The Apostle here represents the Church as in a State of Childhood, While under the Law: and as having attained Manhood, in Christ. Grace, and Nature, illustrated by an Allegory.
(1) ¶ Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; (2) But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. (3) Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
I pray the Reader, in the opening of this most blessed Chapter, to attend to the Apostle's beautiful description, of the right, and inheritance, of the Church; though, during the present time-state in which she is placed, it is no other than a state of childhood, and the minority of her being. Though a child, yet an heir, yea, an heir of God, and joint heir with Christ. Romans 8:17. Reader! it is blessed, yea, very blessed, to behold clearly, through divine teaching, that the Church had a being in Christ of everlasting right, and security, in Jehovah's love, and appointment; before the world began. And that then, the whole, and every member of Christ's mystical body, was chosen to unspotted holiness in Christ, and absolute glory, notwithstanding the present fallen state; which was foreviewed, and provided for, in divine mercy. Oh! the unspeakable felicity, when at regeneration, these precious truths are opened to the view, of the heaven-born heir! We differ nothing indeed, from the whole race of Adam, in our sinful origin by nature, and are nothing but children of sin, and ignorance, until grace regenerates our nature. But when our relationship in Christ is discovered, what light and knowledge pours in upon the soul, when we learn, that this is not the first, and original state of the Church; neither is it the final, being begotten to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance, incorruptible, and undefiled, and that faded not away. 1 Peter 1:3-4.
The similitude of a school, is admirably chosen, to represent the tutorage of the law. And the bondage under the elements of the world; bears a strict connection also, with the discipline, of souls, under age. Men who are in the bondage of sin, or the bondage of the world; or the bondage of the law, which prescribes rules of life, but affords no help to obey them: strikingly show the awful state of unawakened nature, which sees indeed the holiness of the precept, but finds no power in nature to live up to it. Such is the rigor of the law, which takes every debtor by the throat with unrelenting severity, saying, pay me that thou owest! And, in point of failure, (as must be the case of every child of Adam,) nothing but bondage fears, and terror, follow; expecting with daily dread, the correction which must come. Oh! the sad bondages of the elements of the world!
(4) But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, (5) To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (6) And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
It is among the precious testimonies of divine teaching, that there is a set time to favor Zion. Psalms 102:13. And every child of God would do well, through grace, if he had the consciousness of it, always: in remembrance. In the ancient settlements of eternity, the coming of Christ, with the time when, the manner how, and every minute event connected with the vast administration, was arranged, with such infinite wisdom, as left no one circumstance to be added to, or taken from. The whole formed an everlasting Covenant, ordered in all things and sure. And how sweet is the assurance also, that to the whole Church, and every individual of Christ's mystical body, everything is equally settled, which relates to the present time-state of the Lord's people, from the first call of grace, until grace is finished in glory. It is here said, that when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son. And when the fullness of time is come, for the recovery of each child of God from the Adam-nature of the fall, God sends forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts, whereby they are led to discover their high relationship in Christ, and to cry Abba Father!
There is an uncommon degree of beauty in the expression the fullness of time. No doubt a depth of wisdom in the appointment, wherefore at that period rather than any other. But, as in the meridian of the sun's fullness in the heavens, the glorious luminary of the day, throws his light, and warmth, with equal strength, to the Eastern and Western hemisphere: so Christ the Sun of righteousness, in the fullness of time, sheds all the blessed influences of his rising to his Church, in every direction, to comprehend the whole of his people, as well before as after his manifestation among men. And the merits and efficacy of his redemption, reacheth from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. His blood, as from the high altar of his own divine nature descending, washeth away the sins of all his people. Reader! who shall calculate the infinite greatness of the work? Who shall form conceptions of the wisdom displayed in the arrangement of what is called the fullness of time?
But while I beg the Reader duly to ponder these things, I request him at the same time not to overlook the cause assigned, for which God is said to have sent forth the Spirit of his Son into the hearts of his people. Because ye are sons. Not to make them sons: but because they are so: being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Not to give them a relationship by which they might become children, for this they had before. But being children, they might now have the grace to know it, and to act accordingly. Ephesians 1:4-5; Romans 8:29-30. Reader! do not forget to mark this distinction in suited characters!
Men, untaught of the Holy Ghost, who know nothing of God's having chosen the Church in Christ; neither of Christ having married that Church, from the beginning; are easily led to invert the order of Scripture, and put that down as a cause, which is wholly an effect. Hence also, persons of this description are easily led to conclude, that the children of God were once children of the devil, and, as the phrase is, were heirs of hell, before they were called, by grace. But all this is, because they know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God. Blessed be God things are totally the reverse. God's children were always his children, and never heirs of hell, or children of the devil: being chosen in Christ, and given to Christ, before the foundation of the world. 2 Timothy 1:9; John 17:2; Joh_17:6; Joh_17:14; Joh_17:23. But in the present time-state of their being, born in the Adam-nature of a fallen race, they are all found when Christ comes to gather them, in the service of the devil, wearing his livery, doing his drudgery, and delighted in his work. All this totally differs from all relationship. For notwithstanding these things, when God, sends forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts; and that revelation teacheth them they are sons of God; instantly they run out of Satan's kingdom; and cry unto God, Abba Father.
And moreover, it is this sonship, and this everlasting relationship with Christ, for which all the blessings bestowed upon them during the whole of their time-state upon earth are given. Their redemption by Christ is not to make them sons, but they are redeemed because they are sons. Their regeneration by the Holy Ghost is not to make them children; but because they are children. This blessed scripture saith, and saith it with an emphasis not to be mistaken; because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father. And the consequence of all this is, their covenant they had made with death is disannulled; and their agreement with hell cannot stand. They are no more servants; but discovered to be sons: they are no longer willing drudges to hell; but are found to be children of God, and as such, heirs of God through Christ. Isaiah 28:18. Reader! if the Lord the Holy Ghost be your teacher, you will see the preciousness of these things, and prize them accordingly. It may be you have heard the common phrase, of, children of the devil, and heirs of hell, when men have been speaking of God's children, and have been persuading in their way such to flee from the wrath to come. And so have I too, until I have trembled both at their ignorance and presumption. But had the Lord the Spirit been their Teacher, before they stood up in his service, they would have learnt this distinction, God's children, however rebellious children, were always, his children, and never for a moment heirs of hell. And those that are not God's children, but indeed heirs of hell, such they might have learnt from Christ himself, can never receive the truth, because they are so. For speaking of such, and to such, Jesus said, Why do ye not understand my speech? even, because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He that is of God heareth God's words. Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. John 8:43-47.
(7) Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (8) ¶ Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. (9) 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? (10) Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. (11) I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. (12) ¶ Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. (13) Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. (14) 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. (15) 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. (16) Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? (17) ¶ They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. (18) But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.
There will need no particular observations by way of Comment upon this paragraph. The subject is chiefly personal, in relation to the Church of Galatia at that time. We may remark indeed, that from what the Apostle saith, there was great leanness of soul among them.
(19) ¶ My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
I pause over this verse, not so much to remark the tender reproof of Paul, to the Galatians, though his heart was grieved at their conduct; neither the soul-travail he speaks of, until their recovery was accomplished: but I pass over both these, to attend to an object of an infinitely higher nature. Paul here makes use of an expression, which demands our closest attention. He saith that his soul-travail was, until Christ was formed in them. We meet with a similar expression in his Epistle to the church of the Colossians; Christ in you the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27. And in his Epistle to Ephesus he there speaks somewhat more limited, but to the same purport, when he prayed that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. Ephesians 3:17.
I would not presume to be, wise above what is written; and therefore shall not attempt to explain what the Lord hath not done. But the indwelling of Christ, though not within our grasp to unfold, yet certainly is too important in itself, and in its consequences, to be passed over without suitable meditation. Every part of Scripture confirms the blessed truth, and brings testimony with it, that the union of Christ with his Church is personal. But who shall calculate the nature, or extent, of blessedness in it? Who shall say, what events are involved in it? When the Son of God dwelt in our world, it is said, that he pleased not himself. Romans 15:3. How must the contradiction of sinners against himself have operated upon his mind? Hebrews 12:3. If the soul of righteous Lot was vexed, day by day, with the filthy conversation of the wicked; what must the holy Jesus have felt, in his intercourse with the ungodly, in the days of his flesh? How must every sin of his redeemed, have gone to his heart? And what must it be now, in the numberless frailties of his children, when we consider Christ formed in the heart of his people? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
(20) I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. (21) ¶ Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? (22) For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. (23) But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. (24) Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. (25) For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. (26) But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. (27) 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. (28) Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. (29) But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. (30) 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. (31) So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
I have often admired, the very striking manner, in which the Apostle hath introduced the sweet subject, contained in the close of this Chapter. He calls the Church to the contemplation of the awful scene at Mount Sinai, in order to show them the terrors of the law, and to allure them the more affectionately, to the freedom of the Gospel. Tell me, (saith he,) ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? Do ye not see, how universally the law condemns every son and daughter of Adam? When you read the law, or when you hear it read, is not your very soul convulsed, in the apprehension of the tremendous consequences, which, out of Christ, must follow every breach of it? And can you, under such plain, and palpable convictions, be looking to it for justification, in any part of your conduct before God? Did Moses himself, who was present at the giving of it, say: I exceedingly fear and quake! Hebrews 12:21. And will you feel confident? The Apostle's manner, and appeal, is very striking!
But how blessedly he follows up his appeal, with the illustration of the doctrine, from the history of Sarah and Hagar? And how conclusive and satisfactory, is the whole subject made, by the illustration? Reader! I detain you at our entrance upon it, to remark, how gracious it was in God the Holy Ghost, thus by his servant the Apostle, to give us so very beautiful an Allegory, for explaining the doctrine. No man upon earth, but for the Lord's thus instructing him, would have conceived, that the subject of Abraham's wife, and hand-maid, was allegorical. We should have read the history of Sarah and her Isaac, and Hagar and her Ishmael, forever, without the smallest apprehension of such a thing. We should have thought it an interesting record, of the manners, and customs of the Patriarch; but for supposing it an Allegory, in allusion to the two Covenants, never would the human mind, untaught of God, have had the least conception. But as it is, through grace, we now behold in it, a most striking resemblance of what it was intended to prefigure. And, although it is possible, that Abraham himself, might not see it to the extent in which it really is; yet nothing, to an enlightened eye, can be more clear, than that it sets forth, the two distinct, and never-to-be-reconciled branches, of the carnal, and spiritual seed, of Abraham.
I will net detain the Reader with a long Commentary upon it, but only in a few of the more prominent parts. Abraham had two sons. Yes! he had many sons, beside those two: Genesis 25:1-2. but those only typical in the subject here represented. And, to make the matter yet more striking, in allusion to those two sons, there was this difference between them: The son of the bond-woman was born according to the ordinary course of nature. But the son of the free - woman, was altogether by promise. For although the birth of Isaac was not miraculous; yet was it unusual. Abraham, and Sarah, speaking after the manner of men, were both passed the time of life, according to the established law of nature, to produce children. And from hence, the Apostle takes occasion to show, how allegorical this was, of the Covenants: the Law of Works, like that of nature; and the Gospel of grace which was altogether a free gift. And the whole race of these different stocks, manifest the origin, from whence they spring. Hagar, the bond-woman's children, are said to gender unto bondage. They are everlastingly under the terror of a broken law; and yet, still look to good works to save them. Sarah the free-woman's children, are declared to be of the Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and the mother of the whole Church; and are therefore looking for justification only in Christ. Such are the different features, which this beautiful allegory describes, of the law of works, and the law of faith.
One point, and that an immense point, in respect to its importance, remains to be considered; namely, to which family do we belong? I have often thought, when looking over a large congregation, what a solemn consideration it is, that all these, I have said to myself, and if they were multiplied by as many millions more, must ultimately be divided under two classes only; namely, the children of the bond-woman, and the children of the free. Under one or other all of these must every soul be classed. But, oh! the vast difference! To which do I belong? Reader! to which do you? Who can answer? The question is easily answered, by regeneration. A soul new born in Christ, is thereby manifested to be the child of the free woman, the heir of the promise. Now we brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise! And hence, because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your heart, crying, Abba, Father! This is the infallible testimony. All short of this, is short of all. We read in Scripture, of some falling away who are said to be once enlightened, and had tasted the heavenly gift, and been made partakers of the Holy Ghost. Hebrews 6:4. But all these are were outward things. Enlightened, in head-knowledge, not heart-renewing. They tasted, but not relished, the doctrines of salvation alone in Christ. Were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, in the ministry of the word, and ordinances; but no saving work on the soul. In all these things, there's not a word of being born again; and this is the grand discriminating feature, to mark the family-feature of the children of promise. Reader! Let nothing short of this, satisfy your mind, in ascertaining the family to which you belong. Oh! the sweet testimony, which Paul elsewhere gives, to this assured estate of safety. Not by works of righteousness (saith he) which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly, through JESUS Christ our Savior: that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:5-7.
READER! what a blessed thing it is, when an heir of God in Christ is got out of the tutorage of a bondage state, and is brought into the liberty, wherewith the Lord makes his people free? And what an unspeakable blessing it is, that God, in testimony of his children's sonship-character, should send forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father!
And, Reader! as the privilege is immense, if it be your happiness to know it so, oh! see to it, that you live up to it. Thou art no more a servant. A child of God is an heir of God, through Christ. Live suitably to your heirship. It is all in Christ, all from Christ, all by Christ; and therefore, let God in Christ have all the glory. And remember, you are not living in the family as an hired servant: You are not the son of the bond-woman. Shortly the time will come, when the bond-woman, and her son, will be cast out. For the servant abideth not in the house forever. But the Son abideth ever. And, if the Son hath made you free, you shall be free indeed! Oh! the blessedness of this freedom! Oh! the unspeakable mercy, of being born of God! Now, brethren, we, as Isaac was, may all such say, are the children of promise.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Galatians 4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany