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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Galatians 3

Verses 1-29

Galatians 3:1

'How any man with clear head and honest heart,' wrote Sterling, 'and capable of seeing realities, and distinguishing them from scenic fancies, should, after living in a Romanist country, and especially at Rome, be inclined to side with Leo against Luther, I cannot understand.'

References. III. 1. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, The Men Who Crucify Christ, p. 1. D. C. A. Agnew, The Soul's Business and Prospects, p. 1. T. Arnold, Christian Life; Its Hopes, p. 254. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1546. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 129; ibid. (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 121; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 371; ibid. vol. viii. p. 55. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Galatians, p. 100. III. 1-5. Ibid. p. 192. 1-6. Ibid. vol. x. p. 27. III. 2. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1705. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 230; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 362. III. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 178. Expositor (6tb Series), vol. v. p. 34.

Galatians 3:3 ; Galatians 5:7

When the works of Millais were collected at the Grosvenor Gallery, an ardent appreciator of his genius Lady Constance Leslie, went early in the day to the exhibition. Ascending the stairs, she encountered the painter going out, with head bowed down. As she accosted him, and he looked up, she saw tears in his eyes. 'Ah, dear Lady Constance,' he said, 'you see me unmanned. Well, I'm not ashamed of averring that in looking at my earliest pictures I have been overcome with chagrin that I so far failed in my maturity to fulfil the full forecast of my youth.' He had cause to feel this disappointment.

W. Holman Hunt, History of Pre-Raphaelitism, II. p. 392.

References. III. 4. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 185. A.. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Galatians, p. 109. III. 6-9. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 208. III. 7, 9. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 372. III. 18. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 451; ibid. vol. vii. p. 23. III. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 174. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 61. III. 10-14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2093. III. 11. Ibid. vol. xiv. No. 814, and vol. xlviii. No. 2809. III. 13. Ibid. vol. xv. No. 873. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 441; ibid. vol. vi. p. 29; ibid. vol. viii. p. 193; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 203. III. 15-18. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 299. III. 16. Ibid. p. 330. III. 19. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 358 and 374. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 128. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 234; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 385. III. 20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2180. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 98. III. 21. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 274. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 285; ibid. vol. iv. p. 428. III. 22. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 323 and 341. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1145. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Galatians, p. 116. III. 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2402.

The Law a Schoolmaster

Galatians 3:23-24

The law a schoolmaster a tutor! What law? There were two laws the Ceremonial Law and the Moral Law; the Levitical law and the law of the decalogue; the law of symbol and the law of Sinai. There is an important sense in which it may be said that both these laws acted as schoolmasters to bring the Jews to Christ. The Ceremonial Law did this. But this is not the law that St. Paul specifically refers to in our text. The immediate direct reference is to the Moral Law, the law of Sinai. Two thoughts demand our attention:

I. The Mission of the Law. St. Paul in the text speaks of the law fulfilling two distinct offices that of schoolmaster and that of jailer, shutting us up, imprisoning, leaving us no way of escape. Let us look (1) At the Law as Schoolmaster. What does the law teach? (a) The law reveals sin its nature, baseness, and enormity. (6) The law accuses all men of sin. (c) The law denounces sin. (d) The law punishes sin. (2) St. Paul speaks of the Law as Jailer. Can we offer any compensation so as to claim freedom? Well, let us see. What have you to propose? (a) You may propose repentance as the condition of your release. Can the law accept this? Certainly not The law has nothing whatever to do with repentance. (6) Suppose you go a step further and offer reformation. Can the law accept future obedience as an atonement for past disobedience? Certainly not. The claims of the law are absolute, sovereign, eternal. (c) If the law cannot release me on condition of my repentance, nor yet on condition of reformation, may not the law forgive me without any condition? Certainly not. (d) May not the law by an act of sovereignty remit the penalty and free the transgressor? We must all feel that this would be an act of injustice. The law has solemnly declared that death is the penalty of transgression, and it cannot cancel its own sentence.

II. The Mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ in virtue of His sacrificial death becomes our redeemer, that is, our liberator, our setter-free. There are three aspects in our condition and character under which Jesus Christ becomes our setter-free. (1) As captives. We are in bondage as captives, prisoners of war, conquered by a foreign power. (2) As slaves. 'Sold under sin' is the humiliating description given of unregenerated men. (3) As criminals. This is the presiding thought of St Paul in the text.

References. III. 23-25. Expositor (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 433. III. 24. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, pp. 170, 185. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 78. A. Barry, The Doctrine of the Cross, p. 19. R. J. Campbell, The Examiner, 21st June, 1906, p. 601. N. H. Marshall, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 363. III. 24, 25. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1196. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons, p. 249. III. 26. R. W. Dale, The Epistle of James, p. 227. R. J. Drummond, Faith's Certainties, p. 171. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 279.

Profession Without Hypocrisy

Galatians 3:27

It is surely most necessary to beware, as our Lord solemnly bids us, of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. We may be infected with it, even though we are not conscious of our insincerity; for they did not know they were hypocrites. Nor need we have any definite bad object plainly before us, for they had none only the vague desire to be seen and honoured by the world, such as may influence us. So it would seem that there are vast multitudes of Pharisaical hypocrites among baptised Christians; i.e. men professing without practising. Nay, so far we may be called hypocritical, one and all; for no Christian on earth altogether lives up to his profession.

No one is to be reckoned a Pharisee or hypocrite in his prayers who tries not to be one who aims at knowing and correcting himself and who is accustomed to pray, though not perfectly, yet not indolently or in a self-satisfied way; however lamentable his actual wanderings of mind may be, or, again, however poorly he enters into the meaning of his prayers, even when he attends to them.

I. First take the case of not being attentive to the prayers. Men, it seems, are tempted to leave off prayers because they cannot follow them, because they find their thoughts wander when they repeat them. I answer, that to pray attentively is a habit. This must ever be kept in mind. No one begins with having his heart thoroughly in them; but by trying, he is enabled to attend more and more, and at length, after many trials and a long schooling of himself, to fix his mind steadily on them. No one (I repeat) begins with being attentive. Novelty in prayers is the cause of persons being attentive in the outset, and novelty is out of the question in the Church prayers, for we have heard them from childhood, and knew them by heart long before we could understand them. No one, then, when he first turns his thoughts to religion, finds it easy to pray; he is irregular in his religious feelings; he prays more earnestly at some times than at others; his devotional seasons come by fits and starts; he cannot account for his state of mind, or reckon upon himself; he frequently finds that he is more disposed for prayer at any time and place than those set apart for the purpose. All this is to be expected; for no habit is formed at once; and before the flame of religion in the heart is purified and strengthened by long practice and experience, of course it will be capricious in its motions, it will flare about (so to say) and flicker, and at times seem almost to go out.

Let a man once set his heart upon learning to pray, and strive to learn, and no failures he may continue to make in his manner of praying are sufficient to cast him from God's favour.

II. I proceed, secondly, to remark on the difficulty of entering into the meaning of prayers, when we do attend to them.

Here a tender conscience will ask, 'How is it possible I can rightly use the solemn words which occur in the prayers?' A tender conscience alone speaks thus. Those confident objectors whom I spoke of just now, who maintain that set prayer is necessarily a mere formal service in the generality of instances, a service in which the heart has no part, they are silent here. They do not feel this difficulty, which is the real one; they use the most serious and awful words lightly and without remorse, as if they really entered into the meaning of what is, in truth, beyond the intelligence of angels. But the humble and contrite believer, coming to Christ for pardon and help, perceives the great strait he is in, in having to address the God of heaven. This perplexity of mind it was which led convinced sinners in former times to seek refuge in beings short of God; not as denying God's supremacy, or shunning Him, but discerning the vast distance between themselves and Him, and seeking some resting-places by the way, some Zoar, some little city near to flee unto, because of the height of God's mountain, up which the way of escape lay. And then gradually becoming devoted to those whom they trusted, saints, angels, or good men living, and copying them, their faith had a fall, and their virtue trailed upon the ground, for want of props to rear it heavenward. We Christians, sinners though we be like other men, are not allowed thus to debase our nature, or to defraud ourselves of God's mercy; and though it be very terrible to speak to the living God, yet speak we must, or die; tell our sorrows we must, or there is no hope; for created mediators and patrons are forbidden us, and to trust in an arm of flesh is made a sin.

Let us but know our own ignorance and weakness and we are safe. God accepts those who thus come in faith, bringing nothing as their offering but a confession of sin. And this is the highest excellence to which we ordinarily attain; to understand our own hypocrisy, insincerity, and shallowness of mind, to own, while we pray, that we cannot pray aright, to repent of our repentings, and to submit ourselves wholly to His judgment, who could indeed be extreme with us, but has already shown His lovingkindness in bidding us to pray. And, while we thus conduct ourselves, we must learn to feel that God knows all this before we say it, and far better than we do.

When we call God our Father Almighty, or own ourselves miserable offenders, and beg Him to spare us, let us recollect that, though we are using a strange language, yet Christ is pleading for us in the same words with full understanding of them, and availing power; and that, though we know not what we should pray for as we ought, yet the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with plaints unutterable. Thus feeling God to be around us and in us, and therefore keeping ourselves still and collected, we shall serve Him acceptably, with reverence and godly fear; and we shall take back with us to our common employments the assurance that He is still gracious to us, in spite of our sins, not willing we should perish, desirous of our perfection, and ready to form us day by day after the fashion of that Divine image which in baptism was outwardly stamped upon us.

J. H. Newman.

References. III. 27. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 304. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 228. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 411; ibid. vol. v. p. 48; ibid. vol. vi. p. 252; ibid. vol. x. p. 199; ibid. vol. xii. p. 257. III. 27, 28. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 18. H. H. Snell, ibid. vol. xlv. p. 349. III. 28. T. C. Fry, A Lent in London, p. 207. H. Alford, Sermons on Christian Doctrine, p. 68. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 10. III. 29. Ibid. vol. x. p. 37. IV. 1-7. T. Barker, Plain Sermons, p. 71. IV. 1-13. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 262. IV. 3. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 20. IV. 3-6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1815.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Galatians 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/galatians-3.html. 1910.