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Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Galatians 3

Verses 1-29

Galatians 3

(V. 1.) The apostle has shown that, in turning back to the law, the Galatians were setting aside the work of Christ and belittling the glory of His Person as the Son of God. To act thus was so unnatural that it would seem as if they were bewitched, for they were practically denying the truth of the cross, the great central fact of the gospel that had been proclaimed to them, for the apostle had set before them Christ crucified.

Moreover, to turn back to the law not only set aside Christ, but ignored the presence of the Holy Spirit and revived the flesh. The devil is opposed to Christ; the world to the Father; and the flesh to the Spirit. Thus, in the chapters that follow, we constantly have the Spirit and the flesh in opposition ( Gal_3:3 ; Gal_4:29 ; Gal_5:16 ; Gal_5:17 ; Gal_6:8 ). To demonstrate the folly of ignoring the Spirit and reviving the flesh by turning back to the law, the apostle, in the remaining portion of the Epistle, mainly dwells upon the blessings into which the Spirit leads us, and the solemn character of the flesh and the evils to which it exposes us. He opens this fresh theme by seeking to reach the conscience of these saints with four searching questions as to the Holy Spirit.

(V. 2.) First, he enquires on what ground had they received this great gift of the Spirit? Was it "By the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" He does not question the fact that they had received the Spirit, but he asks was the Spirit received because of anything they had done - their works, which would be legal works? Or was it simply through faith in Christ, who had died and risen? Scripture plainly shows that it is the sinner that believes in Christ, and the believer that is sealed with the Spirit. Thus the apostle, when writing to the believers at Ephesus, can say, when speaking of Christ, "In whom ye also trusted after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit" ( Eph_1:13 ).

(V. 3.) Secondly, having begun their Christian life in the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, were they now going to turn back to the law, as if by their own efforts they could walk rightly as Christians? The law applies to man in the flesh, so in turning back to the law they were not only ignoring the Holy Spirit, but reviving the flesh and seeking perfection in, and by, the flesh.

(V. 4.) Thirdly, were the things they had suffered for the truth's sake all in vain? The persecution they had endured had mainly come from the Jews, who, in seeking to maintain the law, had crucified Christ and resisted the Spirit. If these Galatian saints turned back to the law, the Jews would have no quarrel with them; the persecution had been unnecessary and would surely cease.

(V. 5.) Fourthly, there had been miracles of divine power amongst them. Were these manifestations of power the outcome of keeping the law, or were they the result of faith in the power of God?

(Vv. 6-9.) The answer to such questions was simple. All the blessing they had received, summed up in the crowning gift of the Holy Spirit, the sufferings they had endured, and the manifestation of divine power in their midst, were the outcome of receiving the gospel concerning Jesus by the hearing of faith.

A testimony from God, received by faith, has ever been the alone ground on which souls have come into blessing from God. Abraham is an outstanding example of one who, in Old Testament times, received blessing by faith. Moreover the history of Abraham shows that before law was given, and therefore altogether apart from law, God was blessing man on the principle of faith. The case of Abraham is all the more convincing, seeing he is the one, above all others, who was highly esteemed by the Jews. The very one in whom these advocates for the law boasted as being their father (John viii. 39), is the one who was blessed apart from law on the ground of faith. Abraham believed God, and was consequently reckoned to be in a righteous condition before God. It follows, therefore, that those alone, who are blessed on the principle of faith, are the true sons of Abraham. Such is the testimony of Scripture, which, foreseeing that God would justify the nations on the principle of faith, anticipated the gospel when the word came to Abraham, "In thee shall all nations be blessed." So then they which are on the principle of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.

(V. 10.) We have seen in the history of Abraham that the Old Testament Scriptures clearly anticipate the blessings coming to the Gentiles on the principle of faith: now we are to learn that Scripture is equally definite as to the testimony that God rendered through Moses, which says, "Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" ( Deu_27:26 ). It is evident that none have continued to do all things demanded by the law; therefore the testimony of Moses can only lead to the conclusion that to go back to the law for blessing is to come under the curse. It has been said, "The law exacts; it requires men to keep it; it must have obedience: but it neither gives a nature that desires to keep it, nor strength to do it."

(Vv. 11, 12.) Such is the testimony of Moses, the law-giver. But what do the prophets say? Their witness is equally plain, for Habakkuk states, "The just shall live by faith" ( Hab_2:4 ). Now it is evident that the law is not of faith, for it says, "The man that doeth them shall live in them" ( Lev_18:5 ).

(V. 13.) Above all, Christ hath redeemed us from the curse by being made a curse for us; for it is written, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" ( Deu_21:23 ). Christ bears our curse that we might receive blessing, and the promise of the Spirit, through faith in Christ.

Thus, to turn back to the law for blessing is to neglect the example that Scripture gives us in Abraham, to close our eyes to the testimony rendered by Moses the lawgiver, to ignore the witness of Habakkuk, the prophet. and, most solemn of all, to put a slight upon Christ.

(Vv. 15, 16.) In the remaining portion of the chapter we learn the connection between law and promise, and the true service of the law. We are reminded that the promise of blessing to the Gentiles on the principle of faith was made to Abraham and his seed. The apostle quotes the words of the Lord addressed to Abraham when he had offered up his son Isaac, and received him back in a figure from the dead. He is careful to show that the seed of which this Scripture speaks is Christ, of Whom Isaac when offered up was a type ( Gen_22:17 ; Gen_22:18 ).

(Vv. 17, 18.) This promise was made 430 years before the law was given. Whatever the purpose of the law, it evidently cannot set aside the unconditional promise of God. But if the inheritance of blessing be by the law, it would make the promise of none effect. This is impossible for God cannot go back on His word.

(Vv. 19, 20.) Seeing then that the blessing is secured by the sovereign grace of God that makes an unconditional promise, what purpose did the law serve? It came in because man is a sinner and proves him to be such, and that God is a holy God that cannot pass over sins. The law proves that if God bestows the blessing in sovereign grace, He does not do so at the expense of righteousness. Thus the law raises the question of righteousness, both the righteousness of men and the righteousness of God. It demands righteousness from man by telling him that his only course in relation to God and his fellow-men is to love God with all his heart and soul and spirit, and his neighbour as himself. But who has done this but our Lord Jesus Christ? Thus the law proves us to be sinners.

Having proved that we have no righteousness, it goes on to prove that the soul that sinneth must die, and thus that the righteousness of God demands the judgment of the sinner. It was added to prove that we are transgressors. It was ordained by angels, who did not directly bring God into display in all the glory of His love and grace, though making-known His Majesty. Moreover, it was not, like the promise, directly dependent upon God who made the promise. It was given through a mediator. But this supposes two parties, and that the proposed blessing depends upon the faithfulness of both parties in carrying out the conditions. Moses, the mediator, made known the terms of the law under which blessing depended upon obedience. At once the people accepted the terms by saying, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." But the promise to the Seed, Christ, depends entirely upon God Who is One, and in carrying out His promise acts wholly from Himself. Let us remember that here it is no question of Christ the Mediator, Who gave Himself a ransom for all, it is wholly a question of promise, and with that a mediator has nothing to say.

(Vv. 21, 22.) Is then the law against the promise of God? Far from it. The law demanded righteousness, but it gave no life. If it had given life it would have been possible to obey the law, and righteousness would have been by the law and the blessing would have been obtained apart from any promise. But the law convicts of sin and shows that man cannot obtain the blessing by his own efforts, and thus proves the necessity of promise. Thus all are shut up under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

(Vv. 23-26.) Before faith came, that is Christianity, the Jews, during the period of law, were kept apart from the nations, in view of being justified on the principle of faith. In this sense the law held them in tutelage to conduct them to Christ, but Christianity being come they were brought into relationship with God by faith in Christ Jesus.

(Vv. 27-29.) Moreover, by baptism they had part in the profession of Christianity. Whether true believers or not, they had in baptism given up the ground of being Jews or Gentiles, slaves or freemen, and assumed the profession of Christianity and that they were united together as Christians. If then they were Christ's, they were Abraham's seed and heirs according to promise. Here, be it noted, the word "seed" is used in allusion to Genesis 11 :i. 5, where the seed refers to all that believe.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Galatians 3". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/galatians-3.html. 1832.