, and when it comes to spiritual things I do not want to be saved through the merits of anybody else. According to what you said tonight, if I keep the law perfectly I will live and will owe nothing to any one. Is that right?”
I said, “Well, yes, it is.”
He said, “I am going to start in on that.”
I said, “How old are you?”
“Suppose you came to years of accountability somewhere around twelve; you are nearly thirty years too late to begin, and Scripture says, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them’ (v. 10). Therefore, because the law cannot give life, you will never be able to earn anything on that ground.” He went away very disgruntled.
“But the scripture hath concluded all under sin.” If God has concluded all under sin, must all men be lost? No, all have been concluded under sin “that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” God would have all men recognize their sinfulness in order that all might realize their need and come to Him proving His grace. He puts all men on one common level. Romans says, “There is no difference: for all have sinned” (3:22-23). Men imagine that there are a great many differences. One man says, “Do you mean to tell me that there is no difference between a moral man and a poor reprobate in the gutter?” Of course there is a great deal of difference, not only as far as the standard of society is concerned, but also as to their own happiness and the estimate of their neighbors; but when it comes to a question of righteousness, “There is no difference: for all have sinned.” All may not have sinned in the same way, they may not have committed exactly the same transgressions, but “all have sinned,” all have violated God’s law.
A gentleman once said to a cousin of his, “I do not like that idea about there being no difference; it is repugnant to me. Do you mean to tell me that having tried all my life to live a decent and respectable life, God does not see any difference between me and people living lives of sin and iniquity?”
She said to him, “Suppose that you and I were walking down the street together, and we passed some place of interest, perhaps a museum, that we were eager to see. We went to the window and inquired about the admission fee, and were told it was $1.00. I looked into my purse and said, ‘Oh, I have left my money at home; I have only 25 cents.’ You looked at your money and found you had only 70 cents. Which one of us would go in first?”
“Well,” he said, “under such circumstances neither of us would get in.”
“There would be no difference, and yet you have a great deal more money than I; but as far as having what was necessary to pay our way in, there is no difference.”
God demands absolute righteousness of sinners before they enter heaven. “There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth” (Rev. 21:27). You may have your 95 cents worth of righteousness while I do not have a nickel’s worth of it, but neither of us can get in unless we have our hundred cents, and there is no difference. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Remember that God has said that, not some zealous, earnest preacher or evangelist, but God Himself by the Holy Spirit. And the law was given to demonstrate that fact. But if men take the place of unrighteousness before God, if they take the place of being lost sinners, and own their sin and guilt, what then? “The Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” In other words, when men come to the place where they realize the fact that they cannot earn eternal life by any effort of their own, and are ready to receive it as a free gift, that moment it is theirs. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36). “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
But now the apostle shows another use for the law. Paul says in verse 23, “But before faith came,” that is, “before the faith,” because it was made known clearly and definitely that God was justifying men by faith alone in His blessed Son, “we were kept under the law”—he speaks now as a Jew—“we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.” The Gentiles at that time did not have the law, but the Jews did. God gave the Jew that law, and he was looked upon as a minor child under rules and regulations. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” That word rendered “schoolmaster” is exactly the word that we have Anglicized by the term “pedagogue,” a school teacher. But the original word was not exactly a school teacher, it really means a child leader, a child director, and was the name applied in ancient Greek households to a slave who had the care of the minor children. He was to watch over the morals of the child, protect him from association with others who were not fit for his companionship, and take him day by day from the house to the schoolroom. He there turned him over to the schoolmaster, but at the end of the day he would get him and bring him back home again. The apostle says here, and very beautifully, I think, “The law was our child leader, our child director, until Christ.” That is, God did not leave His people without a code of morals until Jesus came to set before us the most wonderful moral code the world has ever known, and the law served in a very real way to protect and keep them from much of the immorality, iniquity, vileness, and corruption found in the heathen life round about them. As long as the people lived in obedience, in any measure, to that law, they were saved from a great deal of wickedness and evil.
“The law was our [child leader],” perhaps not exactly to bring us to Christ, but, “The law was our [child leader until] Christ.” “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Now Christ has come we have come to the door of the schoolroom of grace, and we have learned the blessed truth of justification by faith alone in Him whom God has set forth to be the propitiation for our sins. We are no longer under a child director.
We are here told that we are not only freed from the law as a means of attempting to secure justification, but are also freed from that law as a means of sanctification, for we have so much higher a standard in Christ risen from the dead, and are to be occupied with Him. As we are taken up with Him the grace of God teaches us that, “Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12). For instance, suppose I as a Christian by some strange mishap had never even heard of the Ten Commandments. Suppose it were possible that I had never known of them, but on the other hand I had been taught the wonderful story of the gospel, and had been entrusted with some of the books of the New Testament showing how a Christian ought to live. If I walk in obedience to this revelation, I live on a higher, on a holier, plane than he who only had the Ten Commandments. Anyone having the wonderful teaching that came from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the marvelous unfolding of the epistles showing what a Christian ought to be, has this new standard of holiness, which is not the law given at Sinai, but the risen Christ at God’s right hand, and as I am walking in obedience to Him my life will be a righteous life, and so, “After that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”
Then he adds, “Ye are all the children [sons] of God by faith in Christ Jesus,” from Him we receive life. To whom does God communicate eternal life? To all who put their trust in His blessed Son. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). And so we can see why our Lord Jesus stresses, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). There must be the impartation of the divine life. This makes us members of God’s family—a new and wonderful relationship.
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” He probably has two thoughts in mind here. Outwardly we put on Christ in our baptism. That ordinance indicates that we professedly have received the Lord Jesus Christ, but I think also he has in view the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and by that we are actually made members of Christ and, in the fullest, deepest sense, we put on Christ. And now as members of that new creation, “there is neither Jew nor Greek,” national distinctions no longer come in. In this connection there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” He does not ignore natural distinctions. Of course we still retain our natural place in society, we remain servants or masters, we remain male or female, but as to our place in the new creation, God takes none of these distinctions into account. All who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are made one in Him, “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Eph. 5:30). How we need to remember this!
“Ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” To be “in Christ” and to be “Christ’s,” comes to exactly the same thing, “all one in Christ Jesus.” “And if ye be Christ’s [if you belong to Him], then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Because you too have believed God as Abraham did (Abraham “believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” [Rom. 4:3]), it is counted to you for righteousness. And so every believer forms part of Abraham’s spiritual seed. There is both the spiritual and the natural seed of Abraham. “They which be of faith are blessed with [believing] Abraham” (Gal. 3:9). I hope we are clear as to this distinction between law and grace.
Some years ago I took with me to Oakland, California, a Navajo Indian. One Sunday evening he went to our young people’s meeting. They were talking about this epistle to the Galatians, about law and grace, but they were not very clear about it, and finally one turned to the Indian and said, “I wonder whether our Indian friend has anything to say about this.”
He rose to his feet and said, “Well, my friends, I have been listening very carefully, because I am here to learn all I can in order to take it back to my people. I do not understand what you are talking about, and I do not think you do yourselves. But concerning this law and grace, let me see if I can make it clear. I think it is like this. When Mr. Ironside brought me from my home we took the longest railroad journey I ever took. We got out at Barstow, and there I saw the most beautiful railroad station with a hotel above it that I have ever seen. I walked all around and saw at one end a sign, ‘Do not spit here.’ I looked at that sign and then looked down at the ground and saw many had spitted there, and before I think what I am doing I have spitted myself. Isn’t that strange when the sign say, ‘Do not spit here’? I come to Oakland and go to the home of the lady who invited me to dinner today and I am in the nicest home I have ever been in my life. Such beautiful furniture and carpets I hate to step on them. I sank into a comfortable chair, and the lady said, ‘Now, John, you sit there while I go out and see whether the maid has dinner ready.’ I look around at the beautiful pictures, at the grand piano, and I walk all around those rooms. I am looking for a sign; the sign I am looking for is, ‘Do not spit here,’ but I look around those two beautiful drawing rooms, and cannot find a sign like this. I think, What a pity when this is such a beautiful home to have people spitting all over it—too bad they don’t put up a sign! So I look all over that carpet but cannot find that anybody has spitted there. What a funny thing! Where the sign says, ‘Do not spit,’ a lot of people spitted; here where there is no sign, nobody spitted. Now I understand! That sign is law, but inside the home it is grace. They love their beautiful home and want to keep it clean. I think that explains this law and grace business,” and he sat down.
The Adoption Of Sons
Now I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ, (vv. 1-7)
In this section of the epistle the apostle makes a very interesting distinction, which, if thoroughly understood, will help greatly in enabling us to see the relative place of Old Testament believers and that of those in the present glorious dispensation of the grace of God. We need to remember that in all dispensations it was necessary that men be born again in order to become the children of God, and new birth has always been, on the part of adults at least, by faith in the divine revelation. We are told in James 1:18, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” What is true of us in this age has been true of believers in all ages. Each one was begotten by the Word of truth. Of course, in the case of infants not yet come to years of accountability, God acts in sovereignty, regenerating them by His divine power apart from personal faith in the Word when they are too young to know it. Jesus has said, “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:14), but it is just as necessary that children be born again as in the case of adults, for, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). There must be new birth on the part of every person who would enter the kingdom of God. But there are great dispensational distinctions marked out in Holy Scripture. In Old Testament times believers were all God’s children, but they were not definitely recognized as His sons. In this age it is different. All of God’s children are also His sons. Do you ask what is the difference? Well, the distinction is one that we today perhaps would not think of making, but when Paul wrote the epistle to the Galatians all his readers would understand it very clearly. In that day, minor children were not recognized as their father’s heirs until, when they came of age, he took them down to the forum, answering to our courthouse, and there officially adopted them as his sons. From that time on they were no longer considered as minor children, but recognized as heirs. Old Testament saints, the apostle shows us, were in the position of children. New Testament saints, since the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, are acknowledged by God as His sons by adoption. The Holy Spirit Himself is the Spirit of adoption. When He is received in faith, at the very moment of our conversion we are marked out as God’s sons and heirs. This is confirmed in Romans 8:14-17:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
The divinely-directed reasoning of the apostle in these first seven verses in Galatians 4 is very striking and beautiful in its orderly presentation of the theme. He tells us, “Now I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant [that is, a bondman], though he be lord of all.” Take a young child in the home before he has attained his majority. He may be heir actually to vast wealth, but he is not permitted to have his own way, nor enter into the possession of his patrimony. He is to be kept in the place of subjection for discipline and training. His place in the home is practically no different than that of a servant. In fact, he himself has to be subject to the servant, as verse 2 tells us; he is under guardians and stewards, or tutors, until the time appointed of the father. This is all perfectly plain and does not take an erudite mind to understand it. Then note the application. The apostle shows that the people of Israel, God’s earthly people, were in this state of nonage. The apostle Paul identifies himself with these as a Jew and says, “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements [or principles] of the world.” That is, they were under the law, and the law speaks to man in the flesh. It was given by God in order to impress upon him his duties and responsibilities. It had no power in itself to produce the new life, though it could guide the children of God and show them the path they should take through the world. It was really, however, an almost intolerable bondage to those who did not enter into the spiritual side of it. But now since the new age has come in, the age of grace, a wonderful change has been brought about. We read: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, [born] of a woman, [born] under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” “The fulness of the time” was, of course, the completion of the prophetic periods as given in the Old Testament. One would think particularly of the great prophecy of the seventy weeks of Daniel. When at last the time had arrived that Messiah was destined to appear, God fulfilled His Word by sending His Son into this scene to be born of a woman, and that woman an Israelite under law.
Now observe one thing here. We meet certain professed Christians today who deny what is called the Eternal Sonship of Christ. They tell us He was not Son from eternity. They admit He was the Word, as set forth in John 1:1, but they say He became the Son when He was born on earth. Verse 4 definitely denies any such teaching. “God sent forth his Son, [to be born] of a woman.” He was the Son before He ever stooped from the heights of glory to the virgin’s womb. It was the Son who came in grace to become Man in order that we might be saved. This same truth is set forth in 1 John 4:9-10: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Nothing could be clearer than the two definite statements in these verses. God sent His Son, sent Him into the world, sent Him from heaven, even as John 3:16 declares: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” We dishonor the Lord Jesus Christ if we deny His Eternal Sonship. If He be not the Eternal Son, then God is not the Eternal Father. Someone has well asked, “Had the Father no bosom till Jesus was born in Bethlehem?” He came from the bosom of the Father, to be born into this world, in order that He might be our Kinsman-Redeemer.
He was born under the law. He took His place before God here on earth as an Israelite, subject to the law of God. He kept that law perfectly; sinless Himself, He never could come under its curse because of His own failure. Therefore, He was able to go to the cross and give Himself up to death to bear the curse of the broken law, that He might redeem them that were under the law, “that we,” says the apostle, “might receive the adoption of sons.” He met all that was against His people and brought them out into a place of full liberty where God could publicly own them as His sons, no longer children in the servant’s place but heirs of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. The testimony to this was the giving of the Holy Spirit. So in verse 6 we read, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” This is true of all believers, for we need to remember that since the bringing in of the new dispensation in all its fullness, every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and thus sealed and anointed. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ,” we are told, “he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). So there is no such person in the world today as a true Christian who is not indwelt by the Spirit of God. We have the Spirit of the Son, and because He dwells in our hearts we now look up with adoring love into the face of God and cry “Abba, Father.” “Abba” is the Hebrew word for “Father.” Our English word is the translation of the Greek pateer, and so we have Jew and Gentile united through grace, addressing God as members of one family, as His children by birth and His sons by adoption, and crying, “Abba, Father.”
The apostle’s conclusion follows very naturally: “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” The old condition, which prevailed throughout the centuries before Jesus came into the world and died for all our sins upon the cross, rose again for our justification, ascended to heaven, and in unity with the Father sent the Holy Spirit, that has come to an end. Believers are no longer in the servant’s place, but by the reception of the Spirit are God’s recognized sons, and so heirs of all His possessions through Christ Jesus our Lord.
In this connection it is interesting to notice that after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead, He said to Mary, “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17). In this He fulfilled the prophecy written so long before, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren” (Ps. 22:22). Though the Holy Spirit had not yet come, the Lord anticipates the full glory of the new dispensation by recognizing all the redeemed as His brethren, and thus He speaks of “My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” Notice, He does not say, our Father and our God. There was good reason for this. God was His Father in a unique sense; He was His Father from eternity. This is not true of us. He is our Father when we receive Christ in faith as our Savior. And so in regard to the other expression, “My God.” It is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Therefore God was His God in a different sense to that in which He is our God. He is our God because He is our Creator. We are merely creatures, while He Himself created all things. And so while there cannot be exactly the same relationship, yet the same Person who is His Father and His God is now our Father and our God, because we are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Oh, may our hearts enter more into the preciousness of this, and as we realize something of the dignity of this wonderful place that God has given us, may we seek grace to so live in this scene as to bring glory to His name.
Remember, there is a certain sense in which He has entrusted the honor of His name to us. He said to Israel of old, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” This did not refer to what we call swearing or profanity, but they were called by the name of the Lord and were responsible to magnify His name. Instead of that, the apostle Paul says of them, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.” That is, the Gentiles saw so much that was wicked and corrupt in the behavior of God’s earthly people that they said, “If these people are like their God, then He must be a very unholy Being indeed.” Oh, my brethren, are we so behaving ourselves that men, “seeing our good works, glorify our Father which is in heaven?” Do they say, as they behold the grace of God in our lives, “How marvelous must be the love and the holiness of the God to whom these people belong, and whose sons they profess to be!” It is as we walk in obedience to His Word that we magnify the grace which has saved us and put us into this blessed place of sons and heirs.
The Elements Of The World
Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. (vv. 8-20)
“Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.” We have seen in this epistle that the Galatians, who had been brought out of heathen darkness into the light and liberty of the gospel through the ministry of the apostle Paul, had fallen under the charm—shall I say?—of certain Judaizing teachers who were carrying them into subjection to the law of Moses, telling them that unless they were circumcised and kept the law of Moses they could not be saved, that while they began in faith, they had to complete their salvation through works of their own, acquiring merit by obedience to the commands of the law. The apostle has been showing them that the law could only condemn, could only kill, could not justify, could not give life, neither could it sanctify, and that our sanctification is as truly by faith as is our justification.
Now he reasons with them, trying to show the folly of their course in giving up Christianity with all its liberty and light for the twilight and bondage of Judaism. “Why,” he says, “you were heathen when I came to you. You were enslaved to heathen customs, you served those that you esteemed to be gods who really are not gods, you were worshipers of idols, and you know that in those days you were misled by pagan priest craft. There were certain things you could not eat, places you could not go, things you could not touch. There were different kinds of offerings that you had to bring, there were charms against evil spirits, and amulets, and talismans. You were slaves to worldly customs in those days of your heathenism. The thing that amazes me is that you should be willing to go into another bondage after having known something of the liberty of grace.” “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” Notice that expression, “After that ye have known God, or rather are known of God.” There are the two sides to it. We often say to people, “Do you know Jesus?” But it means more to realize that Jesus knows you, to be able to say, “Thank God, He knows me, and He knew about me in my sin, and He loved me and gave Himself for me.” We sometimes say, “Have you found Jesus?” Of course the Word of God says, “Seek, and ye shall find,” and the Lord bids us to “call upon Him while He is near,” but it is a more wonderful truth that He seeks us. We have heard of the little boy who was approached by a Christian worker who said to him, “My boy, have you found Jesus?” And the little fellow looked up with a perturbed expression and said, “Why, please, sir, I didn’t know He was lost, but I was, and He found me.” That is it.
I was lost, but Jesus found me,
Found the sheep that went astray;
Threw His loving arms around me,
Drew me back into His way.
God knew me long before I knew Him. He knows me now, since I have trusted Christ, as His child, and Paul says, “Isn’t it a shame that after you have known God, or rather have been known of God, after you have come into this blessed relationship with Him as your Father, if you really know what it is to be born again, isn’t it strange that you would turn now to as legal a system as that from which you were delivered when first brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ?” “How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” Someone might say, “But what do you mean? They were turning to law, to observing Jewish feasts and Jewish Sabbath, Jewish ceremonies. But they never knew those things in their heathen days. Why does he say, ‘How turn ye again?’ The principle was exactly the same. Why do the heathen go through their forms and ceremonies? Because they hope to gain merit and save their souls. Why did the Jews go through all their rites and ceremonies? That they might please God in that way, and so gain merit and eventually save their souls. The principle is just the same, whether you try to save yourself by offering your own child or the dearest thing you have on a heathen altar, whether you keep the seventh-day Sabbath, as some people do today, and thereby hope to save themselves, or whether you observe the heathen feast days and hope to please the heathen gods thereby. The Jewish festivals have been fulfilled in Christ, and we are not going back to them, hoping to please God by their observance. They had their place once, and men of faith could observe them in obedience to the Word of God, but that place is not theirs now, because “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4). All these ceremonies were merely shadows of things to come. Now that the reality is come, why go back to the shadow? We are not going to be occupied with the type since we have the Antitype; we are not going to be occupied with pictures when we have the Reality. The worldly principle, of course, is to try to merit salvation by works of your own.
There are only two religions in the world, the true and the false. All forms of false religion are alike, they all say, “Something in my hand I bring,” the only difference being in what that something is. But the true religion, the revelation from heaven, leads a man to sing, “Nothing in my hand I bring.” Christianity says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). We see Christians today who turn to symbols and pictures as a means of helping them spiritually, but they are just going back to the elements of the world. If you were to ask a heathen, “Is this idol your god?” some would say, “Yes,” but an intelligent heathen would reply, “No, it is not exactly that I consider that idol as my god, but it represents my god; it helps me to enter into communion with my god.” You see just the same thing in Christendom where some churches are filled with images. They are not images of Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Isis, or Osiris, but images just the same—images of Saint Joseph, Saint Barnabas, Saint Paul, the twelve apostles, the blessed Virgin Mary, and even of Christ. Candles are burning in front of them and people bow before them. We ask, “Why do you not worship God? Why worship these images?” And they answer, “We do not worship them; we reverence them, and they are simply aids to worship. These images help to stir up our spirits and help us to worship.”
I heard a Protestant minister speaking to a group of ministers and he said, “I find that it is very helpful to have before me a very beautiful picture of the thorn-crowned Christ.” He mentioned a painting by a certain artist, and said, “I have that framed; and when I want to come to the Lord I like to drop everything else and sit and contemplate that picture for a while, and I begin to realize more and more what He has done for me. That draws out my heart in worship and adoration.” “How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” There is no painter on earth who can paint my Christ. You need to go to the Bible to get that picture. If you want to be stirred up and put in a worshipful spirit, sit down over your Bible and read the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, or the account in the Gospels of what Christ accomplished, and as you are occupied with the truth of God your heart will be drawn out in worship. You do not need pictures to help you to worship. These are just the “weak and beggarly elements” of the world. In the dispensation of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we are to worship in “spirit and in truth.”
So the apostle says, “I am sorry to see you go back to these things”—“Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” That is, they were going back to the Jewish Sabbath and other holy days and festivals, the Jewish Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee. But, you see, these things are not binding on us today. Why? Because the Sabbath day of the Jews has found its fulfillment in Him who said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “There remaineth therefore a rest (a true Sabbath-keeping) to the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). We have found our Sabbath in Christ, and so we observe the first day of the week, the day of His resurrection, not in order to gain merit but because we are glad to have the privilege of coming together as a company of worshiping believers and to take advantage of the opportunity to preach the gospel of the grace of God. That seventh-day Sabbath was the memorial of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. That does not apply to us, but we have found its fulfillment in Christ. Some may ask, “Are you quite certain that the Sabbath of the law is included among the shadows?” Yes, turn to Colossians 2:16-17: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Do you not see?—it was the Sabbath of old, one day’s rest in seven. Now I have Jesus, and I have seven days’ rest in seven. I have rest in Him continually and am delivered from the Sabbath of the law.
Then there were sacred months. There was the month in which they had the Passover and the Feast of Firstfruits. Then the seventh month, in which was the great day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. But all of which those months and feasts speak has been fulfilled in Christ. He is the true Passover: “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:7-8). The Feast of Firstfruits had its fulfillment in the resurrection of Christ, and it was He who said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). Christ fell into the ground in death, and now has become the firstfruits of them that slept, and we worship with adoring gratitude for all that this means to us. The great day of Atonement has had its fulfillment in the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ was the sacrificed Victim whose precious blood makes atonement for the soul. We read, “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). That is all fulfilled in Jesus. And He is the true fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, the feast which carries us on to His coming back again when He will bring in everlasting righteousness. They were all given to point forward to the coming of the blessed Son of God, and His wondrous work.
“Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” Many in Israel had fallen into the evil habit of consulting astrologers and others, and so were known as observers of times, but that was distinctly contrary to God’s mind, and He links it up with demons. Christians have nothing to do with anything like that. Then they observed sacred years. There was the Sabbatical year; every seventh year had to be set apart as a Sabbath to the Lord. You cannot pick out certain parts of the law and keep them only; if you are bound to keep the seventh-day Sabbath, you are bound to keep the seventh-year Sabbath also. But Paul says that as Christians we are delivered from all this. It was only bondage and we are free from it.
“I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” He really stood in doubt as to whether they were truly converted. He remembered how they had confessed their sins, and the joy they had, and now he says, “Was that not genuine?” One may often feel like that about people. Some make a good start and apparently seem to be real Christians, but the next thing you know they are taken up with some most unscriptural thing, and you wonder whether it was all a mistake. If people are saved, they are sealed by the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of Truth and He comes to guide them into all truth. Thank God, sometimes they are recovered, and then you know they were real, but if never recovered, we read, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19).
Now he turns directly to these converts of his, and in the most tender way he says, “Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.” What does he mean? He is practically saying, “There was a time in my life when I observed all these things that you are going into now; when all my hope of heaven was based upon working out a righteousness of my own; and I was very punctilious about all these things that you now are taking up. I observed the Passover, I kept the Feast of Firstfruits, the ordinances of the great day of the Atonement, and kept the Feast of Tabernacles. I did all these things that you are undertaking to do. I was careful about meats and drink, I looked upon certain foods as unclean and would have nothing to do with them, but I came to you as one of you. You did not know anything about the law, and I came to you as a man utterly delivered from the law of Moses, completely freed from it. I wish you would come over to where I am. Take your place now with me; I am not under law but under grace, and I want you to be under grace rather than under law.” Before God, they were actually so, of course, if truly saved, but he would have them so in spirit.
He tells us elsewhere how he stood:
Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law … I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor. 9:20-22)
Let me illustrate Paul’s position. He stands in the center between the two extremes. Over to the right are those under the law, the Jews; to the left are those without the law, the Gentiles, who do not know anything about the law of Moses. Now he says, “I do not belong in either company since I am saved by grace, but stand here between the two, and being regenerated I am subject to Christ. In order that I may reach the Jew I go over there where he is, and am willing to sit down with him and partake of the kind of food he eats, and to go with him to his synagogue, in order that I may have an opportunity to preach to him. And I will use the law of Moses to show him his sin, and the prophets to show him the Savior. Then I go to the Gentiles, but I do not preach the law of Moses to them.” He could say, “When I came among you I took my place as a man not under law but in the liberty of grace, and preached Christ to you as the Savior of all who believe. I wish you would appreciate that enough to stand with me. You leave me and go to the place God took me out of before He saved me. Do you not see the mistake you are making? You are giving up grace for law.”
“Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.” He sought to touch their hearts by reminding them of those early days when he came to Antioch in Pisidia, and to Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, and preached the Word among them. All of these were Galatian cities. Did he come with pomp and ceremony, marvelous costumes, and candles and images? No, nothing like that. He came not as a great and mighty ecclesiastic, as one professing to have authority over them, but as a lowly man preaching Christ and Him crucified. “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.”
Paul was used of God to heal many sick people, but he never healed himself, and did not ask anybody to heal him except God. He prayed for deliverance three times, but God said, “I am not going to deliver you but—‘My grace is sufficient for thee,’” and Paul answered, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). He was a sick man for years as he preached the gospel. He would come in among people, weak and tired and worn, and if there was not money enough to support him he would go to work and make tents to earn money for bread, and then at night would go and look for people to whom to preach Christ. He commended the gospel to these Galatians by his self-denying service and his readiness to suffer. As they (in those days, poor heathen) looked upon him they wondered that he should so love them, and they marveled at his message, and believed it, and were saved. Now he says, “You have lost all that; you do not care anything about me any more; you have gone off after these false teachers, and you have lost your joy.” “Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.” I take it that the suffering he endured had to do with his eyes. He probably had some affliction of the eyes that made it difficult for him to read and to see an audience, and it made his appearance mean when he stood upon the platform. Possibly they said, “Poor Paul! If we could give him our eyes we would gladly do so!” That is the way they once felt. “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” It was these evil teachers that had upset them.
“They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.” In other words, they have come to make a prey of you with their false teaching, trying to affect you adversely in order that you might rally around them, for they want to get up a little party of their own. They are not seeking your good, but trying to extend their own influence. “It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.” That is, it is good for a man to be zealous in what is right, it is good to go after people with the truth and bring them into the light, and they who had started in the truth should have continued in it.
And now in his deep affliction he exclaims, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” In other words, I remember when you were saved, I went through the very pangs of birth in my soul, and now I am going through it all again because I am in such anxiety about you. “I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.” In other words, “I am writing some strong things to you, but I would like to talk tenderly, lovingly, to you if I were only there. I am not sure about you.” False religion never can give certainty, but the blessed, glorious gospel of the grace of God does. It fully assures us of complete and final salvation if we believe God. Who then would turn away deliberately from the liberty that we have in Christ to the bondage of some false system?
A Divine Allegory
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. (vv. 21-31)
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” We have already noticed that while the Galatians were a Gentile people who had been saved by grace, they had fallen under the influence of certain Judaizing teachers who were trying to put them under the law. They said, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1), and so in this letter the apostle Paul has taken up the great question of Law and Grace and has been expounding it, clarifying it, making clear that salvation is not by works of the law but entirely by the hearing of faith.
Undoubtedly these Jewish teachers who had gotten into the Christian company were referring the believers back to the Old Testament, and they could give them Scripture after Scripture in which it seemed evident that the law was the supreme test, and that God had said, “The man which doeth those things shall live by them” (Rom. 10:5), and, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). And so they sought to impress upon these believers the importance of endeavoring to propitiate God, of gaining divine favor by human effort.
Now he says, “You desire to be under the law, do you? Do you want to put yourself under the law of Moses? Why do you not hear the law? Why do you not carefully read the books of the law and see just what God has said?” He uses the term law here in two different ways. In the first instance as referring to Moses’ law, the law given at Sinai with the accompanying rules and regulations, statutes and judgments, that were linked with it, but in the second, as referring to the books of the Law. “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law [the legal covenant], do ye not hear the law [the books of the law in which God tells us of the covenants]?”
Then he turns them back to Genesis and says, “For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.” We know that story. Abraham’s wife was Sarah, and God had promised that Abraham and Sarah should be the parents of a son who was to be the precursor of the coming Seed in whom all nations of the earth should be blessed, but the years passed by and it seemed as though there was to be no fulfillment of that promise. Finally, losing hope, Sarah herself suggested that they should descend to the lower custom of the people of the nations around them, and that Abraham should take another woman, not exactly to occupy the full status of a wife, but one to be brought into the home as a concubine. Abraham foolishly acceded to that and took Hagar. As a result of that union a son was born who was called Ishmael, and Abraham fondly hoped that he would prove to be the promised one through whom the Messiah should come into the world. But God said, “No, this is not the one. I told you you should have a child of Sarah, and this one is not the promised seed.” Abraham pleaded, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Gen. 17:18). But God said, as it were, “He can have a certain inheritance, but he cannot be the child of promise. In due time Sarah herself shall have a child, and in that child My covenant will stand fast.”
The apostle now shows us that these events had a symbolic meaning. He does not mean to imply that they did not actually take place as written. They did. Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 10:11, speaking of Old Testament records, “Now all these things happened unto them for [types]: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” Notice, “All these things happened.” Some people say they did not happen, that they were just myths, or folklore, or something like that, but the Holy Spirit says, “All these things happened.” And so what you read in the Word concerning different Old Testament characters, the nations, cities, and so on, all these are to be received as historic facts. During the last hundred years when the voice of archeology has been crying out so clearly and loudly, not one thing has been discovered to refute anything written in Scripture, while thousands of discoveries have helped to bear witness to and authenticate the Bible record. It does not need to be authenticated, of course, as far as faith is concerned, for we believe what God has said. However, these important discoveries have helped in a large measure to shut the mouths of skeptics who would not believe the statements of Scripture to be true. Abraham lived, Sarah lived, Hagar was a real personage, the two sons were real personages. From Ishmael came the Arabs, from Isaac, the Hebrews. From the beginning the two boys did not get on together, and these nations were not friendly. That explains the trouble in Palestine today. They could not get on in the beginning, and cannot today. But the apostle undertakes to show that these mothers and their sons had symbolic significance.
“But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh [and so he speaks of all who are only born after the flesh]; but he of the freewoman was by promise [Isaac was the child of grace].” It would have been absolutely impossible from a natural standpoint for Abraham and Sarah to become parents at the time Isaac was born. It was a divine manifestation, a miracle. Isaac was a child of promise, and hence the child of grace. The apostle tells us that these things are an allegory. All through the Word God has used allegories in order that we might receive great moral, spiritual, and typical lessons from these incidents, and here the Spirit of God Himself unfolds one of them for us.
“Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” These two women represent the two covenants: Sarah, the Abrahamic covenant, and Hagar, the Mosaic covenant. What was the difference between these two? The Abrahamic covenant was the covenant of sovereign grace. When God said to Abraham, “In thee and in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed,” He did not put in any conditions whatsoever. It was a divine promise. God said, “I am going to do it; I do not ask anything of you, Abraham, I simply tell you what I will do.” That is grace. Grace does not make terms with people; grace does not ask that we do anything in order to procure merit. Many people talk about salvation by grace who do not seem to have the least conception of what grace is. They think that God gives them the grace to do the things that make them deserving of salvation. That is not it at all. We read, “Being justified freely by his grace” (Rom. 3:24), and that word freely literally means “gratuitously.” The same word is translated “without a cause” in another portion of Scripture. It is said of the Lord Jesus Christ that the Scripture was fulfilled which was written concerning Him, “They hated me without a cause” (John 15:25). Jesus never did anything to deserve the bad treatment that men gave Him, and you and I cannot do one thing to deserve the good treatment that God gives us. Jesus was treated badly by men freely; we who are saved are treated well by God freely. I hope that you understand this wonderful fact, and that your soul is thrilling with the joy of it! What a marvelous thing to be saved by grace! One reason that God saves people by grace is that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and He must have the more blessed part.
Years ago a wealthy lady in New York built a beautiful church. On the day of dedication her agent came up from the audience to the platform and handed the deed of the property to the Episcopal Bishop of New York. The bishop gave the agent one dollar for the deed, and by virtue of the one dollar, which was acknowledged, the property was turned over to the Episcopal Church. You say, “What a wonderful gift!” Yes, in a certain sense it was, for the passing over of one dollar was simply a legal observance. But after all, in the full Bible sense it was not a gift, for it cost one dollar; and so the deed was made out not as a deed of gift but as a deed of sale. It was sold to the Episcopal Church for one dollar. If you had to do one thing in order to be saved, if you had even to raise your hand, to stand to your feet, had but to say one word, it would not be a gift. You could say, “I did thus and so, and in that way earned my salvation,” but this priceless blessing is absolutely free. “If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom. 11:6). That is what the Spirit of God tells us in the Word.
And so we see the covenant of grace illustrated in Sarah. God had said to Sarah, “You shall have a child, and that child will be the means of blessing to the whole world.” It seemed impossible that that could ever be, but in God’s good time His Word was fulfilled, at last through Isaac came our Lord Jesus Christ who brought blessing to all mankind. Hagar, on the other hand, was a bondwoman, and she speaks of the covenant of law, of the Mosaic covenant, made at Mount Sinai, for there God said, “The man that doeth [those things] shall live in them,” but no man was ever found who could keep that perfectly, and therefore on the ground of law no one ever obtained life. Sarah, who typifies grace, became the mother of the child of promise; Hagar typifies law, and became the mother of the child of the flesh. The law speaks only to the flesh, while the believer is the child of promise and has been born of divine power. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Why is it that people generally are so ready to take up with legality and so afraid of grace? It is because legality appeals to the natural mind.
I remember going through Max Muller’s set of translations of Oriental sacred literature in thirty-eight large volumes. I read them through in order to get an understanding of the different religious systems in oriental lands, and found that though they differed in ten thousand things, they all agreed on one thing, and that is that salvation was to be won by self-effort, the only difference being as to what the effort was. All taught salvation by works, and every religion except that which is revealed from heaven sets people doing something or paying something in order to win divine favor. This appeals to the natural man. He feels intuitively that God helps those that help themselves, and that if he does his best, surely then God will be interested enough to do something for him. But our best amounts to absolutely nothing. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6), and the sooner we learn that we have no goodness of our own, that we have nothing to present to God with which to earn our salvation, the better for us. When we learn that, we are ready to be saved by grace alone. We come to God as poor, needy, helpless sinners, and through the work that the Lord Jesus Christ has done for our salvation we who believe in Him become the children of promise.
Hagar typified Jerusalem, which is here on earth because Jerusalem at that time was the center of the legal religion. But Sarah typifies Jerusalem above “which is the mother of us all,” or literally, “our mother.” The law is the earthly system, it speaks to an earthly people, to men after the flesh, whereas grace is a heavenly system which avails to children of promise. Jerusalem above is “our mother.” Why? Because Christ is above. Christ has gone up yonder, and having by Himself made purification for sins He has taken His seat on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens and there He sits exalted, a Prince and Savior, and from that throne grace is flowing down to sinful men.
Grace is flowing like a river,
Millions there have been supplied;
Still it flows as fresh as ever,
From the Saviour’s wounded side;
None need perish,
All may live since Christ has died.
Have you trusted this Savior? Have you received that grace? Can you say, “Yes, I am a citizen of heaven; Jerusalem above is my mother”? Even Abraham looked for that heavenly city. God promised him an inheritance on earth, and some day his children will have that. They are trying to get it now after the flesh, and are having a very hard time. Some day in accordance with the promise, they shall have it, and then it will be all blessing for them. That will be after their eyes are opened to see the Lord Jesus Christ as their Messiah. A great many people are troubled about Palestine. I am deeply interested in what is going on over there, and recognize in it a partial fulfillment of the Word, but the reason why the Jews were driven out of Palestine nineteen hundred years ago was because they “knew not the time of their visitation,” and when their own Savior came they rejected Him. They said, “We have no king but Caesar.” And when Pilate asked, “What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?” they cried, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him” (John 19:15), “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). How terribly that malediction has been answered through the centuries. That does not excuse the wickedness of the persecution of the Jews, but it is an evidence of divine judgment. They would not have the Savior, and they have been under Caesar’s iron heel ever since. But now they are going back to Palestine. Have they changed in their attitude, in their thoughts? Have they turned to God and confessed the sin of crucifying the Lord of glory? No. Then how can they expect blessing as they go back to the land? No wonder there is trouble, trouble which will continue and increase until the dark and dreadful days of the Great Tribulation. They are but the children of Hagar, but some day when the church has been caught up to be with the Lord, and God turns back to Israel, a remnant from them will be saved. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son” (Zech. 12:10), and when they own as Savior and Lord, Him whom once they rejected, He will cleanse them from their sins; He will take them back to the land; He will bring them into blessing; He will destroy all their foes; and they themselves will become a means of blessing to the whole earth. That is the divine program as laid down in the Word of God.
I should like to urge any Jewish friends to search their own Scriptures. Will you not turn to your own Bible and read Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Psalm 69, the last three chapters of the book of Zechariah, and then if you have a New Testament, read the epistle to the Hebrews and the gospel of Matthew, and see if the Spirit of God will not show you what is the whole trouble with Israel today? All their troubles have come upon them because they sought the blessing not after the Spirit but after the flesh, and so refused the promised Seed when He came. And you Gentiles, if you are seeking salvation by church membership, by observing ordinances, by charity, by your own good works, prayers, and penances, can you not see that you too are seeking the blessing after the flesh when God would give it to you on the ground of pure grace? Oh, that you might become children of Sarah, of the covenant of grace, who can say, “Thank God, Jerusalem above is our mother.” “Our [citizenship],” says the apostle, “is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). And Abraham, we are told, “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). Abraham is in heaven, and all his spiritual children who have died in the past are with him there. The Lord Jesus tells of the poor beggar, the child of Abraham, who died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. All the redeemed who have passed off the scene are in this same glorious paradise where Abraham is, and by-and-by, when Jesus comes, we all shall join that glad throng.
And then, not only now but through the millennial age, how many will be the children of God! So the apostle quotes from Isaiah 54:1: “Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.” What a strange Scripture! First notice its character. The chapter that precedes it is Isaiah 53. There we have the fullest, the most complete prophecy of the coming into the world of the Lord Jesus, His suffering and death and resurrection, that is to be found anywhere in the Bible. Isaiah seems to see Him suffering, bleeding, and dying on the cross, and he says: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6), and the prophet closes that chapter with the wonderful words, “He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (v. 12). And then the very next word, when you come to chapter 54, is “Sing!” There is enough there to make you sing: “He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Sing!” Of what shall we sing? Of the matchless grace that God has manifested in Christ. Paul translated that word, sing, “rejoice.” Why? Because Jesus has died, the sin question is settled, and now God can let free grace flow to poor sinners. Grace in the past had been like a woman who was forsaken and alone, and longed to be the mother of children, but wept and mourned alone. And on the other hand here is legality typified by another woman, and she has thousands of children, people who profess to be saved by human effort, saved by their own merits. Yes, legality is a wonderful mother, she has a past family, and poor grace does not seem to have any children at all. But now the gospel goes forth, and what happens? Grace, the one forsaken, neglected, becomes the mother of more children than legality. “For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.” And so grace now has untold millions of children, and there will be millions more in the glorious age to come.
Millions have reached that blissful shore,
Their trials and their labors o’er,
And still there’s room for millions more.
Will you go?
“Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” Are you sure that is true of you? Have you believed God’s promise? He has promised a full, free, and eternal salvation to every one who trusts His Son. We who have believed are children of promise. But the children of legality cannot understand this. No one hates grace as much as the man who is trying to save himself by his own efforts.
“But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” During the dark ages, for more than one thousand years, the doctrines of grace were practically lost to the church, and many were trying to save themselves by penances, by long weary journeys, by thousands and thousands of prayers repeated over and over, by giving of their wealth to endow churches and build monasteries. The children of legality were a great host, and God opened the eyes of Martin Luther, John Knox, John Calvin, William Farel, and a host of others, and they found out that while men had been trying to save themselves by human effort it was the will of God to save poor sinners by grace. Luther took hold of the text, “The just shall live by faith,” and the truth began to ring out all over Germany and Europe and then spread to Britain, and soon bitter persecution broke out and people cried, “Put them to death, these people who believe in salvation by grace, who do not believe that they can be saved by penances and human merit; burn them, starve them, shoot them, behead them, do everything possible to rid the world of them!” They do not get rid of them in those ways today, but the world still hates and detests the people who are saved by grace. If you come into a community where people are going on in a smug self-righteousness, imagining they are going to heaven by church attendance, because they were baptized as babies, were confirmed at twelve years of age, have given of their money, and have attended to their religious duties, and you ask, “Are you saved?” their answer will be, “Nobody can ever know until they get to the judgment seat, but I am trying to be.” “Well,” you say, “you can be sure”; and you tell them of salvation by grace, and they exclaim, “What is this? What detestable fanaticism!” and at once they will begin to persecute you. The children of the flesh cannot stand the children of the Spirit.
“Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” God says, “My children are the children of promise; My children are those who are saved by grace.” Do you know the blessedness of the reality of it in your own soul?
“So then, brethren,” the apostle concludes, “we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” In other words, we have nothing to do with the legal covenant but we are the children of the covenant of grace.
Grace is the sweetest sound
That ever reached our ears,
When conscience charged and justice frowned,
‘Twas grace removed our fears.