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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-31

Galatians 4:1-3 . The heir, as long as he is a child, and a minor, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all. He is under guardians, till the year appointed by the will of his father. This allegory applies to the jews, who though they were the seed of Abraham, were still in their minority. Though they were the heirs, they were still under the law, till the appointed time should come. So we also have been under the elements of this world, subject to the laws of our nonage, and the rudiments of men.

Galatians 4:4-5 . When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, who had eternally subsisted in the bosom of the Father. He who led Jacob like a flock, foresaw that the dark and ruder ages were not prepared for the Messiah. He had said, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Isaiah 40:3. Those ages were enlightened by Hebrew schools, and by Grecian literature. The rough places were levelled by the Roman conquests, the scriptures were translated into Greek, synagogues were established, and proselytes to judaism were made in all the great cities of the empire. Add to these, that the weeks of Daniel were accomplished, the sceptre was departed from Judah, and all men were in expectation of the Messiah. The heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land having been shaken by the Roman wars, the Desire of all nations came in the Augustine age of universal peace.

By using the word προθεσμια , the time “appointed,” and the “fulness” of time, St. Paul had no doubt in view the chronological notices of the prophets, which confer lustre on the fidelity of God in sending his Son at the promised time. Habakkuk says, “The vision is yet for an appointed time:” Habakkuk 2:3. Daniel names “the latter days:” Daniel 10:14. These were the days when Jehovah, for whom the jews waited, should come to his temple. Malachi 3:1. The days when the new temple, built with living stones, should be exalted above the hills, and when all gentile nations should run to it, and be incorporated with the seed of Israel. This is the consequent conclusion, that the God of Abraham, who was faithful in calling Israel out of Egypt at the promised period, was equally faithful in sending his Son into the world, to redeem us from the bondage of servants, and give us the high prerogative of sons, being born of God. John 1:12.

Galatians 4:6 . Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts. The Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, is the river of life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 22:1-2. Having, on believing, received power to become the sons of God, which is confirmed by the will, the testament, and promises of the Father, the Spirit comes to testify what God has done. He gives the power to say what we could not say before, Abba Father, in all the glory of worship, and liberty of access to a throne of grace. 2 Corinthians 1:22. This Spirit is the earnest and pledge of our adoption. This earnest is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. It is a strong persuasion of God’s paternal love, and by consequence an assurance of our adoption. If that evidence be weak, for the Spirit diversifies his operations, let us still pray, “that he would pour into our hearts such love towards him, that we may love him above all things, and obtain the promises which exceed all that we can desire.” Collect for sixth Sunday after Trinity.

Galatians 4:9 . But now how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? The observance of hebrew and gentile feasts reputed holy, as though you had forgotten the glory of Christ, and the fulness of the gospel. This great master knew how to speak to men in error.

Galatians 4:13 . Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached to you at the first. See the notes on 2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 12:7.

Galatians 4:15 . Where is then the blessedness ye spake of, the love of which you once boasted. Where is now your love, your first love, when you would have given me your eyes? Think me not your enemy, because I tell you the truth. The figure of interrogation is the last power of eloquence.

Galatians 4:17-18 . They zealously affect you, but not well. The Greek seems obscure, the versions vary. The English is nearly as in Beza. Affectant enim vos non bene. They, the false apostles, affect you, but not rightly; they would exclude or seduce you from the faith. Dr. Hammond quotes here the king’s manuscript, which has υμας ; and he reads, “they woo you very earnestly.” Then the sense will be, that the judaizing teachers wheedle you with beguiling arguments, to draw you away from the hope of the gospel. But, on the contrary, it is good to be zealously affected always in a good cause; and not only when I am present with you.

Galatians 4:19 . My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, to see in you all the christian temper which I once saw. I feel the same anxiety for your restoration to the simplicity of the gospel which I formerly felt for your conversion. Listen no more to the voice of seducers, turn a deaf ear to their words, that brotherly love may again glow in your hearts. The seducers want to make you all bloody Ishmaels, instead of pious Isaacs, and revive the strife which disturbed the house of Abraham.

Galatians 4:22 . It is written, that Abraham had two sons. The one according to the flesh, the other according to promise. These things are an allegory, or continuation of metaphors. This he proves from the bondage of sin under the old covenant, and the liberation from sin under the new. He had authority to say that the rock of Horeb was a figure of Christ, and that the manna indicated heavenly food for the soul, ideas much improved by the marrow and fatness of the prophets, and by their present allusion to Christ as the rock of ages. See the Reflections below.

Galatians 4:28 . We, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. The great divisions in the province of Galatia, had grieved and wounded the spirit of St. Paul beyond all that had ever happened to him. He wished that the judaizing teachers were even cut off that had troubled them. Those teachers had pleaded the prophecies as all the rabbins still do, that the gentiles were to be proselyted to judaism. These arguments the apostle here rebuts by affirming, that the spiritual Jerusalem is the mother of us all. Her sons are heirs, not of Jerusalem about to be destroyed, but of the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. He resumes the subject in a very decided manner, in Hebrews 12:22-29. Those ministers of our own times, and of our own nation, who plead for the unqualified return of the jews to Jerusalem, had better weigh St. Paul’s arguments. Do not certain sermons tend to retard the conversion of that interesting nation, now wandering on the face of the earth, by holding out to them a hope that they are to be gathered to their own land in a state of unbelief; and when besieged by infidel powers, they are to be delivered, and converted by the personal appearance of Christ, who shall destroy all their enemies. If those ideas are founded in truth, how can we expect any conversions among that nation till the appointed time? Can we wish the jews a greater calamity than a present return to a barren land? St. Paul’s words are, “If they abide not still in unbelief, God is able to graft them in.”


The subject is here continued, and the contrast between the bondage of the jew, and the liberty of the christian, is illustrated by a divine wisdom.

The jewish church is compared to an heir in his minority, being in a state of ignorance and imperfection. But from this bondage Christ has redeemed us in every view. He was made of a woman to redeem us from the bondage of the flesh; and he became a curse, that he might free us from punishment, and give us the adoption, described in Romans 8:15-17; and in due time he will give the inheritance to all the faithful seed.

To this liberty St. Paul invites the churches of Galatia to return. Brethren, be ye as I am; believers in Christ only, both for righteousness and life; and he enforces this return to the simple, unencumbered, and glorious faith of Christ, by a recollection of their former love.

The best confirmation of a christian is to have the heart established with grace, or Christ formed in us the hope of glory. This consists in a lively faith, in pure and universal love, in daily intercourse and communion with God, and in an entire devotedness to all his pleasure, whether it be to do or to suffer.

The ingenious reference to the allegory of Sarah and Hagar, however mortifying to the unbelieving jew, is certainly a most apt illustration of the christian liberty. It is comprised in seven views. The two covenants, the law of faith, and the law of works, the one being legal shadows, the other being substance from above. Hagar, a bondwoman, whose name signifies a rock, and is aptly figurative of Sinai; and Sarah, who was free, and a figure of Jerusalem above, and the mother of us all. Ishmael, son of the bondwoman, was born according to the flesh, without any particular promise; but Isaac was born by faith, his mother being barren, and his father very old. Now, as Abraham staggered not through unbelief, so by faith we become children of Abraham, and heirs of the inheritance. Next, the law was given on Sinai, a yoke which was severe to the flesh; but the gospel was preached from heaven, with liberty to the captives, and a jubilee of goodwill to men. The nation which received the ceremonial yoke at Sinai removed with that yoke to Jerusalem; but believers, being delivered from the spirit of bondage, are born ( anothen) from above, as the Greek is. John 3:3. They are therefore the children of mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Hebrews 12:22. In these covenants, circumcision, so bloody and revolting to the wife of Moses, is superseded by baptism. So St. Paul has said. Colossians 2:13. Ye are circumcised with the circumcision of Christ, buried with him by baptism into death. This is followed by the circumcision of the heart, and a spiritual worship. Thus the grand scheme of man’s redemption flows from the throne of God; and returning back to its source, it is lost in love, lost in sanctity, and lost in God. We have therefore no more to do with the frail and beggarly elements of this world; for such are the grosser services of the ritual law.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Galatians 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/galatians-4.html. 1835.
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