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Galatians 4

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Verses 1-7


Galatians 4:1. The heir, as long as he is a child.—An infant, one under age. Differeth nothing from a servant.—A slave. He is not at his own disposal. He could not perform any act but through his legal representative.

Galatians 4:2. Under tutors and governors.—Controllers of his person and property.

Galatians 4:3. Under the elements of the world.—The rudimentary religious teaching of a non-religious character. The elementary lessons of outward things.

Galatians 4:4. God sent forth His Son.—Sent forth out of heaven from Himself. Implies the pre-existence of the Son. Made of a woman.—Made to be born of a woman. Indicating a special interposition of God in His birth as man. Made under the law.—By His Father’s appointment and His own free will, subject to the law, to keep it all, ceremonial and moral, for us, as the Representative Man, and to suffer and exhaust the full penalty of our violation of it.

Galatians 4:5. The adoption of sons.—Receive as something destined or due. Herein God makes of sons of men sons of God, inasmuch as God made of the Son of God the Son of man (Augustine).

Galatians 4:6. Abba, Father.—Abba is the Chaldee for father. The early use of it illustrates what Paul has been saying (Galatians 3:28) of the unity resulting from the gospel; for Abba, Father, unites Hebrew and Greek on one lip, making the petitioner at once a Jew and a Gentile.


The Nonage of the Pre-Christian World.

I. Mankind in pre-Christian times was like the heir in his minority.

1. In a state of temporary servitude, though having great expectations. “The heir differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors” (Galatians 4:1-2). Under the Old Testament the bond-servant had this in common with a son, that he was a recognised member of the family; and the son had this in common with the slave, that he was in servitude, but with this difference, the servitude of the son was evanescent, that of the slave was permanent. The heirship is by right of birth, but possession and enjoyment can be reached only by passing through servitude and attaining majority. The minor is in the hands of guardians who care for his person and mental training, and of stewards who manage his estate. So the world, though possessing the promise of great blessing, was held for ages in the servitude of the law.

2. Subject to the restraint of external ordinances.—“Were in bondage under the elements of the world” (Galatians 4:3). The commandments and ordinances imposed by the law belonged to an early and elementary period. In their infantile externalism they stand contrasted with the analogous things of the new dispensation, in which the believer is a grown man who casts away childish things. The Mosaic system watched over and guarded the infancy of the world. It exacted a rigid obedience to its mandates, and in doing so trained mankind to see and feel the need and appreciate the rich inheritance of the covenant of grace. Mosaism rendered invaluable service to Christianity. It safe-guarded the writings that contained promises of future blessings, and educated the race throughout the period of its nonage.

II. The matured sonship of mankind is accomplished through redemption.

1. The Redeemer is divinely provided and of the highest dignity. “God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4). The mystical Germans speak of Christ as the ideal Son of man, the foretype of humanity; and there is a sense in which mankind was created in Christ Jesus, who is “the image of God, the firstborn of every creature.” But the apostle refers here to a loftier dignity belonging to Christ. He came in the character of God’s Son, bringing His sonship with Him. The Word, who became flesh, was with God, was God, in the beginning. The divine Son of God was sent forth into the world by the all-loving Father to be the Redeemer of mankind and to put an end to the world’s servitude.

2. The Redeemer assumes the nature and condition of those He redeems.—“Made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Galatians 4:4-5). Christ was born of woman as other men are, and, like them, was at first a weak and dependent babe. His child-life has for ever beautified and consecrated child-nature. He was born under law—not the law as a mere Jew, which would have limited His redeeming work to the Jewish nation, but under law in its widest application. He submitted not only to the general moral demands of the divine law for men, but to all the duties and proprieties incident to His position as a man, even to those ritual ordinances which His coming was to abolish. The purpose of His being sent was “to redeem them that were under the law”—to buy them out of their bondage. He voluntarily entered into the condition of the enslaved that He might emancipate them.

3. The sonship acquired through redemption is not by merit or legal right, but by adoption.—“That we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:5). The sonship is by grace, not of nature. Man lost his sonship by sin; by grace he gets it back again. Adoption we do not get back; we simply receive it. It is an act of God’s free grace.

III. The attainment of sonship is a conscious reality.

1. Made evident by the Spirit of God witnessing in us and crying to Him as to a Father. “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). God sent forth His Son into the world of men: He sent forth the Spirit of His Son into their individual hearts. The filial consciousness was born within them, supernaturally inspired. When they believed in Christ, when they saw in Him the Son of God, their Redeemer, they were stirred with a new ecstatic impulse; a divine glow of love and joy kindled in their breasts; a voice not their own spoke to their spirit; their soul leaped forth upon their lips, crying to God, “Father, Father!” They were children of God, and knew it.

2. Confirmed by the heirship that results from the divine adoption.—“If a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Galatians 4:7). The nonage, the period of servitude and subjection, is passed. It gives place to the unrivalled privilege of a maturer spiritual manhood, and the heirship to an inheritance of indescribable and imperishable blessedness.


1. The law held the world in bondage.

2. The gospel is a message of liberty by redemption.

3. Redemption by Christ confers distinguished privileges.


Galatians 4:4-5. Christ’s Mission for the Adoption of Sons in the Fulness of Time.

I. The mission of Jesus Christ and the manner in which He manifested Himself.—“God sent forth His Son.” These words present the great fact of Christ’s mission from the Father and His appearance in the world. To denote the inexpressible dignity of Jesus, as being one with the Father in His most essential prerogatives and perfections, He is here styled, “His Son.” He was “made of a woman.” The circumstances of His incarnation placed Him at an immeasurable distance from all other parts of the human race. He was the immediate production of God, by His divine power He was conceived of the Holy Ghost, and thereby completely exempted from the taint of original sin. He was the holy thing born of a virgin. He was by constitution placed in the same state as our first parents. He underwent a similar but severer trial, and maintained His innocence against all the assaults of Satan. He was “made under the law”; whereas all other creatures are under it by the very terms of their existence, by the condition of their nature. He was made under the ceremonial law, under the moral law, under the mediatorial law.

II. The design of Christ’s mission.—“To redeem.” He came not merely to exemplify a rule of life, but to satisfy its violation; not to explain the statutes of heaven, but to pay the penalty arising from the curse announced against their transgression. He came essentially to change the moral situation of mankind. Christ has added to our original brightness; He has not only redeemed us from the first transgression, but accumulated blessings which man, even in innocence, could never have obtained.

III. The fitness of the season at which Christ was manifested.—“The fulness of time.”

1. It was the period foretold by the prophets. Hence the general expectation of His coming.
2. It was a period of advancement in politics, legislation, science and arts, and manners; an age of scepticism.
3. It was a period of toleration. The epoch will arrive when this world shall be thought of as nothing but as it furnished a stage for the manifestation of the Son of God.—Robert Hall.

Galatians 4:4. The Fulness of the Time.—Christ comes when a course of preparation, conducted through previous ages, was at last complete. He was not the creation of His own or any preceding age. What is true of all other great men, who are no more than great men, is not true of Him. They receive from their age as much as they give it; they embody and reflect its spirit. Christ really owed nothing to the time or the country which welcomed His advent.

I. The world was prepared politically for Christ’s work.—There was a common language—the Greek; a common government—the Roman.

II. There was a preparation in the convictions of mankind.—The epoch of religious experiments had been closed in an epoch of despair.

III. There was a preparation in the moral experience of mankind.—The dreadful picture of the pagan world which St. Paul draws at the close of the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans is not a darker picture than that of pagan writers—of moralists like Seneca, of satirists like Juvenal, of historians like Tacitus; and yet enough survived of moral truth in the human conscience to condemn average pagan practice. It led them to yearn for a deliverer, although their aspirations were indefinite enough. This widespread corruption, this longing for better things, marked the close of the epoch of moral experiments.


1. The earthly life of Christ stood in a totally different relation towards moral truth from that of every other man.

2. It was a life at harmony with itself and a revelation of higher truth.

3. His incarnation delivers us from false views of the world and of life, from base and desponding views of our human nature, and from bondage.—H. P. Liddon.

Christ Obedient to the Law.

I. This obedience was not a matter of course, following upon His incarnation. He might have lived and died, had it been consistent with His high purpose, in sinless purity, without expressly undertaking as He did openly to fulfil the law. It was a voluntary act, becoming and fit for the great work He had in hand.

II. This obedience was not only an integral but also a necessary part of His work of redemption.—Had this not been so, redemption would have been incomplete. Not only God’s unwritten law in the conscience, but God’s written law in the tables of stone, must be completely satisfied. It being shown, by both Gentile and Jew, that neither by nature nor by revealed light was man capable of pleasing God, all men were left simply and solely dependent on His free and unmerited grace. All cases of guilt must be covered, all situations of disobedience taken up and borne and carried triumphantly out into perfection and accordance with the Father’s will, by the Son of God in our flesh.

III. This obedience for man was to be not only complete, so that Christ should stand in the root of our nature as the accepted man, but was to be our pattern, that as He was holy so we might be holy also.

IV. This obedience arose from the requirements of His office connected with the law.—He was the end of the law. It all pointed to Him. Its types and ceremonies all found fulfilment in His person and work. All has been fulfilled. All looked forward to One that was to come—to one who has come, and in His own person has superseded that law by exhausting its requirements, has glorified that law by filling out and animating with spiritual life its waste and barren places. So that God has not changed, nor has His purpose wavered, nor are His people resting on other than their old foundation.—Dean Alford.

Galatians 4:5. Under the Law

I. As the rule of life.—Thus angels are under the law, Adam was before his fall, and the saints in heaven are so now. None yield more subjection to the law than they, and this subjection is their liberty.

II. As a grievous yoke which none can bear.

1. It bound the Church of the Old Testament to the observance of many and costly ceremonies.
2. It binds every offender to everlasting death.
3. It is a yoke as it increases sin and is the strength of it. The wicked nature of man is the more to do a thing the more he is forbidden.—Perkins.


I. In what adoption consists.

1. The points of resemblance between natural and spiritual adoption.
(1) We cease to have our former name, and are designated after the name of God.
(2) We change our abode. Once in the world, now in the Church and family of God.
(3) We change our costume. Conform to the family dress: garments of salvation.
2. The points of difference between natural and spiritual adoption.
(1) Natural adoption was to supply a family defect. God had hosts of children.
(2) Natural adoption was only of sons. No distinction in God’s adoption.
(3) In natural adoption there was only a change of condition. God makes His children partakers of His own nature.
(4) In natural adoption only one was adopted, but God adopts multitudes.
(5) In natural adoption only temporal advantages were derived, but in spiritual the blessings are eternal.

II. Signs of adoption.

1. Internal signs. Described in Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:14 to Romans 16:2. External signs.

(1) Language;
(2) Profession;
(3) Obedience.

III. Privileges of adoption.

1. Deliverance from the miseries of our natural state.
2. Investiture into all the benefits of Christ’s family.
3. A title to the celestial inheritance.


1. The importance of the blessing.

2. Seek the good of God’s family.

3. Invite strangers to become sons and heirs of God.—Sketches.

Adoption and its Claims.—Among the American Indians when a captive was saved to be adopted in the place of some chieftain who had fallen, his allegiance and his identity were looked upon as changed. If he left a wife and children behind him, they were to be forgotten and blotted from memory. He stood in the place of the dead warrior, assumed his responsibilities, was supposed to cherish those whom he had cherished and hate those whom he had hated; in fact, he was supposed to stand in the same relation of consanguinity to the tribe.—Bancroft.

Galatians 4:6-7. Evidences of Sonship.

I. The presence of the Spirit in the heart.

1. The beginning of our new birth is in the heart, when a new light is put into the mind, a new and heavenly disposition into the will and affection.
2. The principal part of our renovation is in the heart where the Spirit abides.
3. The beginning and principal part of God’s worship is in the heart.
4. Keep watch and ward about thy heart, that it may be a fit place of entertainment for the Spirit, who is an Ambassador sent from God to thee.

II. The work of the Spirit.

1. Bestowing conviction that the Scriptures are the word of God.
2. Submission to God and a desire to obey Him.
3. The testimony of the Spirit—a divine manner of reasoning framed in the mind—that we are God’s children.
4. Peace of conscience, joy, and affiance in God.

III. The desires of the heart directed towards God.

1. Our cries are to be directed to God with reverence.
2. With submission to His will.
3. With importunity and constancy.—Perkins.

The Character and Privileges of the Children of God.

I. The distinguishing characteristic of the children of God.

1. It is a spirit of filial confidence as opposed to servile fear. No unpardoned sinner has a sufficient ground of confidence in God. Till assured that God loves him, he knows not how God may treat him at any particular time. But we cannot believe that God loves us and at the same time doubt His mercy. He that heartily reposes on God’s favour cannot dread His vengeance.

2. This filial spirit is one of holy love as opposed to the bondage of sin.—The love of God is a powerful element well calculated to change the whole of our inner man. It gives a new bias to our wayward affections and a healthful vigour to every good desire.

3. The filial spirit is one of ready obedience as opposed to the gloomy spirit of servitude.—The service of a slave is unwilling, extorted, unsatisfactory; the obedience of a child is ready, loving, energetic. Love is self-denying, soul-absorbing, devoted.

II. Some of the distinguishing privileges of the children of God.

1. The child of God has a part in the Father’s love and care.

2. Has a filial resemblance to the heavenly Father.

3. Children of God have the privileges of family communion and fellowship.

4. Have a share in the family provisions.

5. Have a title to the future inheritance.—Robert M. Macbrair.

Galatians 4:7. God’s Offspring.—

1. This is the state of all poor heathen, whether in England or foreign countries: they are children, ignorant and unable to take care of themselves, because they do not know what they are. Paul tells them they are God’s offspring, though they know it not. He does not mean that we are not God’s children till we find out that we are God’s children. You were God’s heirs all along, although you differed nothing from slaves; for as long as you were in heathen ignorance and foolishness God had to treat you as His slaves, not as His children. They thought that God did not love them, that they must buy His favours. They thought religion meant a plan for making God love them.

2. Then appeared the love of God in Jesus Christ, who told men of their heavenly Father. He preached to them the good news of the kingdom of God, that God had not forgotten them, did not hate them, would freely forgive them all that was past; and why? Because He was their Father, and loved them so that He spared not His only begotten Son. And now God looks at us in the light of Jesus Christ. He does not wish us to remain merely His child, under tutors and governors, forced to do what is right outwardly and whether it likes or not. God wishes each of us to become His son, His grown-up and reasonable Song of Song of Solomon 3:0. It is a fearful thing to despise the mercies of the living God, and when you are called to be His sons to fall back under the terrors of His law in slavish fear and a guilty conscience and remorse which cannot repent. He has told you to call Him your Father; and if you speak to Him in any other way, you insult Him and trample underfoot the riches of His grace. You are not God’s slaves, but His sons, heirs of God and joint-heirs of Christ. What an inheritance of glory and bliss that must be which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is to inherit with us—an inheritance of all that is wise, loving, noble, holy, peaceful, all that can make us happy and like God Himself.—C. Kingsley.

Verses 8-11


Galatians 4:9. How turn ye again [anew]?—Making a new beginning in religion, lapsing from Christianity just in as far as they embrace legalism. To the weak and beggarly elements.—Weak is contrasted with power as to effects, and beggarly with affluence in respect of gifts. The disparaging expression is applied; not to the ritualistic externalism of heathen religions, but rather to that God-given system of ritualistic ordinances which had served the Church in her infancy. That which was appropriate food for a babe or sick man is feeble and poor for a grown man in full health.


Legalism a Relapse.

I. Legalism is no advance on heathenism—“When ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods” (Galatians 4:8). Paganism was an elaborate system of formalism. The instinct of worship led men to sacrifice to imaginary deities—gods which were no gods. Ignorant of the true God, they multiplied deities of their own. The Galatian pagans created a strange Pantheon. There were their old, weird Celtic deities before whom our British forefathers trembled. On this ancestral faith had been superimposed the frantic rites of the Phrygian mother Cebele, with her mutilated priests, and the more genial and humanistic cultus of the Greek Olympian gods. The oppressive rites of legalism were little better than the heathen ritual. Religion degenerated into a meaningless formality. Dickens describes how in Genoa he once witnessed a great festa on the hill behind the house, when the people alternately danced under tents in the open air and rushed to say a prayer or two in an adjoining church bright with red and gold and blue and silver—so many minutes of dancing and of praying in regular turns of each.

II. Legalism, to converted heathen, is a disastrous relapse.—“After ye have known God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements?… Ye observe days and months and times and years” (Galatians 4:9-10). The heathen in their blindness and ignorance might be excused, and ritualism, even to the Jews before the coming of the Messiah, might be well enough; but for Christians, who had received ampler knowledge and been illumined by the Holy Spirit, to return to the weak and beggarly elements, was irrational, monstrous! Having tasted the sweets of liberty, what folly to submit again to slavery! having reached spiritual manhood, how childish to degenerate! Legalism destroys the life of religion, and leaves only a mass of petrified forms. In his Stones of Venice, Ruskin says: “There is no religion in any work of Titian’s; there is not even the smallest evidence of religious temper or sympathies either in himself or those for whom he painted. His larger sacred themes are merely for the exhibition of pictorial rhetoric—composition and colour. His minor works are generally made subordinate to purposes of portraiture. The Madonna in the Frari church is a mere lay figure, introduced to form a link of connection between the portraits of various members of the Pesaro family who surround her. Bellini was brought up in faith; Titian in formalism. Between the years of their births the vital religion of Venice had expired.”

III. A relapse to legalism is an occasion of alarm to the earnest Christian teacher.—“I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Galatians 4:11). The apostle knew something of the fickleness of the Galatians and of the weakness of human nature, but was hardly prepared for such a collapse of the work which he had built up with so much anxiety and care. He saw, more clearly than they, the peril of his converts, and the prospect of their further defection filled him with alarm and grief. It meant the loss of advantages gained, of precious blessings enjoyed, of peace, of character, of influence for good. It is a painful moment when the anxious Christian worker has to mourn over failure in any degree.


1. Legalism suppresses all religious growth.

2. Is a constant danger to the holiest.

3. Shows the necessity for earnest vigilance and prayer.


Galatians 4:8-11. The Dilemma of Turn-coats.

I. Their first condition was one of ignorance.

1. Ignorance of God.

(1) The light of nature is imperfect, because we know by it only some few and general things of God.
(2) It is weak, because it serves only to cut off excuse, and is not sufficient to direct us in the worship of God.
(3) It is a great and grievous sin.
2. Idolatry.—

(1) When that which is not God is placed and worshipped in the room of the true God.
(2) When men acknowledge the true God, but do not conceive Him as He will be conceived, and as He has revealed Himself.
(3) What a man loves most, cares for most, and delights in most, that is his God. Where the heart is, there is thy God.

II. Their changed condition is the knowledge of God in Christ.

1. This is a special knowledge whereby we must acknowledge God to be our God in Christ.
2. This knowledge must be not confused, but distinct.
(1) We must acknowledge God in respect of His presence in all places.
(2) In respect of His particular providence over us.
(3) In respect of His will in all things to be done and suffered.
3. This knowledge must be an effectual and lively knowledge, working in us new affections, and inclinations.

III. Their revolt is an abandonment of salvation.—It is an exchange of knowledge for ignorance, of the substance for the shadow, of reality for emptiness—a return to weak and beggarly elements. It is the substitution of ceremonies for genuine worship.

IV. The conduct of turn-coats is an occasion of ministerial disappointment and alarm (Galatians 4:11).—Work that is in vain in respect of men is not so before God.—Perkins.

Galatians 4:8-9. Ignorance of God a Spiritual Bondage.—

1. However nature’s light may serve to make known there is a God and that He ought to be served, it is nothing else but ignorance, as it leaves us destitute of the knowledge of God in Christ, without which there is no salvation.
2. Men are naturally inclined to feign some representation of the Godhead by things which incur in the outward senses, from which they easily advance to give divine worship unto those images and representations.
3. Though the Levitical ceremonies were once to be religiously observed as a part of divine worship leading to Christ, yet when the false teachers did urge them as a part of necessary commanded worship, or as a part of their righteousness before God, the apostle is bold to give them the name of “weak and beggarly elements.”
4. People may advance very far in the way of Christianity, and yet make a foul retreat afterwards in the course of defection and apostasy.—Fergusson.

Galatians 4:9-10. God’s Sabbatic Law antedated the Mosaic Law.—And whatever of legal bondage had been linked with the observance of the Jewish Sabbath was eliminated together with the change to the first day of the week. This at once removes the Lord’s Day from the category of days, and also of weak and beggarly elements. The mode of observance is learned from the Lord’s words, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” which at the same time imply, when rightly understood, the perpetual necessity for a Sabbath.—Lange.

Galatians 4:11. Ministerial Anxiety

1. Prompts to earnest efforts in imparting the highest spiritual truths.
2. Looks for corresponding results in consistency of character and conduct.
3. Is grieved with the least indications of religious failure.

Verses 12-20


Galatians 4:12. Be as I am, for I am as ye are.—Paul had become as a Gentile, though he was once a passionate Jew. Their natural leanings towards Judaism they ought to sacrifice as well as he.

Galatians 4:13. Ye know how through infirmity of flesh I preached.—The weakness may have been general debility, resulting from great anxieties and toils. It has been supposed that Paul was feeble-eyed, or blear-eyed (Acts 22:6), and that this special weakness had been aggravated at the time now in question.

Galatians 4:17. They zealously affect you, but not well.—They keenly court you, but not honourably. They would exclude you—from everything and every one whose influence would tend to bring the Galatians back to loyalty to the gospel.

Galatians 4:20. I desire to be present with you, and to change my voice.—To speak not with the stern tones of warning, but with tender entreaties. I stand in doubt of you.—I am sorely perplexed, nonplussed, bewildered, as if not knowing how to proceed.


The Pleadings of an Anxious Teacher with his Pupils in Peril.

I. He reminds them of the enthusiastic attachment of former days.

1. Urges them to exercise the same freedom as he himself claimed. “Be as I am; for I am as ye are” (Galatians 4:12). Though himself a Jew, Paul had assumed no airs of superiority, and did not separate himself from his Gentile brethren; he became as one of them. He asks them to exercise a similar liberty; and lest they should fear he would have a grudge against them because of their relapse, he hastens to assure them, “Ye have not injured [wronged] me at all” (Galatians 4:12).

2. Recalls their extravagant expression of admiration on their first reception of his teaching.—“Ye know how through infirmity I preached at the first. My temptation ye despised not; but received me as an angel of God.… Ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me” (Galatians 4:13-15). His physical weakness, which might have moved the contempt of others, elicited the sympathy of the warm-hearted Galatians. They listened with eagerness and wonder to the gospel he preached. The man, with his humiliating infirmity, was lost in the charm of his message. They were thankful that, though his sickness was the reason of his being detained among them, it was the opportunity of their hearing the gospel. Had he been an angel from heaven, or Jesus Christ Himself, they could not have welcomed him more rapturously. They would have made any sacrifice to assure him of their regard and affection.

3. Shows he was not less their friend because he rebuked them.—“Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16). And now they rush, with Gallic-like fickleness, to the opposite extreme. Because he attacks the new fancies with which they have become enamoured, and probes them with some wholesome and unwelcome truths, they imagine he has become their enemy. Not so; he is but using the privilege of a true and faithful friend.

II. He warns them against the seductive tactics of false teachers.

1. Their zealous flattery was full of danger. “They zealously affect you, but not well; they would exclude you” (Galatians 4:17). They are courting you, these present suitors for your regard, dishonourably; they want to shut us out and have you to themselves, that you may pay court to them. They pretend to be zealous for your interests; but it is their own they seek. They would exclude you from all opportunities of salvation—yea, from Christ Himself. The flatterer should be always suspected. The turning away from sound doctrine goes hand in hand with a predilection for such teachers as tickle the car, while they teach only such things as correspond to the sinful inclinations of the hearers.

2. Though genuine zeal is commendable.—“It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing” (Galatians 4:18). Christian zeal must be seen not only to correspond and to be adapted to the intellect, but must also be in harmony with the highest and profoundest sentiments of our nature. It must not be exhibited in the dry, pedantic divisions of a scholastic theology; nor must it be set forth and tricked out in the light drapery of an artificial rhetoric, in prettiness of style, in measured sentences, with an insipid floridness, and in the form of elegantly feeble essays. No; it must come from the soul in the language of earnest conviction and strong feeling.

III. He pleads with the tender solicitude of a spiritual parent.—“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, … I desire to be present with you, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you” (Galatians 4:19-20). As a mother, fearful of losing the affection of her children for whom she has suffered so much, the apostle appeals to his converts in tones of pathetic persuasion. His heart is wrung with anguish as he sees the peril of his spiritual children, and he breaks out into tender and impassioned entreaty. And yet he is perplexed by the attitude they have taken, and as if uncertain of the result of his earnest expostulations. The preacher has to learn to be patient as well as zealous.


1. Strong emotions and warm affections are no guarantee for the permanence of religious life.

2. How prone are those who have put themselves in the wrong to fix the blame on others.

3. Men of the Galatian type are the natural prey of self-seeking agitators.


Galatians 4:12. Christian Brotherhood.—Here is.

1. A loving compellation—“Brethren.”
2. A submissive address by way of comprecation—“I beseech you.”
3. A request most reasonable—“Be ye as I am; for I am as ye are.”
4. A wise and prudent preoccupation or prevention which removes all obstructions and forestalls those jealousies, those surmises and groundless suspicions, which are the bane of charity and the greatest enemies to peace. “Ye have not injured me at all.”

I. Nature herself hath made all men brethren.

1. This may serve to condemn all those who look upon men under other consideration than as men, or view them in any other shape than as brethren. And the very name of man and of brother should be an amulet for all mankind against the venom of iniquity and injustice.

2. By this light of nature we may condemn ourselves when any bitterness towards our brother riseth in our hearts, and allay or rather root it out as inhuman and unnatural. None can dishonour us more than ourselves do, when one man hath trodden down another as the clay in the streets, when we think ourselves great men by making our brethren little, when we contemn and despise, hate and persecute them.

II. Brethren as Christians professing the same faith.—There is such a brotherhood that neither error nor sin nor injury can break and dissolve it.

1. Men may err and yet be brethren.—We may be divided in opinion and yet united in charity. Consider the difficulty of finding out truth in all things and avoiding error, that our brother may err rather from want of light than out of malice and wilfully, and conceive it possible we may err as foully as others.

2. Men may sin and yet be brethren.—Charity, because she may err, nay, because she must err, looks upon every Christian as a brother. If he err, she is a guide to him; if he sin, she is a physician; if he fall, she strives to lift him up, being a light to the blind and a staff to the weak.

3. Men may injure each other and yet be brethren.—Socrates, being overcome in judgment, professed he had no reason to be angry with his enemies unless it were for this, that they conceived and believed they had hurt him. Indeed, no injury can be done by a brother to a brother. The injury is properly done to God, who reserves all power of revenge to Himself. “If a brother strike us,” said Chrysostom, “kiss his hand; if he would destroy us, our revenge should be to save him.” Nazianzen said to the young man who was suborned to kill him, “Christ forgive thee, who hath also forgiven me and died to save me.”


1. Brotherly love is pleasant and delightful.

2. Profitable and advantageous.

3. So necessary that it had been better for us never to have been than not to love the brethren.—A. Farindon.

Galatians 4:13-15. Love for the Preacher

I. Notwithstanding the physical infirmity of the messenger (Galatians 4:13).

II. Generates the loftiest esteem for his character and abilities (Galatians 4:14).

III. Is often expressed in exaggerated terms (Galatians 4:15).

Galatians 4:14. The Authority of the Messenger of God.

I. He is to be heard even as Christ Himself, because in preaching he is the mouth of God.

II. Here we see the goodness of God, who does not speak to us in His majesty, but appoints men in His stead, who are His ambassadors.

III. There must be fidelity in teachers.—They stand in the stead of Christ, and must deliver only that which they know to be the will of Christ.

IV. They must have especial care of holiness of life.

V. The people are to hear their teachers with reverence, as if they would hear the angels or Christ Himself.

VI. The comfort of the ministry is as sure as if an angel came down from heaven, or Christ Himself, to comfort us.—Perkins.

Galatians 4:16. The Right Mode of giving and receiving Reproof.—Should it be esteemed the part of a friend faithfully to tell men the truth? and should the suppression of truth and the substitution of its opposite be hold to mark the character of an enemy? How often has the amicable state of feeling been broken up by telling the truth, even when done in a proper spirit and manner!

I. What would you wish your friend to be?

1. Sincere.
2. That he should take a very general interest in my welfare and be desirous to promote it.
3. A person of clear, sound, discriminating judgment, and with a decided preference in all things.
4. That he should not be a man full of self-complacency, a self-idolater, but observant and severe towards his own errors and defects.
5. A man who would include me expressly in his petitions, praying that I may be delivered from those evils which he perceives in me, and God far more clearly.
6. Such that, as the last result of my communications with him, a great deal of what may be defective and wrong in me shall have been disciplined away.

II. Why do we regard a friend as an enemy because he tells us the truth?

1. Because plain truth, by whatever voice, must say many things that are displeasing.
2. Because there is a want of the real earnest desire to be in all things set right.
3. Because there is pride, reacting against a fellow-mortal and fellow-sinner.
4. Because there is not seldom a real difference of judgment on the matters in question.
5. Because there is an unfavourable opinion or surmise as to the motives of the teller of truth.

III. How should reproof be administered?

1. Those who do this should well exercise themselves to understand what they speak of.
2. It should be the instructor’s aim that the authority may be conveyed in the truth itself, and not seem to be assumed by him as the speaker of it.
3. He should watch to select favourable times and occasions.

IV. How should reproof be received?

1. By cultivating a disposition of mind which earnestly desires the truth, in whatever manner it may come to us.
2. There have been instances in which a friend, silent when he should have spoken, has himself afterwards received the reproof for not having done so from the person whom he declined to admonish.
3. If there be those so painfully and irritably susceptible as to be unwilling to hear corrective truth from others, how strong is the obligation that they should look so much the more severely to themselves.—John Foster.

Galatians 4:18. Zeal.

I. Various kinds of zeal.

1. There is a zeal of God which is not according to knowledge.
2. There is a mistaken zeal for the glory of God.
(1) When that is opposed which is right, under a false notion of its being contrary to the glory of God.
(2) When ways and methods improper are taken to defend and promote the glory of God.
(3) There is a superstitious zeal, such as was in Baal’s worshippers, who cut themselves with knives and lancets; particularly in the Athenians, who were wholly given to idolatry; and the Jews, who were zealous of the traditions of the fathers.
(4) There is a persecuting zeal, under a pretence of the glory of God.
(5) There is a hypocritical zeal for God, as in the Pharisees, who made a show of great zeal for piety, by their long prayers, when they only sought to destroy widows’ houses by that means.
(6) There is a contentious zeal, which often gives great trouble to Christian communities.
(7) True zeal is no other than a fervent, ardent love to God and Christ, and a warm concern for their honour and glory.

II. The objects of zeal.

1. The object of it is God. The worship of God, who must be known, or He cannot be worshipped aright.
2. The cause of Christ is another object of zeal. The gospel of Christ; great reason there is to be zealous for that, since it is the gospel of the grace of God.
3. The ordinances of Christ, which every true Christian should be zealous for, that they be kept as they were first delivered, without any innovation or corruption.
4. The discipline of Christ’s house should be the object of our zeal.
5. True zeal is concerned in all the duties of religion and shows itself in them.

III. Motives exciting to the exercise of true zeal.

1. The example of Christ.
2. True zeal answers a principal end of the redemption of Christ.
3. It is good, the apostle says, to be zealously affected in and for that which is good.
4. A lukewarm temper, which is the opposite to zeal, seems not consistent with true religion, which has always life and heat in it.
5. The zeal of persons shown in a false way should stimulate the professors of the true religion to show at least an equal zeal.—Pulpit Assistant.

Christian Zeal—

I. Implies unwavering steadfastness of purpose.

II. Universal and hearty obedience to God’s commands in all things, small as well as great.

III. Supreme devotion of heart and life to Christ.

IV. Should be exercised in a good thing.—True zeal seeks benevolent ends by lawful means, else it is fanaticism. It seeks practical ends by wise means, else it is enthusiasm. Zeal should be shown in active and useful devotion to the cause of religion, rather than in excitement and warm devotional exercise.

V. Should be uniform, not periodical.—It should not depend upon the fluctuations of feeling, but should act upon principle. Periodical fervours are deceitful, dangerous, injurious, dishonourable to religion. They are commonly a proof of superficial piety, or of none at all.—Stephen Olin.

Godly Zeal and its Counterfeits.

I. Let us distinguish between mere natural zeal and spiritual ardour.

1. There is a zeal of sympathy which is awakened by the zeal of others with whom we associate. It is only that of the soldier who, though himself a coward, is urged on to battle by the example of those around him.

2. There is constitutional zeal, a warmth, an ardour, which enters into all we say or do, which pervades all our actions and animates all our services. This is not strictly religious but animal excitement, and is no more allied to our soul-life than our arms or our feet.

3. There is a zeal which is merely sentimental. It throws a romantic glamour over our objects; but its exercises are too occasional, too random, to produce much effect.

4. There is a zeal of affectation like that of Jehu (2 Kings 10:16). This is religious foppery and hypocritical vanity.

5. Christian zeal is a fair demonstration of what is felt within. It seeks not the eye of man, but acts under the conviction of God’s omniscience.

II. Consider the objects to which Christian zeal should be directed.—This “good thing” may be taken as including all true religion, and embracing:

1. The promotion of God’s glory.
2. The extension of Christ’s kingdom.
3. The salvation of men.
4. The conversion of the world.

III. The good that results from the exercise of Christian zeal to the persons that possess it.

1. It renders them more Christ-like.
2. It furthers the divine designs in the most effective way.
3. We become worthy followers of the great heroes of faith in the past ages.—The Preacher’s Magazine.

True Christian Zeal.

I. The Christian convert is zealously affected in a good thing.

1. All the teachings of Christianity are good. They enlighten, guide, and sanctify. They are peculiar, harmonious, infallible, divine. Their morality is sublime, their spirit heavenly, their effect glorious.

2. The influence of Christianity is good.—It has created the sweet charities of national and domestic life, sanctified advancing civilisation, softened the fierceness of war, stimulated science, prompted justice and liberty. Sceptics have admitted this.

3. All that Christianity accomplishes for man is good.—It saves him from sin, from the stings of guilt, from the eternal consequences of wrong-doing.

II. The zeal of the Christian convert is to be steady and continuous.—There should be no diminution nor fluctuation in our zeal.

1. Because no reason can be assigned why we should not be as zealous at any after-hour as at the hour of our conversion.

2. Because it is only by steady and continuous zeal that a proper measure of Christian influence can be exerted.

3. Because only by steady and continuous zeal can Christian character be matured.

4. Because only thus can success in Christian enterprises be attained.

5. Because steady and continuous zeal will alone bring divine approval.

III. The zeal of the Christian convert is not to be unduly influenced by the presence of others.—While Paul was with the Churches in Galatia they were zealous, but after his departure their zeal ceased. To lose our zeal because we have lost the influence of another is to show:

1. That we never possessed true Christian motives.

2. That our supposed attachment to Christ and His cause was delusive.

3. That our zeal had merely been an effort to please men, not God.—The Lay Preacher.

Galatians 4:19. The Christmas of the Soul.—The apostle refers to the spiritual birth. The soul then rises into a consciousness of its infinite importance; its thoughts, sympathies, and purposes become Christ-like, and Christ is manifested in the life. The soul-birth were impossible if Christ had not been born in Bethlehem. That was an era in the world’s history, this in the individual life; that was brought about by the Holy Spirit, this is effected by the same divine Agent; that was followed by the antagonism of the world, this is succeeded by the opposition of evil, both within and without; that was the manifestation of God in the flesh, this is the renewing of man’s nature in the image of God; that came to pass without man’s choice, this requires man’s seeking. Has this spiritual birth taken place in you? If so, you have a right to the enjoyment of a happy Christmas. Keep the feast as a new man in Christ Jesus.—Homiletic Monthly.

Galatians 4:20. A Preacher’s Perplexity—

I. Occasioned by the defection of his converts.—“I stand in doubt of you.”

II. As to what method he should adopt to restore them.—“And to change my voice.”

III. Increased by the difficulty of effecting a personal interview.—“I desire to be present with you now.”

“I stand in doubt of you.” Doubtful Christians.

I. Persons whose religion is liable to suspicion.

1. Those who have long attended the means of grace, and are very defective in knowledge.
2. Who possess much knowledge, and are puffed up with it.
3. Who contend for doctrinal religion rather than for that which is practical and experimental.
4. Who waver in their attachment to the fundamental principles of the gospel.
5. Who neglect the ordinances of God’s house.
6. Who neglect devotional exercises.
7. Who co-operate not with the Church to advance the kingdom of Christ in the world.

II. The improvement to be made of the subject.

1. Should lead to self-examination.
2. Shows the loss and danger of persons so characterised.
3. Should lead to repentance and faith.
4. While exercising a godly jealousy over others, let Christians watch with greater jealousy over themselves.—Helps.

Verses 21-31


Galatians 4:24. Which things are an allegory.—Under the things spoken of—the two sons, with their contrast of parentage and position—there lies a spiritual meaning.

Galatians 4:25. Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.—Judaism as rejecting the light and liberty of the new dispensation.

Galatians 4:26. But Jerusalem which is above is free.—Is the spiritual reality which, veiled under the old dispensation, is comparatively unveiled in the dispensation of grace, and destined to be fully and finally manifested in the reign of glory. Christians are very different in standing to slave-born slaves.

Galatians 4:27. The desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.—The special purpose of the quotation appears to be to show that the idea of a countless Church, including Gentiles as well as Jews, springing out of spiritual nothingness, was apprehended under the Old Testament as destined for realisation under the New.

Galatians 4:30. Cast out the bondwoman and her son.—Even house-room to Judaism is not matter of right, but only by sufferance, and that so long and so far as it leaves the gospel undisturbed in full possession.


The History of Hagar and Sarah allegorical of the Law and the Gospel.

I. The two women represented two different covenants.

1. Hagar represented Sinai, typical of the law with its slavish exactions and terrible threatenings (Galatians 4:22; Galatians 4:25). Sinai spoke of bondage and terror. It was a true symbol of the working of the law of Moses, exhibited in the present condition of Judaism. And round the base of Sinai Hagar’s wild sons had found their dwelling. Jerusalem was no longer the mother of freemen. Her sons chafed under the Roman yoke. They were loaded with self-inflicted burdens. The spirit of the nation was that of rebellious, discontented slaves. They were Ishmaelite sons of Abraham, with none of the nobleness, the reverence, the calm and elevated faith of their father. In the Judaism of the apostle’s day the Sinaitic dispensation, uncontrolled by the higher patriarchal and prophetic faith, had worked out its natural result. It gendered to bondage. A system of repression and routine, it had produced men punctual in tithes of mint and anise, but without justice, mercy, or faith; vaunting their liberty while they were servants of corruption. The Pharisee was the typical product of law apart from grace. Under the garb of a freeman he carried the soul of a slave.

2. Sarah represented Jerusalem, typical of the gospel with its higher freedom and larger spiritual fruitfulness (Galatians 4:26-28).—Paul has escaped from the prison of legalism, from the confines of Sinai; he has left behind the perishing earthly Jerusalem, and with it the bitterness and gloom of his Pharisaic days. He is a citizen of the heavenly Zion, breathing the air of a divine freedom. The yoke is broken from the neck of the Church of God; the desolation is gone from her heart. Robbed of all outward means, mocked and thrust out as she is by Israel after the flesh, her rejection is a release, an emancipation. Conscious of the spirit of sonship and freedom, looking out on the boundless conquests lying before her in the Gentile world, the Church of the new covenant glories in her tribulations. In Paul is fulfilled the joy of prophet and psalmist, who sang in former days of gloom concerning Israel’s enlargement and world-wide victories (Findlay).

II. The antagonism of their descendants represented the violent and incessant opposition of the law to the gospel.—“As he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.… Cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Galatians 4:29-30). Sooner or later the slave-boy was bound to go. He has no proper birthright, no permanent footing in the house. One day he exceeds his licence, he makes himself intolerable; he must be gone. The Israelitish people showed more than Ishmael’s jealousy toward the infant Church of the Spirit. No weapon of violence or calumny was too base to be used against it. Year by year they became more hardened against spiritual truth, more malignant towards Christianity, and more furious and fanatical in their hatred towards their civil rulers. Ishmael was in the way of Isaac’s safety and prosperity (Ibid.).

III. The gospel bestows a richer inheritance than the law.—“The son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.… We are children of the free” (Galatians 4:30-31). The two systems were irreconcilable. The law and the gospel cannot coexist and inherit together; the law must disappear before the gospel. The higher absorbs the lower. The Church of the future, the spiritual seed of Abraham gathered out of all nations, has no part in legalism. It embraces blessings of which Mosaism had no conception—“an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.”


1. The law and the gospel differ fundamentally

2. The law imposes intolerable burdens.

3. The gospel abrogates the law by providing a higher spiritual obedience.


Galatians 4:21-31. Legal Bondage and Spiritual Freedom contrasted—

I. In their inception and development (Galatians 4:21-27).

II. In their ceaseless antagonism (Galatians 4:29).

III. In their inevitable results (Galatians 4:28; Galatians 4:30-31).

Galatians 4:21. A Lesson from the Law—

I. Addressed to those eager for its subjection.—“Ye that desire to be under the law.”

II. Is suggestive of solemn warning.

III. Should be seriously pondered.—“Tell me, do ye not hear the law?”

Galatians 4:26. Jerusalem Above.

I. The Church of Christ as she exists in the present world.—“Jerusalem, above and free.”

1. Above; that is, seen in connection with God and the scenes of the heavenly world.—

(1) Her Head is from above.
(2) If we take the Church as a whole, though she is in part on earth, the greater number of her members are in heaven.
(3) Our Jerusalem is above because her members all fix their affections there and thither tend as the great end of their profession.
2. Jerusalem above is free, and so are her children.—From the bondage of seeking salvation by works of law, from the guilt of sin, from its dominion.

II. The filial sentiment with which we ought to regard the Church of Christ.—She is “the mother of us all.” The general idea is, that if we are indeed spiritual, under God, we owe all to the Church. To her God has committed the preservation of His truth. In stormy times she has sheltered her lamps in the recesses of the sanctuary, and in happier times has placed them on high to guide and save. The Spirit of God is in the Church. To her you owe your hallowed fellowships. In the Church it is that God manifests Himself.

III. The animating anticipations we are thus taught to form of the Church as glorified.—Turn to the description given in Revelation 21:1. Mark the wall great and high—denoting the perfect, impregnable security of those who dwell there.

2. At the gates are angels—still ushering in the heirs of salvation, and disdaining not to be porters to this glorious city.

3. Mark the foundations, garnished with all manner of precious stones—implying permanency.

4. Mark the circumstance that in the twelve foundations are inscribed the names of the twelve apostles—the whole being the result of their doctrine.

5. The whole city is a temple all filled with the presence and glory of God. No holiest of all is there where every part is most holy. All are filled, sanctified, beatified, by the fully manifested presence of God. He is all in all; all things in and to all.—Richard Watson.

Jerusalem a Type of the Universal Church.

I. God chose Jerusalem above all other places to dwell in. The Church catholic is the company chosen to be the particular people of God.

II. Jerusalem is a city compact in itself by reason of the bond of love and order among the citizens. In like sort the members of the Church catholic are linked together by the bond of one Spirit.

III. In Jerusalem was the sanctuary, a place of God’s presence, where the promise of the seed of the woman was preserved till the coming of the Messias. Now the Church catholic is in the room of the sanctuary, in it we must seek the presence of God and the word of life.

IV. In Jerusalem was the throne of David. In the Church catholic is the throne or sceptre of Christ.

V. The commendation of a city, as Jerusalem, is the subjection and obedience of the citizens. In the Church catholic all believers are citizens, and they yield voluntary obedience and subjection to Christ their King.

VI. As in Jerusalem the names of the citizens were enrolled in a register, so the names of all the members of the Church catholic are enrolled in the Book of Life.

VII. The Church catholic is said to be above:

1. In respect of her beginning.
2. Because she dwells by faith in heaven with Christ.—Perkins.

Galatians 4:28. Believers Children of Promise.

I. The character.

1. Believers are the children of promise by regeneration.
2. By spiritual nourishment.
3. In respect of education.
4. With respect to assimilation, likeness, and conformity.

II. State the comparison.

1. Isaac was the child of Abraham, not by natural power. Believers are children of Abraham by virtue of promise.
2. Isaac was the fruit of prayer, as well as the child of promise.
3. Isaac’s birth was the joy of his parents. Even so with reference to believers.
4. Isaac was born not after the flesh, but by the promise; not of the bondwoman, but of the free. So believers are not under the law.
5. Isaac was no sooner born but he was mocked by Ishmael; so it is now.
6. Isaac was the heir by promise, though thus persecuted. Even so believers.

III. How the promise hath such virtue for begetting children to God.

1. As it is the discovery of divine love.
2. The object of faith.
3. The ground of hope.
4. The seed of regeneration.
5. The communication of grace.
6. The chariot of the Spirit.


1. If believers are children of promise, then boasting is excluded.

2. Then salvation is free.
3. The happiness and dignity of believers—they are the children of God.—Pulpit Assistant

Galatians 4:29. On Persecution.

I. That no privilege of the Church can exempt her from persecution.

1. From the consideration of the quality of the persons here upon the stage, the one persecuting, the other suffering.

(1) The persecuting—“born after the flesh.” Like Hannibal, they can part with anything but war and contention; they can be without their native country, but not without an enemy. These whet the sword, these make the furnace of persecution seven times hotter than it would be. The flesh is the treasury whence these winds blow that rage and beat down all before them.
(2) The suffering—“born after the Spirit.” Having no security, no policy, no eloquence, no strength, but that which lieth in his innocency and truth, which he carrieth about as a cure, but it is looked upon as a persecution by those who will not be healed. “For he must appear,” said Seneca, “as a fool that he may be wise, as weak that he may be strong, as base and vile that he may be more honourable.” If thou be an Isaac, thou shalt find an Ishmael.
2. From the nature and constitution of the Church which in this world is ever militant.—Persecution is the honour, the prosperity, the flourishing condition, of the Church. When her branches were lopped off she spread the more, when her members were dispersed there were more gathered to her, when they were driven about the world they carried that sweet-smelling savour about them which drew in multitudes to follow them.

3. From the providence and wisdom of God who put this enmity between these two seeds.—God’s method is best. That is method and order with Him which we take to be confusion, and that which we call persecution is His art, His way of making saints. In Abraham’s family Ishmael mocketh and persecuteth Isaac, in the world the synagogue persecuteth the Church, and in the Church one Christian persecuteth another. It was so, it is so, and it will be so to the end of the world.

II. The lessons of persecution.

1. The persecution of the Church should not create surprise.

2. Not to regard the Church and the world as alike.

3. Build ourselves up in faith so as to be prepared for the fiery trial.

4. Love the truth you profess.

5. Be renewed in spirit.—A. Farindon.

Galatians 4:30. Cast out the Bondwoman and her Son.—To cast out is an act of violence, and the true Church evermore hath the suffering part. How shall the Church cast out those of her own house and family?

1. By the vehemency of our prayers that God would either melt their hearts or shorten their hands, either bring them into the right way, or strike off their chariot wheels.
2. By our patience and longsuffering.
3. By our innocency of life and sincerity of conversation.
4. By casting our burden upon the Lord.—Ibid.

The Fate of Unbelievers.

I. All hypocrites, mockers of the grace of God, shall be cast forth of God’s family, though for a time they bear a sway therein. This is the sentence of God. Let us therefore repent of our mocking, and become lovers of the grace of God.

II. The persecution of the people of God shall not be perpetual, for the persecuting bondwoman and her son must be cast out.

III. All justiciary people and persons that look to be saved and justified before God by the law, either in whole or in part, are cast out of the Church of God, and have no part in the kingdom of heaven. The casting out of Hagar and Ishmael is a figure of the rejection of all such.—Perkins.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Galatians 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/galatians-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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