Click here to get started today!
THE TIME AND MANNER OF CHRIST’S INCARNATION
Galatians 4:4-5. When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem, them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
THE advantages which we as Christians enjoy above the Jews are exceeding great. The Jewish Church was like an heir to a large estate during the years of his minority: he has indeed bright prospects before him; but at present he receives no more than what his guardians judge necessary for his use, and suited to his condition. “He, in fact, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all:” for he is altogether “under the controul of tutors and governors, till the time appointed by his father,” whose possessions he is to inherit. We, on the contrary, are like the same person when arrived at full age, having perfect liberty from servile restraints, and entering into the complete enjoyment of the inheritance, to which by our Father’s will we are entitled. In this view St. Paul himself has illustrated the subject in the chapter before us. Having in the preceding verses described the state of the Jewish Church, he declares, in the words of our text, the superior privileges which, through the incarnation of the Son of God, we enjoy.
To bring the whole subject under your consideration, it will be proper to notice the time, the manner, and the end of our Saviour’s incarnation.
It may seem strange that, when God had promised to send his Son into the world, he should delay the execution of that promise four thousand years. But it does not become us to sit in judgment upon God’s proceedings; it is sufficient for us to know that he cannot err. But, in relation to the point before us, we may observe, that the time when our Lord came into the world, was,
The time fixed in the Divine counsels—
[When the promise of a Saviour was given to our first parents, nothing was specified respecting the time. Hence Eve (as it should seem) imagined that her first-born child was he: for she named him Cain (which signifies getting); intimating, that “she had gotten a man from the Lord,” or rather, that she had gotten the man, the Lord [Note: Genesis 3:1.]. Nothing seems to have been declared concerning the time of the Messiah’s arrival, till it was revealed to Jacob, that “the sceptre should not depart from Judah, till Shiloh should came [Note: Genesis 49:10.]:” and it is remarkable, that a separate jurisdiction did depart from all the other tribes several hundred years before Christ’s advent; but that Judah retained it, in a measure, even during the captivity in Babylon; and never completely lost it, till Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, and the whole Jewish polity was dissolved.
After the restoration of the Jews from Babylon, it was revealed to the Prophet Haggai, that the Messiah should come while that temple was standing; and by his presence in it should add greater glory to it, than the former temple, with all its magnificence and peculiar appendages, possessed [Note: Haggai 2:7; Haggai 2:9.].
But that which marked the period with most precision, was the prophecy of Daniel, which declared, that in seventy weeks (of years), or four hundred and ninety years, from the command given by Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem, the Messiah should be cut off [Note: Daniel 9:24-25.]. This determined the time with such accuracy, that the expectation of the Messiah’s advent was very general among the Jews, when our Lord made his appearance upon earth.
Thus the fulness of the time was come, because it was the time ordained by God in his eternal counsels, and made known to the world by his holy prophets.]
The fittest time—
[If our Lord had come into the world at an earlier period, several valuable purposes would either not have been answered, or not in so eminent a degree. By the delay, there was abundant proof given, how little could be done by reason, with all its improvements; or by the law, with all its sanctions; or by the most signal judgments and mercies.
Reason had attained its summit. The learning of Greece and Rome had left nothing to be added for the perfecting of the human intellect. Yet what did all their boasted philosophy effect? Were the habits and dispositions of men meliorated? Was the dominion of sin broken, or virtue made more generally prevalent throughout the world? Read the account which St. Paul gives of the heathen world; and judge [Note: Romans 1:22-32.].
God has been pleased to republish his law, in a way calculated to awe his people, and secure their obedience to it. He had enforced it with the most solemn sanctions; and had himself written it on tables of stone, in order that it might not any more be mutilated and forgotten, as it had been when left to the uncertainty of oral tradition. And did this succeed? No. The Jew had nothing to boast of above the Gentiles. St. Paul draws their character also, and shews that they, with all their advantages, were as far from God and righteousness as the heathen themselves [Note: Romans 2:17-29.].
The interposition of the Deity had also been displayed in a visible series of mercies and judgments, correspondent to the moral conduct of his people. Not only had thousands and tens of thousands been struck dead at a time for some great offence, but even the whole nation were sent into a miserable captivity for seventy years. On the other hand, their restoration from captivity had been so miraculous, as evidently to bear the stamp of Omnipotence upon it. These things did lead the Jews to renounce idolatry: but how far they prevailed to introduce general habits of piety and virtue, may be seen in the awful unanimity which obtained among them in rejecting and crucifying the Son of God.
No fitter time therefore could have been chosen for the sending of this last remedy, than when all other remedies had been fully tried, and their inefficacy had incontrovertibly appeared.]
The next thing to be noticed respecting the incarnation of Christ, is,
Though Christ was God equal with the Father, yet in his mediatorial capacity he acted as the Father’s Messenger or Servant. The Father sent his Son,
“Made of a woman”—
[This expression would have been superfluous if applied to any mere man; but, as applied to the Lord Jesus, it is peculiarly important. Our adorable Saviour was not born like other men; but was formed in the womb of a pure virgin by the operation of the Holy Ghost: and this was necessary on many accounts.
If Christ had been born in the ordinary way of generation, he would have been comprehended in Adam’s natural posterity, and would therefore have been involved in the same curse as all others are on account of the first transgression: for “in Adam all died;” and “through his disobedience many were made sinners,” even all who were represented by him as their covenant-head. Moreover, he would have been corrupt, as all others are; for “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” But, not deriving his existence from man, he could not be ranked among the sons of Adam; and, being formed by the immediate agency of the Holy Ghost, he was perfectly immaculate.
This miraculous mode of conception and birth was farther necessary, in order to fulfil the prophecies: for in the very first promise that announced God’s gracious intentions to the world, it was said, that “the Seed of the woman (not of the man, but of the woman) should bruise the serpent’s head [Note: Genesis 3:15.].” It had afterwards been more plainly declared, that “a virgin should conceive, and bear a Son, whose name should be called Emmanuel,” God with us [Note: Isaiah 7:14.Matthew 1:23; Matthew 1:23.].
Hence the expression in the text marks at once, that Christ was fitted for his mediatorial office; and that he is the very person fore-ordained from the foundation of the world to sustain and execute it.]
“Made under the law”—
[Not being represented by Adam, and not inheriting his defilement, Christ was not under the curse of the law; but, being born of a Jewish parent, he was under the authority of the law, as well the ceremonial as the moral. The law was to him, as it was to Adam in Paradise, a covenant of life and death. The covenant made with Adam was for himself and all his natural posterity: that which was made with Christ, was for himself and all his spiritual seed. Now, Adam, by violating the covenant, had entailed a curse on all his descendants. To remedy this evil, two things were to be done: the curse due to us was to be endured; and a new claim to heaven was to be established for us. For these two purposes Christ was fitted, when he was sent into the world: He was sent “made of a woman only,” that, not being himself obnoxious to the curse of the law, he might bear the curse for us; and that, fulfilling all the demands of the law, he might “bring in an everlasting righteousness,” which should be imputed to us, and placed to our account [Note: Daniel 9:24.Romans 3:21-22; Romans 3:21-22.].
If we attend to the various circumstances of his life and death, we shall find that he actually fulfilled the law in every particular. He fulfilled the ceremonial law both actively and passively: actively, by submitting to circumcision, by attending the stated feasts, and by complying with the Mosaic ritual in all its parts: he fulfilled it also passively, by accomplishing every thing which was there prefigured, and by exhibiting in himself the substance of every thing which the Mosaic ritual had shadowed forth [Note: Colossians 2:17.]. He fulfilled also the moral law, obeying it in its utmost extent, insomuch that not a spot or blemish could be found in him. In short, as “it became him to fulfil all righteousness,” so he did fulfil it; and, being “made under the law,” he resigned not his breath till he could say in reference to all that the law required of him, “It is finished [Note: John 19:30.].”]
The incarnation of our blessed Lord remains yet further to be considered, as it respects,
We may say in general terms that he was sent,
To redeem us from guilt and misery—
[The Jews alone were under the ceremonial law, and therefore they alone can be said to have been delivered from the yoke which that law imposed upon them. But the whole human race are under the moral law: they are under it as a covenant, which, having been once violated, denounces only its curses against them, without affording them the smallest hope of mercy [Note: Romans 3:19. Galatians 3:10.]. Now the Lord Jesus Christ came to redeem us from the law; and to establish a new covenant for us, by embracing which we are released from the covenant of works, and brought into a perfectly new state. This new covenant offers us life upon totally different terms from those which were proposed under the old covenant: the old covenant said, “Do this and thou shalt live:” the new covenant says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved [Note: Romans 10:5-9. with Acts 16:31.].” The very instant we lay hold on the new covenant, the old covenant is cancelled with respect to us: It cannot condemn us, because its penalties have been inflicted on our Surety: It cannot command us, because we are not under its jurisdiction. As a rule of duty, it retains its authority; but, as a covenant, it is altogether abrogated and annulled [Note: Galatians 2:19. Romans 7:1-4.]. Thus through the incarnation and death of Christ we are redeemed from the condemnation we have merited by our past transgression of the law, and from all obligation to stand or fall by the terms which that law prescribes.]
To exalt us to happiness and glory—
[Our blessed Lord had yet higher ends in view when he became incarnate. He came to restore us to all the blessedness from which we had fallen. By creation we were children of God: but, when sin entered, that relation ceased; and we became “children of the devil.” This being our state, Christ came, that through him we might again return to the family of God. Though we are by nature strangers and aliens, we may receive through him the adoption of sons, and be regarded by God as dear children. We are expressly assured that this privilege is given to all without exception who believe in Christ [Note: John 1:12.]. What is implied in this privilege, the Apostle states in the two verses following the text. He specifies both the present and future benefits of this adoption. In this world, instead of having any occasion to dread the wrath of God, we may look up with filial confidence to him, “crying, Abba, Father;” and may expect from him all that care, and love, and mercy which are suited to the relation of a father. In the eternal world, we shall be raised to such dignity and glory as no words can express, no imagination can conceive. “Being sons, we are heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ:” and whatever God or Christ possess either of happiness or glory, shall be possessed by us, according to the degree of our meetness for it, and the measure of our capacity to enjoy it.
“This honour have all the saints;” and that they might enjoy it in its fullest extent, was the design of God in sending his dear Son into the world.]
The folly of adhering to the law—
[Men, in seeking salvation by the works of the law, have no idea what folly they are guilty of. What should we think of a man, who, when offered an estate which had been purchased for him at an immense price, should decline accepting it as a gift, and should prefer the making a stipulation to earn it, and that too by labours which a thousand men were not able to perform? Yet that were wisdom when compared with a rejection of the Gospel, and a seeking of salvation by the works of the law; because it is impossible for fallen man to be saved by the covenant of works: and, if Christ had not redeemed us from that covenant, we must all have perished together. Will any of you then be so mad as to adhere to that covenant, now that God has sent his own Son to redeem you from it? You think indeed by this to shew your zeal for good works; but it is a zeal which is not according to knowledge [Note: Romans 10:2-3.]; and a zeal which will only leave you, as it left the self-righteous Jews, destitute of any part in the salvation of Christ [Note: Romans 9:30-32.].” We would not discourage your zeal for good works: we only wish to give it a right direction. Obey the law; but obey it with proper views. Renounce your dependence upon it as a covenant of works, and seek salvation by faith in Christ. Then shall you receive that spirit of adoption, which will make the service of God to be perfect freedom, and afford you ample scope for your most active exertions.]
The blessedness of receiving the Gospel—
[What an astonishing transition does that soul experience, which is delivered from the terrors of Mount Sinai, and brought into “the liberty of the children of God!” From being harassed with the dread of God’s wrath, and impelled by servile fears to irksome, unsatisfying, ineffectual labours, how delightful to behold the face of a reconciled God and Father, to feel a holy boldness and confidence before him, and to anticipate the joys of heaven! This is not a picture which is drawn by a warm imagination: it is a reality; it is the experience of thousands; it is in a greater or less degree known to all who believe in Christ. Seek then, my brethren, this happiness. You can easily conceive the difference between the labours of a slave under the lash of the whip, and the services which an affectionate child renders to an indulgent parent: you can see that even at present their states are exceeding different. Such is the difference between those who are under the law, and those who embrace the Gospel. But what will be the difference hereafter? “Now, believers are the sons of God: but it doth not yet appear what they shall be: but we know that, when they shall see Christ in glory, they shall be like him, for they shall see him as he is [Note: 1 John 3:2.].” Let all of us then believe in Christ, that “we may see the good of his chosen, and rejoice in the gladness of his nation, and give thanks with his inheritance [Note: Psalms 106:5.].”]
THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION
Galatians 4:6. Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
IF we were to judge by the exterior of men’s lives, we should be ready to think that Christianity had done but little hitherto for the world: for it must be confessed, that, of those who profess our holy religion, the greater part differ very little from heathens. But then it must be recollected, that there is much wrought by the Gospel, which, though to a certain, degree visible in its effects, is seen clearly only by God himself. There is in every one, who receives the Gospel aright, a change, both in his state before God and in the secret habit of his mind. From an enemy to God, he is made a friend and a son; and from serving God by constraint, as a slave, he comes to him with a spirit of adoption, as a beloved child. Now, the acts of this person may be, in many respects, what they were before; so that one who looks only on the outward appearance, shall see no great difference between him and others: but God, who has made all this difference, discerns it; and appreciates the obedience that is paid to him, not according to the mere act, but according to the motive or principle from which it flows. Now, taking this view of Christianity, we must say, that it has been, and yet is, productive of incalculable good: for still, as well as in the apostolic age, God begets sons to himself by means of it; and “when they are made sons, he pours forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”
In illustration of these words, I will shew,
The relation which every true Christian bears to God—
Every Christian, from a rebel and an enemy, becomes “a son.”
In this we have the advantage of those under the law—
[The Jews, though God’s peculiar people, were not his sons, but his servants: or, if we call them his sons, (for doubtless he was a Father unto them,) still they were only as “minors, who differed very little from servants.” They were under severe and burthensome restraints: they had but a small portion of their inheritance in actual enjoyment; and they performed their duties altogether in a servile spirit [Note: ver. 1–3.]. But under the Gospel we are regarded as adult sons, who are freed from those restraints, and enjoy a spirit of liberty in the whole of our life and conversation. This is not only affirmed in our text, but taken, as it were, for granted, and assumed as the ground of those further blessings which are bestowed upon us.]
And to this we are introduced by our Lord Jesus Christ—
[He has redeemed us from that bondage in which we were once held. Though, as Gentiles, we have never been bound by the ceremonial law, we have, of necessity, been subject to the moral law, which is equally binding on every child of man: and under that we have been exposed to the most tremendous curses for our violations of it. But the Lord Jesus Christ, by his obedience unto death, has both fulfilled its demands, and suffered its penalties, for us; and has thus freed us from it as a covenant, and has brought us into a better covenant, the covenant of grace. Hence it is that we receive a Spirit of adoption: for, in this better covenant, God grants all the blessings of salvation to us freely, whether we be Jews or Gentiles; and, as soon as ever we believe in Christ, admits us into his own family, as his beloved children [Note: This the Apostle carefully marks, by using the Hebrew word for Father, as well as the Greek; shewing thereby, that whether we be Jews or Greeks, we are placed on the same footing by the Gospel.]. Thus are we brought to God in the relation of sons, and have all the benefits of children conferred upon us.]
But that which we are chiefly to notice, concerning the Christian, is,
The privileges, which, by virtue of this relation, he enjoys—
The Spirit of Christ is sent forth into his heart—
[The Holy Spirit is here, as in many other passages of Scripture, called, “the Spirit of Christ [Note: Romans 8:9. 1 Peter 1:11.].” Not that we are to conceive of the Godhead as consisting of persons of unequal majesty and glory; for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are in glory equal, and in majesty co-eternal. But each person in the ever-blessed Trinity sustains a distinct office in the economy of redemption; the Father sending the Son to work redemption for us; and the Son sending the Holy Spirit to apply that redemption to us. It is in their official character alone that this subordination consists; and, agreeably to this distinction, we must go to the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit; and expect blessings from the Father in the very channel by which we gain access to him [Note: Ephesians 2:18.]. Now, if we go to God in this way, he will send his Holy Spirit into our hearts as a Spirit of adoption; giving us thereby,]
Liberty of access to him—
[The Jews dared not to draw nigh to God within the limits that were assigned them, whether on Mount Sinai, or in the temple. But, at the death of our blessed Lord, the vail of the temple was rent in twain, to intimate to us, that now there was “opened for us a new and living way into the holiest of all,” even for every child of man [Note: Hebrews 10:19-22.]; and that the nearer we came to God’s mercy-seat, the more certainly we should find acceptance with him.]
Boldness to spread our wants before him—
[To the Jews there were many things which, however they might desire them, they dared not ask. Korah and his company were consumed for affecting the priesthood, and presuming to offer incense to the Lord. But to our requests no limit whatever is assigned, provided they be in accordance with God’s will, and have a tendency to advance his glory. With these obvious and necessary distinctions, we may “ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us:” however wide we open our mouths, God will fill them. If we are “straitened at all, it is in our own bowels;” we are not straitened in God: for he is both “able and willing to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can either ask or think.”]
Confidence in his care—
[A servant may hope for kind attentions from his master in a day of necessity, though still to a very limited extent; but a son is assured, that whatever relief his father can afford him shall be readily bestowed. His necessities may be great, and his troubles of long continuance; but he has no fear that the tender sympathy of his father shall fail. Now this is what “a Spirit of adoption” gives to every true Christian. “He knows in whom he has believed; and that he is both able and willing to keep that which he has committed to him.” He knows not, indeed, how God shall interpose for him, or when: but he is persuaded that “God will never leave him nor forsake him;” but “will make all things work together for his ultimate good,” and “cause his light and momentary afflictions to work out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Hence, without doubting of a happy issue to his afflictions, “he casts his care on God, who careth for him.”]
An assured expectation of his inheritance—
[Of this a servant can have no hope. But a son knows that he has a title to his father’s inheritance; and that his father has assigned it to him in his will. But stronger far is the Christian’s assurance of his title to heaven, and of his ultimate possession of it. God has promised to him, not grace only, but glory also; and has begotten him to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for him, who is also kept by the power of God for it. And who shall rob him of this inheritance? “Who shall separate him from his Father’s love?” He can look on the innumerable hosts of men and devils, and boldly defy them all [Note: Romans 8:34-39.]. The Spirit of adoption, which enables him to “cry, Abba, Father,” assures him of the victory, and is to him a pledge and earnest of his future glory.]
How little is the true nature of Christianity understood amongst us!
[Men conceive of Christianity as a system of restraints; or, at best, as a system of doctrines and duties. But, though it partakes of all these things, it is in reality a system of privileges: it “takes men from the dunghill, to set them among princes;” and “translates them from the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” Contemplate Christianity in this view; as taking “strangers and foreigners; and not only bringing them into the household of God,” but making them “sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.” Well might St. John express his wonder, saying, “Behold, what manner of love is tills wherewith the Father hath loved us, that we should be called the sons of God!” Truly, this is the light in which we should view the Gospel; and this is the end for which we should receive its gracious declarations.]
What enemies to themselves are the unbelieving world!
[It is to bring you to this very blessedness that we preach unto you the Gospel of Christ. For this we set forth all the wonders of redeeming love. For this we invite you to come to Christ, and believe in him. It is not to make you melancholy, as foolish people imagine; but to make you blessed in the enjoyment of your God and in the possession of his glory. Why then will you put these things far from you? Why will you pour contempt upon them, as if they did not deserve the attention of any considerate man? Be assured, that, in rejecting the salvation offered you in the Gospel, you are your own enemies: you rob yourselves of happiness, of which not all the universe could deprive you; and plunge yourselves into misery, which all the universe would be unable to entail upon you. Tell me, is it so light a matter to he sons of God, that you will despise it; and to have a sweet sense of this sealed by the Holy Spirit upon your soul, that you will reject it? Ah! who can make you amends for the loss of these privileges; or console your minds, when they are irrecoverably placed beyond your reach? Be wise, I pray you; and seek these blessings, ere they are for ever hid from your eyes.]
How earnestly should we hold fast the blessings thus accorded to us!
[Great as these blessings were, the Galatian Christians were soon prevailed on to abandon the possession of them, and to go back again to the bondage in which they had formerly been held. And the same disposition remains in us. We all have a measure of servility in our minds; and are ready to bind on ourselves burthens from which Christ has made us free. Legal hopes, legal fears, legal endeavours, are quite in consonance with our depraved hearts. But do not dishonour our blessed Lord by indulging such propensities as these: strive rather to get rid of them, and stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free. Then will you find the service of your God to be perfect freedom; and the enjoyment of him, on earth, a foretaste of that complete fruition of him that awaits you.]
MINISTERS LABOURING IN VAIN
Galatians 4:11. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
MINISTERS are, in the Scriptures, compared to husbandmen. Now, no one can doubt, for a moment, what the object is of those labours which the husbandman pursues. Whether he prosecute the initiatory work of manuring and plowing his ground, or cast upon it, and harrow in, the seed, every one knows that he looks to the harvest, as the compensation of his toil: and so far as the produce abounds, he considers himself as well repaid; but so far as it fails, he regards himself as having laboured in vain. Thus a faithful minister rests not satisfied with having discharged his duty: he looks for the effects of his labours in the conversion of souls to God, and in the salvation of his fellow-men. If, in these respects, his ministrations are crowned with success, “he sees of all his travail, and is satisfied.” But if the people to whom he ministers remain in a state of ignorance, or, whilst they profess to have received the Gospel, they walk unworthy of it, he feels constrained to adopt the language of St. Paul, and to say, “I am afraid of you, that I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.”
Now I propose to shew you,
When a minister may be said to have “laboured amongst his people in vain”—
This complaint he may justly utter,
When they cleave to the law, as a ground of their hopes—
[What is the one great object of ministers, but to bring men to Christ, that through him they may find reconciliation with their offended God? In this view, their ministry is called “the ministry of reconciliation.” But, in order to effect this great work, they must detach persons altogether from their dependence on the law. Men, by nature, are born under the law: and they invariably look to their obedience to the law as the ground of their hope towards God. But, as it is impossible for fallen man ever to render to the law that perfect obedience which it requires, God has given him a Saviour, through whom he may obtain a perfect righteousness, fully commensurate with all the demands of law and justice. But, in order to his obtaining an interest in this, every other ground of hope must be renounced. He must be saved wholly, either by works or by grace. The two grounds of hope cannot exist together. If a man attempt to blend them together, even in the smallest possible degree, he will fail: the slightest dependence on his works will altogether invalidate the work of Christ, and make void all that he has done for the salvation of men [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.]. If, therefore, a person still practise any works of the law, in order to obtain, either in whole or in part, justification by them, all the labour that has ever been bestowed on him will be in vain. St. Paul said to the Galatian converts, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” And on this he grounded the complaint in our text. The observance of days was not evil in itself: it was only evil, as arguing an affiance in the law, and a consequent departure from the faith of Christ. But this being the proper construction to be put upon it, he regarded it as a dereliction of the Gospel; and therefore expressed his fears, that all the labour he had bestowed on them had been in vain.]
When they depart from the law as the rule of their life—
[The law, though set aside by the Gospel as a ground of our hope, remains, in all its pristine force, as a rule of life. It must be obeyed, and obeyed from the heart too, as much as if we were to obtain justification by it: nor is there any other standard by which our lives must be regulated, in order to please and honour God. The Gospel proposes nothing new in respect of morals. It adds to our motives for obedience, and gives us a more complete pattern: but it enjoins nothing beyond the requirements of the law. The law enjoins us to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves: and beyond that we cannot go. The Gospel informs us, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself;” and, consequently, all the faith and love which we are taught to exercise towards God, we exercise towards our adorable Emmanuel; and all the love which we manifest to man, we manifest it for Christ’s sake, and in conformity to the pattern which he has set us: but beyond the demands of the law we cannot go; nor short of those demands are we allowed to stop. If, therefore, we see any one relaxing in his obedience to the law, we declare to him, that “faith has not in him its perfect work.” His heart must be right with God: he must labour to “walk in all things as Christ walked:” he must, if not in absolute attainment, yet in desire and endeavour, be “holy as God himself is holy, and perfect as his Father which is in heaven is perfect.” There must be no sin, though dear as a right eye or useful as a right hand, retained: and if we see a man proposing to himself any lower standard than this, we must, of necessity, “stand in doubt of him;” and fear, so far as he is concerned, that we have bestowed on him labour in vain [Note: Mark 9:43-47. with James 2:10.].]
Let me, then, point out to you,
The awful state of a people that are so circumstanced—
Their responsibility is great—
[It is here taken for granted, that the Gospel has been faithfully preached to them. And I hope this may be said with respect to you, my brethren. Yes; you will bear me witness, that “Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth crucified among you, even as it were before your eyes [Note: Galatians 3:1.].” Now, our blessed Lord said to his hearers, that “if he had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but that now they had no cloak for their sin [Note: John 15:22.].” What, then, must I say to you? You well know, that “many prophets and kings have in vain desired to hear and see the things which have been made familiar to you; and that, at this moment, many would account themselves “blessed,” if they could possess the privileges which you enjoy [Note: Luke 10:23-24.]: but you cannot but know also, that on these grounds a proportionable responsibility attaches to you. Yet, is there not reason to fear, that many of you are still so ignorant both of the Law and of the Gospel, as not to understand their respective offices, and not to render to them that peculiar honour which they severally demand? Is there not reason to apprehend, that many have never yet come to Christ, as helpless, hopeless sinners; discarding every other ground of hope, and glorying in him as all their salvation and all their desire? Yet, if you have never been brought to this, O! think how much you have to answer for! If the fate of Chorazin and Bethsaida was made worse than that of Tyre and Sidon, yea, than that of Sodom and Gomorrah, by their abuse of the Gospel, judge, I pray you, what the criminality of those is, who, like you, have slighted all the blessings of salvation, which have been so freely offered, and so fully set before you? Jehovah himself appealed to his people of old: “Judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard: what could have been done more for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? And wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes [Note: Isaiah 5:3-4.]?” The same appeal I must, in Jehovah’s name, make to you also. The various means of grace you have enjoyed in rich abundance; and they must be accounted for as talents which you were bound to improve.]
Their danger is imminent—
[It is an awful truth, that “the word preached, if it be not a savour of life to those who hear it, proves to them a savour of death unto their death [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.]” In fact, it is sometimes sent, to a people in judgment, rather than in mercy: “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed [Note: Isaiah 6:9-10.].” No less than six times is that passage quoted in the New Testament, to shew us the immense importance of it, and to put us on our guard, lest it be realized in us. We are warned, that “the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is, to be burned [Note: Hebrews 6:7-8.].” Ah! think “how nigh the curse may be!” and how tremendous it will be, when it shall fall upon you! You know what was said to the barren fig-tree; “Cut it down: why cumbereth it the ground?” And you also, though spared for the present, through the intercession of your Lord, must soon expect that doom, if you continue to make no return for all the labour bestowed upon you [Note: Luke 13:6-9.].]
Improve, then, the opportunities which are yet afforded you—
[“The seed is sown on your hearts: look to it, that it be not taken away by Satan, ere the process of vegetation has taken place at all Beware too, lest, if it spring up, it be not soon withered for want of root; or, if it continue to grow, it be not choked by thorns, so as not to bring forth fruit to perfection.” Prepare your hearts, by meditation and prayer, before you come to the house of God: and when you have received the good seed, harrow it in by a repetition of the same process: and bear in mind, that you are to requite the labours of cultivation, by bringing forth fruit, according to the measure of divine grace bestowed upon you [Note: Matthew 13:18-23.].]
Look forward to your great account—
[It is but a little time, and both you and I must give account of our stewardship: I, of my ministrations; and you, of your improvement of them. If I have omitted to warn you, and you perish through my neglect, woe be unto me; for “your blood will be required at my hands [Note: Ezekiel 33:8.].” But if I have been faithful to my high calling, then shall I have the joy of presenting you to God; saying, “Here am I, and the children thou hast given me [Note: Isaiah 8:18.].” O blessed day, if I may “have many of you as my joy and crown of rejoicing in that day [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.]!” On the other hand, how painful is the thought, that against those who have not improved the opportunities afforded them, I shall “appear as a swift witness [Note: Malachi 3:5.]” and every sermon I have ever delivered will testify against you, to your confusion [Note: Deuteronomy 31:21.]. But let us hope that such shall not be the result of our meeting, my beloved brethren: no; let me entreat you to give yourselves unto prayer;—for me, that the blessing of God may be upon my labours; and for yourselves, that “ye may not receive the grace of God in vain [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:1.].”]
THE NATURE AND IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTIAN ZEAL
Galatians 4:18. It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing.
MEN act with energy in things that are agreeable to them. But while some are earnest in the support of religion, others are no less active in opposing it. This was the case with the false teachers, who sought to exclude the Apostle, that they might extend their own influence in the Churches of Galatia [Note: ver. 17.]. But the Apostle justly condemns them, and recommends energy in a better cause.
The text will lead us to consider,
The nature of Christian zeal—
Zeal is a strong affection of the mind; and is good or evil, according to the object towards which it is directed, and the manner in which it is exercised. It is more frequently in Scripture spoken of as evil [Note: Acts 5:17-18; Acts 13:45; Acts 17:5.]: but there is also a Christian zeal; which is distinguished by two things:
It is good in its object—
[Some spend their zeal in things that are in themselves sinful [Note: Philippians 3:6. John 16:2.]: and others on things indifferent [Note: Mark 7:3-4. And those amongst ourselves who raise fierce disputes about human ordinances.]: but the Christian’s zeal is directed to what is good; he maintains with steadfastness the faith of the Gospel [Note: He follows the injunctions and examples of the apostles, in opposition to what is improperly called candour. Jude, ver. 3.Galatians 1:8-9; Galatians 1:8-9. Galatians 1:2 John, ver. 10.]; and engages heartily in the practice of its precepts [Note: Titus 2:11-12; Titus 2:14.].]
It is uniform in its operation—
[The zeal of many is only occasional and partial [Note: It shews itself only in things that require little or no self-denial.]; but the Christian’s is uniform and universal [Note: It “affects us always” not as a feverish, but a vital, heat; not as a meteor, but as the sun.]: it has respect to every duty; stimulating to private and personal, as well as public and official, duties. It does not, however, lay the same stress on trifles, as on the weightier matters of the law; but proportions its exercise to the importance of the things about which it is engaged.]
That such a zeal is truly praiseworthy, will appear, while we point out,
The text pronounces it to be “good;” and not without reason; for,
It is that which stamps a value on all other graces—
[What are the most excellent graces without this? Faith is only a cold assent; hope, a mere doubtful expectation; and love, a general good-will, or rather, an empty name. The best of services without this is a worthless formality. But, on the other hand, the poorest and meanest service accompanied with this, is pleasing to God. The widow’s mite surpassed the rich donations of the wealthy [Note: Mark 12:41-44.]; nor shall a cup of cold water lose its reward [Note: Matthew 10:42. 2 Corinthians 8:12.].]
It is by that alone that we can honour God—
[Lukewarm services declare, in fact, that God is not worthy of any better testimony of our esteem; and hence it is that they are so odious in his sight [Note: Revelation 3:16.]. But, if we act with zeal, we silently, yet powerfully, proclaim to all, that God is worthy of all the love and honour we can render him. God himself testifies, that if we observe the sabbath in a becoming manner, we honour him [Note: Isaiah 58:13.]: and the same is true of every other duty we perform.]
By that we may ensure success—
Exertion does not always command success in an earthly race or warfare. But in spiritual things none can fail who exert themselves with zeal in God’s appointed way. “They shall know, who follow on to know the Lord [Note: Hosea 6:3.];” and to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, shall eternal life assuredly be given [Note: Romans 2:7.]. Many seek to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and are not able: but none ever yet strove in vain [Note: Luke 13:24.].]
Those who have no zeal at all in religion—
[Whatever zeal men exercise in their worldly callings, few, alas! are much in earnest about religion. The natural man has no heart, no life or spirit in any thing he does for God. But will the heart-searching God be pleased with mere formal services? We ourselves do not accept them favourably at the hands of a fellow-creature; and shall God from us [Note: Matthew 15:8-9.]? If we would ever be approved of God, let us follow that injunction, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:10.].”]
Those who have declined in their zeal—
[“When iniquity abounds, the love of many will wax cold.” And are there none amongst us who have “left off to behave themselves wisely;” none who have lost their first love? Let the solemn charge addressed to such persons in the primitive churches, be duly considered, and obediently regarded [Note: Revelation 2:4-5; Revelation 3:19.]: for “it were better never to have known the way of righteousness, than, having known it, to turn from it [Note: 2 Peter 2:21.].”]
Those who feel the importance and necessity of zeal—
[Good as zeal is in a good cause, it may become pernicious both to ourselves and others, if it be not properly directed. There is “a zeal without knowledge [Note: Romans 10:2.],” which may easily be mistaken for Christian zeal. Let all then who would serve God acceptably, endeavour to have their zeal well regulated, both with respect to its objects, and the manner of its operation. Let their own sins, rather than the sins of others, and their own duties, rather than those of others, be the first objects of their regard. Let not a proud, bigoted, or vindictive spirit be cherished by them under the cloak of zeal [Note: Luke 9:54.]; but let every duty to God or man be tempered with meekness, humility, and love. Let nothing bear such a preponderance in their mind as to make any other duty appear light and insignificant. Let the world, the family, and the closet, have each its proper portion of attention: and, with increasing ardour, let them follow Christ, whose “meat was to do the will of him that sent him [Note: John 4:34.]”]
A MINISTER’S CHIEF WISH FOR HIS PEOPLE
Galatians 4:19-20. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.
THE pastoral relation is described in the Scriptures by images well calculated to convey an idea of anxious concern, and fond endearment. St. Paul sometimes speaks of himself as “the father” of his converts, as “having begotten them through the Gospel [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:15.];” and sometimes as their mother “travailing in birth with them.” Corresponding with these images, are the feelings of a minister’s heart in reference to his people. If he see them in a sick and dying state, he will not be indifferent about their recovery, but will, with parental tenderness, administer such instruction and advice as may conduce to their welfare. There are too many indeed, who, from an affection of candour, hope well concerning the states of all their people. But the faithful minister dares not to act on such delusive principles; he knows the danger to which the unconverted are exposed, and the awful responsibility of his own office; and therefore he will faithfully discharge his duty, and “divide to every one the word of truth,” consoling or reproving them as occasion may require.
In the words before us, we see,
What a minister chiefly desires on behalf of his people—
As a parent rejoices to see his children prospering in bodily health and worldly circumstances, so a minister is glad to see his people free from sickness and distress. He is thankful too, if he behold an outward reformation among them, and a diligent attendance on ordinances, and the establishment of family prayer, and a decided approbation of the Gospel record. But all this falls very far short of his wishes. He never is satisfied respecting them, until he have a clear evidence that “Christ is formed in them,”
As a vital principle in their hearts—
[Whatever they may have, or whatever they may do, they have no spiritual life, till “Christ liveth in them [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” If “Christ dwell not in their hearts, they are no other than reprobates [Note: Ephesians 3:17. 2 Corinthians 13:5.].” “Christ is the life” of the soul, as much as the soul is the life of the body [Note: Colossians 3:4.]. He animates all our faculties; and without him they are as incapable of spiritual exertions as a breathless corpse is of performing the functions of a living body [Note: John 15:5.]. “Christ in us is the hope of glory [Note: Colossians 1:27.];” and all profession of religion, without the in-dwelling of his Spirit in our souls, is only like the motion and re-union of the dry bones, before God has breathed into them a principle of life [Note: Ezekiel 37:7-10.].]
As a visible character in their lives—
[Concerning the quickening of a soul, we can judge only by its actions. While therefore a minister desires that his people may be really alive to God, he looks for the fruits of righteousness as the proper evidence of their regeneration. He expects to find “Christ formed” in their tempers, their spirit, their whole conduct. He is not contented to behold such virtues as may be found in heathens: he longs to see in them a victory over the world, a supreme delight in God, an unwearied exercise of all holy and heavenly affections. He is satisfied with nothing but an entire “renovation after the Divine image [Note: Ephesians 4:24.Colossians 3:10; Colossians 3:10.],” and a “walking in all things as Christ walked [Note: 1 John 2:6.].”]
But as this change is rarely so satisfactory as might be wished, we proceed to shew,
When he has reason to stand in doubt of them respecting it—
In every place where the Gospel is faithfully preached, there are some of whom the minister may enjoy a full and confident persuasion of their acceptance with God. But there will also be some respecting whom he must feel many anxious fears. This will be the case, wherever he sees them,
Fluctuating in their principles—
[The Galatians had been warped by means of Judaizing teachers, and turned from the simplicity of the Gospel [Note: Galatians 1:6-7; Galatians 3:1.]: and on this account the Apostle “feared he had bestowed upon them labour in vain [Note: ver. 9–11.].” It is much to be regretted, when godly persons are distracted by “matters of doubtful disputation.” They always, in a greater or less degree, “suffer loss” by means of it, because their attention is divided, and the energy of their minds, in reference to their more important concerns, is weakened. But when, as in the case of the Galatians, their doubts relate to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, their danger is exceeding great. They shew that they are only “children, when they are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine [Note: Ephesians 4:14.];” and their want of establishment in the faith gives reason to fear lest they should be finally overthrown [Note: Hebrews 13:9.].]
Unsteady in their conduct—
[Such was the state of the Galatians. When the Apostle was with them, they were “zealously affected with good things [Note: ver. 18.]:” but now he was absent from them, their love to him, and to the truth itself, had cooled; and their zeal was turned into a very different channel [Note: ver. 14–17.]. No wonder then that “he travailed in birth with them again,” since they betrayed such fickleness of mind. Thus, wherever we see a zeal that is only occasional in its exercise, or partial in its operation, we may well “stand in doubt of” such persons. If the ardour of their minds decay, or be called forth chiefly about the non-essentials of religion; if they are more occupied about church-government than about the government of their own tongues; and more offended at the miscarriages of their brethren than at the evils of their own hearts; if they are violent about doctrines, and remiss in practice; there is but too much reason to groan and tremble for them. They are “like a cake not turned,” (doughy on one side, and burnt up on the other,) alike unacceptable both to God and man [Note: Hosea 7:8.]. And it is to be feared that they will prove at last to be only hypocrites and apostates [Note: Matthew 23:23-24.].]
Such doubts must needs be painful in proportion to the regard we feel for our people’s welfare, and the importance of the object which we desire on their behalf. Every minister therefore should inquire,
By what means he may most effectually promote it in them—
Waving other things which might be mentioned, we shall notice two, which more immediately arise from the text; namely,
A personal intercourse with them—
[The evils arising from the non-residence of ministers is incalculable [Note: This should be fully stated, if this text were the subject of a discourse preached before the Clergy.]. But a minister may reside in the same place with his people, and yet profit them very little, if he have not a private acquaintance with them, and frequent conversations with them on the concerns of their souls. His public ministrations cannot be sufficiently particular to enter into the views and feelings of all his congregation. Errors may become inveterate in their minds, before he knows any thing about them. We do not impute blame to the Apostle for not abiding with the Galatians; because his commission was to preach the Gospel throughout the world: but we are well assured, that the Judaizing teachers would never have gained such an ascendency over them, if he had abode with them as their stated pastor. His presence would have been more advantageous to them than a hundred letters; on which account he says, “I desire to be present with you now.” Let ministers then avail themselves of this advantage; and the people give them every opportunity of access to them.]
A suiting of his address to their respective cases—
[When the Apostle was with the Galatians, he comforted and encouraged them. Now in this epistle he warned and reproved them: and if, by conversing with them, he could restore them to their former state, he would gladly “change his voice,” and speak to them again in terms of approbation and confidence. He would adapt himself to the state of every individual, distinguishing the different degrees of criminality that were found in each, and “giving to each his proper portion of consolation or reproof, as the season” or occasion required [Note: Luke 12:42.]. In this way ought ministers to address their people. The speaking only in a general manner leaves the greater part of our hearers in an ignorance of their real state. We should descend to men’s business and bosoms. We should “warn the unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, and support the weak [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:14.].” We should answer the objections, solve the doubts, and rectify the errors, of our people; and, by suitable instructions, confirm them in the faith. It is in this way only that we can enjoy much satisfaction in them, or expect to have them as “our joy and crown of rejoicing in the day of judgment [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.].”]
Those of whom we stand in doubt—
[Think us not uncharitable on account of the fears we express: “we are jealous over you with a godly jealousy [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:2.].” If we felt as we ought, we should be pained and distressed as a woman in her travail, while we see any of you in a doubtful state. We must desire to see in you what we know to be essentially necessary to your salvation: and while we behold any allowed and habitual deviations from the Gospel, whether it be in principle or practice, we must warn you of your danger. Would you have us tell you that you are safe, when we are doubtful whether Christ be formed in you? When we observe one proud, another passionate, another covetous, another unforgiving, another censorious, another formal, would you have us satisfied respecting you? Surely our anxiety about you is the best proof of our love: and we earnestly entreat you all “to judge yourselves, that ye may not be judged of the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 11:31.].”]
Those of whom we entertain no doubt—
[Where shall we find persons of this description? Where? alas! in every place. Can we stand in doubt about the swearer, the Sabbath-breaker, the whoremonger, the adulterer? Can we stand in doubt of those who live without secret prayer; of those who never felt their need of having Christ formed in them, nor ever endeavoured to conform themselves to his example? No: infidels may stand in doubt; but they who believe the Bible cannot doubt at all [Note: Galatians 5:19-21.Ephesians 5:6; Ephesians 5:6.]; the state of all such persons is as clear as the light at noon-day; and their inability to see it, only proves how awfully “the god of this world hath blinded their eyes.” We must declare unto you, brethren, and would speak it with tears of pity and of grief [Note: Philippians 3:18.], that, if you die before that Christ has been formed in you, “it would have been better for you that you had never been born [Note: Matthew 26:24.].”
But there are others also of whom we cannot doubt; I mean, the humble, spiritual, devoted “followers of the Lamb.” Of these even infidels entertain no doubt; because, upon their own principles, they who are most virtuous are most safe. But they have also the word of Jehovah on their side: and, if we were to stand in doubt of them, we must doubt the states of all the holy Prophets and Apostles, whose faith they follow, and whose example they imitate. No: in such as them are found “the things that accompany salvation [Note: Hebrews 6:9.].” We congratulate them therefore on the safety and happiness of their state: and “we are confident that He who hath begun the good work in them, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ [Note: Philippians 1:6.].” They may indeed have sometimes doubts and fears in their own minds: but we say unto them, in the name of the Most High God, “Fear not, little flock; for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom [Note: Luke 12:32.].”]
SARAH AND HAGAR TYPES
Galatians 4:22-24. It is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bond-maid, the other by a free-woman. But he who was of the bond-woman was born after the flesh; but he of the free-woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory.
THERE are many things in the Old Testament which we should have passed over as unworthy of any particular notice, if their use and importance had not been pointed out to us in the New Testament. Such is the occurrence which is here referred to; and which the Apostle found to be of singular use to illustrate the nature of the Gospel covenant. He was endeavouring to counteract the influence of those Judaizing teachers, who had perverted the faith of the Galatians: with this view he expostulates with those who had turned aside to a compliance with the ceremonial law; and shews them, by an allegorical explanation of the history before us, that the law itself might have taught them a very different conduct.
To understand the allegory in all its parts, we must attend carefully to the main scope of it, which is, to shew, that, as both Sarah and Hagar brought forth children to Abraham, yet those children differed widely from each other; so the old and new covenants bring forth, as it were, children to God; but there will be found, between their respective offspring, such a difference as may well deter men from returning to the covenant of works, and make them resolutely adhere to the covenant of grace.
We may observe then a corresponding difference between the two women and their offspring, and the two covenants and their offspring,
In their nature—
[Ishmael, the son of the bond-woman, was born according to the common course of nature: but Isaac, the son of the free-woman, was born in a preternatural way, through the more immediate agency of God himself.
Thus they, who are under the law, have nothing but what they derive in a natural way from their parents. They may possess strong intellects, and discover many amiable qualities; but whatsoever they have, it is all carnal; no part of it is spiritual; their reason is carnal reason; their affections are carnal affections. But they, who are under the covenant of grace, are “born of God;” their faculties are all renewed; their views and desires are spiritual; they have “put off the old man, and put on the new;” yea, they are partakers, as far as flesh and blood can be, of a divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.]. Hence they are called “new creatures;” and are as much distinguished from the mere natural man, as light is from darkness, or Christ from Belial [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.].
This is the first point of distinction which the Apostle himself notices; and it is confirmed by the declaration of our Lord, that whatsoever is born of the flesh is carnal; whereas, that which is born of the Spirit (as all who embrace the new covenant, are) is spiritual [Note: ver. 23. with John 3:6.].]
In their disposition—
[Ishmael, being born of the bond-woman, was himself a slave; and therefore must, of necessity, have a servile spirit: but Isaac, the child of promise, felt all that freedom of spirit which an affectionate and beloved child is privileged to enjoy.
Thus the children of the old covenant are “brought forth to bondage.” They may obey in many respects the will or their Father; but they are invariably actuated, either by self-righteous hopes, or slavish fears. Whatever they do for God, it is “grudgingly and of necessity:” his work is irksome to them; or, if at any time it be pleasant, their satisfaction arises from pride and self-complacency, and not from any delight they feel in his service. But the children of the new covenant are enabled to walk before God with holy confidence and joy. They serve him, not from fear, but from love; not that he may save them, but because he has saved them. Whatever they want, they make known their requests to him, assured that he will gladly do for them more than they can ask or think. Thus they maintain sweet fellowship with him, regarding him in all things, not as a master or a judge, but as a father and a friend.
This distinction too is marked by the Apostle, who says also in another place, that believers have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption, whereby they cry Abba, Father [Note: ver. 24, 25. with Romans 8:15.].]
In their conduct—
[Whatever outward conformity Ishmael might shew to his father’s will, it is certain he was averse to it in his heart; for he persecuted Isaac on account of his superior piety, and derided him for claiming an exclusive right to his father’s inheritance: but Isaac patiently endured the trial, “knowing in whom he had believed,” and that “He was faithful who had promised.”
Thus it is with all the children of the old covenant: they may obey the law in many points; but they do not really love it in any respect: on the contrary, they hate those, whose superior piety is a reproach to them, and who profess, that the children of promise shall exclusively inherit their Father’s kingdom. “The saints and the elect” are with them terms not of respect and honour, but of mockery and derision. Our Lord teaches all his followers to expect this treatment, and to expect it on this very account from those, who are merely born after the flesh: “if,” says he, “ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you [Note: ver. 29. with John 15:19.].” The children of the new covenant, in the mean time, meekly bear the cross; “being defamed, they entreat; being persecuted, they suffer it;” “committing themselves to him that judgeth righteously,” and waiting the accomplishment of all his promises.]
In their end—
[Ishmael, by his conduct, brought upon himself that very exclusion, which he had confidently supposed would never take place: and Isaac in due time inherited the portion, which, in dependence on God’s word, he had professed to expect. Nor was the difference made merely through the partiality of the parents, but by the express order of God himself [Note: Genesis 21:10; Genesis 21:12.].
Thus shall they, who are under the law, be, ere long, banished from their Father’s house. In vain shall they plead their carnal relation to God, and his people: they belong to a covenant that entails on them a curse, and not a blessing [Note: Galatians 3:10.] and though they will not be persuaded of their danger now, yet will they find at last, that their confidence was presumption, and their hope vanity [Note: ver. 30. with Joh 8:35 and Matthew 8:11-12.]. On the contrary, they who are under the covenant of grace will inherit the promised laud: their professions shall be vindicated, their expectations realized, their hopes accomplished: and to eternity shall they dwell with God, as monuments of his sovereign grace, and his unchanging faithfulness.]
We shall still continue to follow the Apostle in the improvement of this subject. It is useful,
[There cannot be a more interesting inquiry than this, Am I a “child of the bond-woman, or of the free [Note: ver. 31.]?” Nor will it be at all difficult to attain a satisfactory knowledge of our state, if we will but follow the clew, which this instructive allegory affords us. Let us ask ourselves then, What have I that nature cannot give, and that evidently marks me as born of God? Am I walking with God in the daily exercise of filial affection, accounting his service to be perfect freedom; or am I rendering him only a formal, partial, and constrained obedience? Do I look for heaven as the free gift of God through Jesus Christ; and expect it solely on the humiliating terms of the new covenant: or am I ready to take offence at the electing love of God, and to deride as deluded enthusiasts those, who found all their hopes upon it? According to the answer which conscience gives to these queries, we may determine to which covenant we belong, and consequently, what our end must be when we go hence. Let our inquiries then be prosecuted with care and diligence, that, when our state is ascertained, we may tremble or rejoice, as the occasion may require.]
[When we are brought under the covenant of grace, we are ever in danger of returning, as many of the Galatians did, to the covenant of works. We are prone to indulge self-righteous hopes, and servile fears. We are ready to confound the covenants by associating works with our faith as joint-grounds of our hope. But we must carefully avoid this, and watch against every approach towards it. We must “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free; and never more be entangled with the yoke of bondage [Note: Galatians 5:1.].” “Salvation is by grace through faith:” and “it is by faith, that it may be by grace.” The very instant we mix any work of ours with Christ’s obedience unto death, we fall from grace, and Christ becomes of no effect to us [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.]. Faith and works, as grounds of our justification before God, are opposites, and can no more be blended than light and darkness [Note: Romans 11:6. with 4:14.]. Let us then hold fast the covenant of grace; and, in spite of all the persecution which our profession may bring upon us, let us “maintain our confidence, and the rejoicing of our hope, firm unto the end.”]
JUSTIFICATION FAITH MAINTAINED
Galatians 4:30. Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bond-woman and her sun: for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman.
THE whole of God’s blessed word is highly instructive; and the Old Testament is an excellent preparative for the New. Indeed, those who are at all conversant with Scripture, expect to find mysteries in the ceremonial law, because that is confessedly a shadow of good things to come: but few are aware how much is to be found in the historical parts of the Old Testament. We are, however, in no danger of erring, if we say that the sacrifice which Abel offered was not a mere accidental difference from that of Cain; but a typical exhibition of the sacrifice of Christ, to which, by faith, the pious offerer had respect [Note: Hebrews 11:4.]. The preservation of Noah from the deluge, too, was not a mere mercy vouchsafed to himself and family; but a type of the benefit which we receive by baptism, which, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, saves us, (on a supposition we have received it aright,) as the ark, by its buoyancy, saved him from destruction by the tempestuous billows [Note: 1 Peter 3:20-21.]. In my text, there is reference to what we might have supposed to be an accidental disagreement in Abraham’s family. We might naturally suppose that a wife and a concubine would not agree very well, and that their children would prove a source of mutual animosity. And so it turned out. But was this a mere accidental circumstance? No: it was permitted of God, in order to afford a good occasion for illustrating the covenant of grace, and the exclusive blessedness of those who adhered to it. You will perceive, that, in my text the words of Hagar are cited as a general rule of procedure in reference to the souls of men at the last day: and as they are somewhat intricate, and have at the same time an appearance of harshness and severity, I will endeavour to explain and vindicate the declaration contained in them.
Here is evidently a sentence denounced: and my endeavour shall be,
To explain the sentence—
To understand it aright, we must consider what was the subject in dispute between the Apostle and his opponents.
Some Judaizing teachers had drawn away his Galatian converts from the pure Gospel which he had taught them, to an affiance in the ceremonial law. And, to bring them back to the truth of Christ, he shewed them, throughout this whole epistle, that salvation is by faith alone; and that to attempt to build our hopes in any measure on the law of works, was to “pervert the Gospel,” and, in fact, to introduce “another Gospel [Note: Galatians 1:6-7.].” In confirmation of this sentiment, he proves, at large, that salvation is by faith only: he proves it, I say,
In a way of argumentative discussion—
[In the beginning of the preceding chapter, after reminding them that through the preaching of faith, and not by any works of the law, they had obtained the miraculous influences of the Holy Spirit [Note: Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:5.], he reminds them of the way in which Abraham was justified. This was by faith, as the Gospel preached to Abraham had foretold, in relation both to himself and all his spiritual seed: and, consequently, we must be saved in the same way as he [Note: Galatians 3:6-9. All the verses quoted from this chapter and the next should be cited at length.] — — — He then proves the same from the very terms in which the Law and the Gospel are promulgated; the one requiring obedience, and the other faith; the one killing, and the other giving life [Note: Galatians 3:10-12.] — — — He next adduces the end for which Christ came into the world. This was not to give men an opportunity of saving themselves by the law; but to redeem them, by his own death, from the curses of the law; and to open a way for the blessing which had been promised to Abraham to descend upon them through the exercise of faith [Note: Galatians 3:13-14.] — — — From thence he leads them to the contemplation of the covenant in which all the blessings of salvation were contained. This covenant had been made with Abraham, four hundred and thirty years before the law was given to Moses; and in it, all the believing seed of Abraham were interested. Now, this covenant could never be annulled, except by the consent of all the parties contained in it. But a very small part of those who were interested in that covenant were present when the law was given. That was only given to Abraham’s children after the flesh: his spiritual children had nothing to do with it: and therefore to them is the covenant of grace as valid as ever; the publication of the law having made no difference in it whatever [Note: Galatians 3:15-18.] — — — Here, supposing naturally that his opponent would ask, “Of what use then the law was?” he proceeds to shew, that it was not given in order to establish any thing in opposition to the Gospel, but to operate in subserviency to the Gospel; shewing men their need of it; and, like a schoolmaster, disciplining them for the grateful reception of it [Note: Galatians 3:19-24.] — — — and, consequently, now that the Gospel was fully revealed they should adhere to it, and look for acceptance solely by faith in it [Note: Galatians 3:25-29.] — — —
Here another question would arise. If the law was given to the Jews from the time of Moses, in what state were those Jews? Were they under the covenant of grace, or under the covenant of works? This he answers, by shewing that they were, in fact, under the covenant of grace; but yet, that they were like minors, who, whilst they are under age, differ but little from servants; not having any further enjoyment of their inheritance than their tutors and governors judged expedient for them. The time, however, being now come for them to enter on their possessions without restraint, he exhorts them to avail themselves of their liberty, and to walk no more as servants under bondage; but as sons and heirs, at perfect liberty [Note: ver. 1–7.] — — —
Thus he has made it appear, that to live under bondage to the law, is to abandon our dearest privileges, and to violate our most solemn duties.
He now proceeds, after some suitable admonitions, to establish the same truth,]
In a way of allegorical illustration—
[In the history to which the Apostle refers, we should not, I confess, have seen any confirmation of the doctrine before us, if one who was inspired of God himself had not explained it to us. The transaction was this: Sarah, Abraham’s wife, saw Ishmael, who was Abraham’s son by Hagar, mocking her son Isaac. I apprehend that Ishmael derided Isaac, the younger son, for presuming to assert his title to his father’s inheritance, in preference to him, who was the elder. Sarah, indignant at this behaviour, desired Abraham to expel Hagar and her son from his presence; saying, “Cast out the bond-woman and her son; for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.” This was exceedingly grievous to Abraham, who felt a paternal love for Ishmael, and knew not how to part with him: but God himself confirmed the word that had been spoken; and enjoined Abraham to comply with his wife’s request, since it was his determination that “in Isaac should Abraham’s seed be called [Note: Genesis 21:9-12.].”
Now, in my text, we are told, that under this domestic occurrence a great mystery was veiled; for that it represented the distinction which, should, to all eternity, be made between those who cleaved to the covenant of works, and those who should lay hold on the covenant of grace. Hagar, a bond-woman, represented the legal covenant which should in due time be made on Mount Sinai; as her son Ishmael did the persons who should adhere to it: whereas Sarah, the married wife, represented the covenant of grace which had already been made with Abraham; and her son Isaac, the persons who should obtain an interest in that. Now, all persons, by nature, live under the covenant of works: but divine grace, where it operates, brings men under the covenant of grace: but all the former will be cast out from God; and the latter only will be partakers of his inheritance: and this distinction, we are told, was intended to be marked in the foregoing history. It may appear hard that such a distinction should ever be made: but made it shall be; God having declared this to be his sovereign will, his irrevocable decree: “Cast out the bond-woman and her son; for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman [Note: ver. 21–31.].”
Shall it be said, that this is too figurative and too recondite to add any weight to the preceding argument? I answer: This very circumstance, of its being so figurative and so recondite, gives it, in my mind, even greater weight than if it had been more plain and obvious; because it shews the unspeakable importance of that truth which it is brought to confirm. Had not the doctrine of justification by faith alone been of prime and indispensable necessity to every child of man, the Apostle would have been satisfied with establishing it by the train of argument which he has pursued: but, feeling that the rejection of it would prove fatal to the soul, he would omit nothing that could contribute to the enforcing of it on men’s consciences, or the impressing of it on their minds.]
Aware, however, that, in the opinion of many, there are strong objections to this doctrine, I will proceed,
To vindicate it—
Against the very act itself, which is referred to in my text, we should have been rather disposed to object, if it had not been approved by God himself: we should have thought Abraham would have been better employed in pacifying the rage of Sarah, than in lending himself as an instrument to give it energy and effect. We should have thought it more worthy of him to use his influence for the purpose of allaying domestic feuds, than to exert his authority for the rendering of them irreconcileable and eternal. But God commanded it; and therefore it must, of necessity, have been right, whether we can explain the reasons of it or not. And the doctrine which it was intended to shadow forth is right, whether we can understand it or not. To exclude from salvation all who adhere to the covenant of works, and to save those only who lay hold on the covenant of grace, may appear unjust, severe, and partial: but we will undertake to vindicate it from all that can be said against it, even from every charge,
[If it had pleased God to deal with fallen man precisely as He had dealt with fallen angels, what injustice would he have done to any? Wherein did we merit an interposition in our favour more than they? Why, when we had violated the old covenant, should he enter into a new covenant, whereby we might be restored to his favour? Why, in order to render this measure consistent with his glorious perfections, should he give us his only-begotten Son to bear our sins, and to effect a reconciliation for us through the blood of his cross? Could we claim any such mercy at his hands? Or, could any one have had reason to complain, if no such mercy bad been ever manifested? What injustice, then, can be done to any one, by confining mercy to this particular channel; and by requiring this new covenant in Christ Jesus to be made our hope and our plea, in order to our participation of its benefits? If we neither had, nor could have, any claim for mercy at all, we certainly can have no ground for complaint against God, for offering it in a way honourable to himself; and not granting it in a way of our own, that would reflect dishonour on every one of his perfections.]
[Though the shutting up of mankind to one only way of salvation may not be altogether unjust, yet it may be deemed somewhat unmerciful and severe; because it makes the rejection of that salvation a fresh ground of offence, and involves the offender in deeper guilt and misery than he could otherwise have incurred. But there is no undue severity in this. Let us suppose that God had acted towards the fallen angels as he has towards us. Let us suppose that he had sent his only dear Son to bear their punishment in his own person, and to work out a righteousness whereby they might be justified: and that he had offered to restore to his favour very soul among them who would accept it in his Son’s name; but would account all who should reject this overture as having added pride and ingratitude to all their other sins, and make them answerable for this their augmented guilt: is there one of us that would conceive God to be acting with severity towards them? Is there one who would not regard this as a stupendous effort of love and mercy, and acknowledge, that all who should despise this proffered mercy would deserve their appointed doom?
But there is another evil, which the despisers of the new covenant are guilty of: they invariably “mock” and deride those who found all their hopes upon it. They may not, indeed, be open scoffers, like Ishmael; but in their hearts they do of necessity “mock at the counsel of the poor, who putteth his trust in God [Note: Psalms 14:1-7.].” At this hour, as well as in the Apostle’s days, it may be said, “As, then, he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” How then can it be supposed that these contemners of God’s people should be made heirs together with them? or, what severity can there be in refusing to them a portion which they so wantonly despise? The sentence, as denounced by Sarah, might have been deemed severe; but, as inflicted by the Most. High God, it is merited in its full extent: for not even Satan himself was ever guilty of rejecting a Saviour, and pouring contempt on redeeming love.]
[It is not persons, but characters, that are rejected of God: nor is it from descent, but from choice, that they fall short of the promised inheritance. In this respect, the parallel between the history and the doctrine established by it must be drawn with a due attention to all the circumstances, and must not be pressed too far. That was but a shadow; and we must distinguish between resemblance and identity. Ishmael shadowed forth those who are born after the flesh: Isaac represented those who are born after the Spirit: the former therefore characterizes all of us in our natural state; the latter, those who are regenerated by the Spirit of God. The latter, it is true, owe all their happiness to God’s electing love: but the former can never ascribe their misery to any decree of absolute reprobation. The blessings of salvation are offered equally to all: the sins of all were equally borne by the Lord Jesus Christ in his own body on the cross: for “he is a propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” “The Lord laid on him the iniquities of us all.” Though born of the bond-woman, we may by grace become children of the free: and, if we will not avail ourselves of this proffered mercy, the fault is altogether our own. In the parable of the Marriage-supper, the man who was cast out for not having on the wedding-garment, is represented as “speechless,” having not a word to utter in his own defence. He, it is true, was poor, and had been brought in suddenly from the highways and hedges: but a wedding-garment had been provided for him by the Master of the feast, and would have been given him if he had asked for it: and therefore he was justly punished for presuming to appear at table without it. So is salvation provided for every child of man: and he who neglects to seek it, must trace his failure to that neglect. The word of our blessed Lord is decisive upon this point: “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out:” if therefore the sentence be passed on us, “Cast out that son of the bond-woman,” we know whom alone we have to blame: the fault is not in God, as unwilling to save us; but in ourselves, as neglecting to seek salvation at his hands.]
From this subject we may see,
What is the one standard and test of truth—
[Men place reliance on their own opinions, and cite as authority the opinions of others. But man is weak and fallible. Even in relation to things which come most under his cognizance, he is apt to err: but in the things of God, which, of necessity, are so remote from his apprehensions, he is entitled to no confidence at all; seeing that he can know nothing, any further than it has been revealed to him by God himself. But it is in the sacred volume alone that we have any revelation from God; and therefore that must, of necessity, be the only standard and test of truth. “To the word and to the testimony,” says the prophet: “if men speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them [Note: Isaiah 8:20.].” Tell me not then, thou vain disputer, what thy sentiments are. “What saith the Scripture?” Thou imaginest that thou canst lay down laws for God, and tell how he shall regulate his proceedings in the day of judgment: but I must declare to thee, that “thy wisdom,” however great thou mayest imagine it, “is foolishness with God;” and that his counsel shall stand, whether thou wilt hear, or whether thou wilt forbear.]
On what ground our eternal destinies shall be fixed—
[I well know that men shall be judged according to their works. But we greatly mistake, if we suppose that our faith shall not become a ground of decision, either against us or in our favour, as much as any other work. It is as much “a command from God, that we believe in his Son, as that we should love one another [Note: 1 John 3:23.]:”and our compliance with it must equally be made a subject of inquiry at that day. We may think it strange, perhaps, that God should take such matters into account in the final judgment: but, whatever opinion we may form respecting it, God will then say, “Cast out the bond-woman and her son: for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman.” It will not be found a matter of such indifference, then, whether we believed in Christ or not, and whether we embraced the covenant of grace. No: this new covenant contains all the wonders of Divine wisdom, and love, and mercy: and, if we flee not to it from the terrors of the broken law, and from the fallacious hopes which are engendered by pride, his sentence will come forth against us, to our irreparable and eternal ruin. Take ye care then, beloved, that ye deceive not your own souls. Examine diligently whose children ye are, and to which family ye belong. Renounce all dependence on your own works, and lay hold on the promises of God in Christ Jesus. So shall “you, like Isaac, be the children of promise [Note: ver. 28.];” and with him be partakers of an everlasting inheritance.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Galatians 4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18