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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” (Matthew 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 4:0 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” (Romans 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” (Psalms 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” (Romans 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” (Matthew 11:28). “There remaineth therefore a rest (a true Sabbath-keeping) to the people of God” (Hebrews 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 Corinthians 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” (Leviticus 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 Corinthians 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 Corinthians 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” (Romans 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” (Galatians 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!” (Genesis 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” (Romans 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” (Romans 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” (Isaiah 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” (Matthew 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” (Zechariah 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 53:0, Psalms 22:0, Psalms 69:0, 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” (Philippians 3:20). And Abraham, we are told, “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 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 53:0. 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” (Isaiah 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.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Galatians 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29