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“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” (Ephesians 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” (Genesis 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” (Romans 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” (Romans 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” (Ephesians 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” (Romans 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” (Ezekiel 18:20). Therefore the law is well called “the ministration of death” and “the ministration of condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:9), 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” (Romans 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” (Ecclesiastes 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 3:0 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” (Romans 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” (Galatians 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” (Romans 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” (Habakkuk 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” (Romans 1:16-17). In the epistle to the Hebrews we have exactly the same words quoted, “The just shall live by faith” (Hebrews 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” (Genesis 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” (Romans 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” (Matthew 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” (Hebrews 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 Corinthians 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” (Romans 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” (Romans 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 4:0, 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. (Romans 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” (Romans 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” (Romans 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” (Romans 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” (Galatians 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” (Ezekiel 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” (Revelation 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” (Romans 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” (Ephesians 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.” [Romans 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” (Galatians 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.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Galatians 3". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26