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Now this I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant.
There is nothing final in the character of this world. But all betrays infancy. Everything is in a state of preparation. We move up and down amidst the reflections of the future. Certainly the material world has not reached its destination. The air we breathe--the sky we look on--the soil we tread--are only to go to make a “new heaven and a new earth.” And the Divine government, which is now, is mainly to illustrate the government which is to come. We have churches now; but they are only to prepare us for a state where there shall be no church--because every spot shall be holy. This world, then, is one large training-school, where we are placed for a little while, to learn to fulfil the duties of that great service for which we were destined and created. Training consists of three things: instruction, which is the imparting knowledge, and giving new ideas; education, which is the drawing out, and directing, the powers of mind and heart; and moral discipline, which is the moulding character, and the formation of good habits. This is just what life is.
I. We are here to get knowledge, and new ideas about the things of God. How shall we enter heaven without some previous knowledge of it: its conditions--its employments? And if there is no greater pleasure on this earth than to get a new idea, what must it be when the new ideas are these: to inform the mind about God; to see every day some new, fresh beauty in Jesus; to impregnate the understanding with the Infinite?
II. But let me speak to you, secondly, of your education for another world--according to the strict meaning of the word education. You are probably aware that the word “education” means “to draw out,” “to educe.” So that when we educate a child, it is, literally and properly, that we draw out what is in the child. The gardener does not make the branches and the tendrils; but he lays them out, he guides them, he gives each its proper place and order. He lops what is redundant; he fastens and makes sure what is good. But, be sure of this, there is that in you which, if you will, and if you will only let it, can expand into all that is happy, and all that is holy, and all that is useful, and all that is Divine, here and for ever.
III. Now, thirdly, the way in which this is to be done, we call discipline, the third part of training. Selfdiscipline, and God’s discipline. And yet they are not two, for God’s discipline is to make and to take effect through self-discipline. Do not count discipline a hard word. In God’s vocabulary, discipline is only another word for love. There cannot be discipline without friction--without struggle. But a victory over self is such a very pleasant thing. And the compensations are so accurate, and so great, that discipline itself soon loses to you its sterner sense, and becomes the element of all happiness. Discipline is to form habits. Do not forget that you are placed here mainly to form habits, to learn to do and be what you are to do and be eternally. To form a good habit must always involve the unforming a bad one. So you begin to hold yourself in hand, to exercise self-control, to cultivate pious thoughts--acts of devotion and religious communion, and a holy walk--which are the things you are to do for ever and ever. Meanwhile, all outward things are working for you, You will find yourselves in strange circumstances. But all to practise and increase some grace--and especially a lacking one. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The three estates
1. The servant.
2. The child under tutors and governors.
3. The man come of age, liberated, and in possession of the inheritance.
1. The condition of servitude was that of the Church under the law, in bondage to beggarly elements.
2. The condition of the child already adopted but waiting for the inheritance is that of the Church under the gospel.
3. The condition of the man, full grown and enjoying his inheritance is that of the Church in glory.
1. The state of servitude is that of the soul unconverted. “He that committeth sin is the slave of sin.” Sin is “bondage of corruption.”
2. The state of Sonship and liberty is that of the soul justified and sanctified (John 8:35; John 15:15).
3. The state of full manhood is where the glorifled saint enters the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and which fadeth not away. (E. Garbett, M. A.)
The children at school
I. The school.
1. The period covered: from conversion to glorification--“the time appointed of the Father.”
2. The necessity for the intermediate schooltime arises from the degree and effect of imperfect sanctification.
3. The school sphere, this world, is admirably adapted to the discipline of the soul. For moral lessons to be learned by heart and conscience differ from intellectual. Instruction may convey the latter, only practical experience the former.
(1) Faith can only grow in the absence of perfect sight;
(2) hope amidst disappointment;
(3) love by opposition and sacrifice;
(4) submission amidst contradiction; and
(5) patience amidst prolonged trial.
II. The schooling.
1. The knowledge conveyed: God Himself.
(1) The loftiest.
(2) The most satisfying.
2. The books employed.
(2) The human heart.
(4) Scripture, which explains others.
3. The teacher.
III. The discipline.
1. necessity for this arises from our corrupt nature and constant temptations.
2. In the sense of discipline we must interpret the afflictions of this transitory state (Romans 5:3-5).
IV. In view of the advantages of school life and the prospect of home.
1. Be patient.
4. Obedient, as befits those who are “under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the Father.” (E. Garbett, M. A.)
Under tutors and governors
This whole world is a training school, and all life is discipline. Understand your position. You are “an heir,” an heir of an estate whose value no numbers can represent; an heir of a kingdom! But you are a “child;” whatever age you be, you are in the infancy of your existence. And the great end of your being is preparation for your majority--which lies the other side the grave. And therefore, all is laid out here--by your wise and loving Father--for your education. You are at home in your own household, and all is going on day after day, in the ordinary round. You meet in the morning; you sit together at meals: you join in the evening circle. It all seems very commonplace. But what and if in all this you are placed, by God, to prepare yourself for “the family” in heaven? Or, you go about in all the activities and businesses of your earthly calling. Have you bethought you that they are all to cultivate the accuracy, and the energy, and the faithfulness which will make you fit for higher trust and heavenly engagements, and more than angelic offices, in another stage of your immortality? Or, you walk among the beauties of God’s creation: or you sit down and you study the pages of Divine lore: and what is the whole universe, what is it but a lesson book in which you are to read, day by day, something of the character, and the wisdom, and the love of God? Yet, all you read now, is only like a little child learning his alphabet. Those pains and troubles, what are they? Correctives. Not very general correctives that will do for every one. That would not be the way of a good “tutor,” or a wise “governor.” But the particular grief, the particular happiness, which is exactly suited to your special case, and still more to your destined place and portion which you are to occupy in another world. Are not the poor, and the sorrowful, the “tutors” who are sent to prepare you for the higher exercises of heaven?--for the missions and the ministrations of the redeemed! (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.
The elements of this world
The law was so called.
I. In respect of the fuller and complete doctrine of the new testament.
II. Because Jewry was a little school set up in a corner of the world and the law an A.B.C. or primer in which Christ was revealed in an elementary and obscure manner. Thus we see--
1. That God’s ancient people were heirs as well as we: the only difference is the manner which God used in dispensing His blessings.
2. That they were but children in respect of us;
(1) as regards the Mosaic regimen: they were kept subject to more laws than we;
(2) as regards revelation: God has revealed more to us than to them (Luke 10:24; Hebrews 1:1-2).
3. That we should increase in the knowledge and grace of God so as to be answerable to our condition. How sad that a Christian who should be a teacher is often a babe (Hebrews 5:12).
4. That we should rejoice in and live conformably to our privilege as sons. (W. Perkins.)
Children cannot have presented to them pure intellectual conceptions
They must first learn the import of external signs. They must learn language and letters. They must put together syllables and words. They must see thought through the medium of form, or learn to think of what is moral and spiritual by facts, parables, pictures, or such like appeals to the imagination and the senses. For a time words to the young mind are things--stories are facts. By and by the inward meaning of what has been learned comes to be understood. The outward ultimately falls off or loses its primary aspect and uses; and the man, with his fully developed and perfected faculties, is in immediate contact with the abstract and the spiritual. He then feels as if he apprehended it, and could reason about it, or at least meditate upon it, without the aid of words and signs. “When I was a child,” etc. (1 Corinthians 12:11-13). Then I saw through a glass darkly--feeling after truth as reflected from a mirror, or presented in a parable; now I look upon it face to face. (T. Binney, D. D.)
All mankind, the whole race of Adam, were until the Incarnation of Christ as children
1. Because of their want of knowledge of God and the feebleness of their intellect in the things of God.
2. Because of their condition as under the laws of nature or of ceremonies, so that they were no better than servants under the control of a taskmaster.
But to the Jews especially does this word “children” apply--
1. As being ordinarily busied about small things, minute observances--the occupation of children.
2. Because of the littleness of their knowledge of Divine things.
3. Because of their fear of correction, their timidity as children, going ever in the fear of death (W. Denton, M. A.)
I. His position--one of restraint, subservience, dependence.
II. His training--suitable (v. 3), wise, appointed and limited by the Father.
III. His prospects--well grounded, magnificent, conditional. (J. Lyth.)
Childhood is a period of--
III. Anticipation. (J. Lyth.)
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son.
Christ’s Advent in the fulness of time
The question has often been asked, Why did not Christ come sooner? Why were patriarchs, kings, and prophets, left to experience the sickness of heart arising from hope long deferred? It was necessary that the world should be left to itself, in order that its own strivings being proved insufficient to the finding out God, there might be a standing demonstration of the need of a revelation. And this experiment demanded long ages for its development. Men must be tried under varieties of circumstance: whilst the traditions of a righteous ancestry were fresh in their keeping--when those traditions had been lost or corrupted, and natural religion had a clear stage to itself--when they had sunk into barbarism, and when through strenuous exertions they had wrought themselves up to a high pitch of civilization. It is, in a measure, a mistake which has been assumed as a truth in our foregoing reasoning--that mankind, with the exception of the Jews,. were abandoned by God, during those dark ages which preceded Christ’s coming On the contrary, if you rest not satisfied with a superficial glance, you will perceive that God was working upon the world with a distinct reference to preparing it for the gospel. Besides, if you examine the period of our Lord’s appearance on earth, you will not think it too much to say, that the season was made on purpose (so to speak) for the circumstances. The period was a most remarkable one--such as could only have been brought round by the revolutions and convulsions of many centuries. The Roman power had spread itself over all the nations of the then known world; and thus all those petty states, whose jostling and opposing interests might have withstood the propagation of Christianity, were swallowed up in one great empire. At the same time, the seat of that empire lay so distant from Judea, the cradle of our faith, that no opposition could thence suddenly arise to the infant religion. Christianity was sure to obtain a good footing before jealousy could be entertained, and, therefore, persecution appointed, by those who occupied the remote throne of the Caesars. Add to this, that in conformity with His character of the Prince of Peace, no breath of war ruffled the vast surface of the Roman empire, when the Saviour condescended to be born of a woman. The turbid waves of factious or ambitious policy had for a while settled into quiet, and the temple of Janus closed its doors that the Church of Jesus might throw open its gates. So that there was nothing to oppose the progress of the messengers of the gospel; the world stood free for their labours; they might pass from land to land; they might cross seas, and rivers, and mountains. It was, moreover, “the fulness of time,” because many prophecies met in it, and received their accomplishment. The great marvel of the prophecies which bear upon the work and person of Jesus is, that they were delivered by a succession of men, rising up with long intervals between, and each becoming more minute in his predictions, as he stood more nearly on the threshold of the Advent. The day of Christ’s birth lying a long way off from that of man’s apostasy, might be made a kind of focus, into which should be gathered the prophetic rays of successive generations. You must readily perceive, that this collecting into one point the pencils of light emanating from successive ages, would mark out the birth-time of Messiah with a vividness and an accuracy which could not have been produced by a lesser combination. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The preparation of the world for the gospel
Two principles should be borne in mind by those who would discover the Divine purposes in history,
1. The first is that God has the supreme control of events--that He “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”
2. The other principle is that the operations of Providence should be studied in connection with any other disclosures which we may have of the laws and plans of the Divine workings. This rule is necessary if we would distinguish between those evils in our world which have been permitted and overruled for beneficent and holy ends, and those events which have been brought about either because in themselves excellent or for the accomplishment of good results. Let us spread before us the map of the world’s affairs as they stood in the days of our Lord’s appearance among men, and let us see the mighty hand of God in the disposition of them all, First, if we regard that age in its secular aspect, we find two great preparations for the successful diffusion of the gospel. The one of these was a general union and tranquility of the world, under Roman law; and the other a wide-spread civilization, accompanied by a well-nigh universal language, resulting chiefly from Grecian influence That of the one, if we may so speak, was negative, and was chiefly occupied in removing obstructions, so that a free course might be given to the Word of God. That of the other was positive, and furnished great facilities for the presentation and dissemination of the truth. It fact it would have mattered but little that the nations were kept in quietness under the compelling power of Roman law, had not the spirit of Grecian civilization, pervading the organization of Rome, exerted everywhere a beneficial influence. Let us now turn from the secular to the spiritual aspect of the ancient world if we would discover yet more convincing evidence of the workings of Divine wisdom. Here, again, the attentive reader of history can perceive two great preparations for the introduction of the gospel. The one of these was a deep consciousness of moral debasement and of religious darkness pervading the Gentile nations; and the other was a very general diffusion of the knowledge of the Jewish faith throughout the Roman Empire, accompanied by a recognition of its truth and excellence. The condition of the heathen world at the time of our Saviour’s advent was truly deplorable. That dreadful description which Paul gives in the first part of his Epistle to the Romans is fully verified by the accounts of contemporary historians. The heathen were not without a knowledge of God, a sense of moral obligation and a perception of the distinction between right and wrong. In the discussions of their philosophers we find not only some of the most eloquent praises of virtue that ever were written, but also the clearest directions regarding the various duties of life. The taw of God was plainly written on their hearts. In proof of this we may cite the remarkable fact that the treatise of Cicero, “Concerning Morals,” was long used as a text-book in seminaries of the Christian Church. Indeed, this treatise must ever give delight to those who can appreciate the wisdom and purity of its instructions. But it was the wretchedness and the condemnation of the heathen world that they knew their duty and they did it not. Their philosophy was utterly powerless to resist the influences which destroyed them; and their religion was worse than powerless. None save the lowest class of the people retained any faith in the polytheistic creeds; a general feeling a want regarding both the knowledge and the efficacy of religion pervaded the nations of the world. But there was yet another method in which a Divine Providence was preparing the nations for our Saviour’s advent. This was, the diffusion of the principles of the Jewish faith throughout every part of the Roman Empire. All classes in society had some followers of Moses; even kings and queens did not blush to own themselves believers in the God of Israel. Then also multitudes of thinking men who made no profession of Judaism were familiarized with the conceptions of the ever-living Jehovah and of His promised Christ. In this way the ancient form of religion went before Christianity, heralding its approach and predisposing men for its clearer and more powerful revelations. There was then an external fitness for the successful impartation of the truth. Under the security and tranquility of Rome’s imperial sway the gospel was committed to the language of educated and thoughtful humanity, and was borne on the life-currents of Grecian civilization to the various populations of the earth. There was, also, a deeper and spiritual preparation. Bitter experience had proved the worthlessness of the ancient superstitions, and had shown that extremity of wickedness and misery to which our race is tending, and from which there can be no deliverance save through the power of a Heaven sent faith. And, finally, the Jewish religion, containing in its bosom the essential truths of salvation, by its gradual diffusion, gave men a prophetic foretaste of Christianity, and a readiness to receive further; Divine instructions. From this whole subject we may derive two important lessons. First, let us learn to adore and love and trust that Almighty Being who rules, with purposes of mercy, over the children of men. That is an exalted conception of God which is presented to us in the Christian doctrine of providence. No evil genius presides over human destinies; nor a blind, unconscious fate; nor a stern God of justice who has forgotten to be gracious. It is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, from the beginning of the world till the present day, has been controlling the affairs of our globe to advance His compassionate designs. What a confidence have Christians here! In the midst of the revolutions, and disasters, and evils of earth, the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. Let us, also, be taught by this subject, the inestimable importance of the religion of Jesus Christ. When the Roman procurator of Judea carelessly questioned the Galilean who stood before him, accused by the malicious Jews, he little thought that the very empire, in which he himself was but an insignificant officer, was brought into existence and built up into power to advance the mission of that despised and persecuted Nazarene. And when the light-minded Athenians mocked the unpretending preacher of the Cross, they were far from conjecturing that the chief object for which the language and the civilization of Greece had been developing for centuries, was to diffuse the gospel which Paul proclaimed throughout all the habitable globe. Yet, in the mind of the Supreme Being, this was a worthy end of a providential control of human affairs during a period of thousands of years. See how differently God and man view the same things! But if Christianity has received such care from Almighty God, how important should this religion be in the eyes of those for whose welfare it is intended! (E. J. Hamilton, D. D.)
Christ obedient to the law
1. Christ’s obedience to the law was not a matter of course, following upon His Incarnation. He might have lived and died, had it been consistent with His high purpose, in sinless purity--without expressly undertaking, as He did, openly to fulfil the law.
2. It was not only an integral, but also a necessary part, of His work of redemption. He came, as regarded this matter, not to stand beneath the law, but to stand above it; and this He could only do by fulfilling it, and carrying out its higher and more spiritual meaning, and causing God’s truth and purity and holiness to shine through the outward veil of its commandments and ordinances. Moreover, He was the end of the law. It all pointed to Him. Its types and ceremonies all found their fulfilment in His person and work. All sacrifice was consummated by His suffering. And not less striking is the way in which the fact of Christ having been made under the law, unites and clears and justifies all God’s dealings with man. God gave a law which was valid through whole generations of men; a law with various sanctions and ordinances and prohibitions. That law is done away. The Church of God seems to stand on other foundations; to have changed the ground of her obedience, and the warrant of her hope. But this is not so. Not a jot nor a tittle of that law has fallen away, or become void. All has been fulfilled. (Dean Alford.)
Man in the light of the Incarnation
The pivots on which the crises of history revolve are seemingly very minute.
I. The incarnation implies the greatness of human nature. It is a fact, that God has been manifest in the flesh, in the person of His Son. God has expressed His attributes in many things. Men do the like in their works. In the Incarnation God did not embody mere qualities and perfections, but Himself. How closely must the nature of man be related to the nature of God; for God Himself became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth! It was through the points of similarity between the nature of God and the nature of man, involved in the Divine Fatherhood, that the Incarnation of Deity in humanity became possible. We revolt at the heathen idea, that a Divine being can be enshrined in an idol of wood or stone, because there are no godlike faculties through which the radiance of a Divine presence can stream forth on the kindred faculties of the worshippers who are to be illumined by the manifestation. If man be the offspring of God, the Incarnation becomes rational and credible. Of the grandeur of our nature, as set forth in this early announcement, the coming of the Son of God in the flesh is the demonstration.
II. The incarnation indicates the high destiny of man. Christ Jesus was the sample of that moral perfection to which humanity may be raised by the power and grace of God. The nature of a thing discloses more or less distinctly its primary intention. In all departments of creation we argue from the adaptations of an organ to the uses for which it was designed. The eye is for light and for the objects of beauty and deformity which light unveils. The ear is for sounds--melodies, harmonies, and discords. Reason and conscience are faculties related to truth and duty. It is but an application of the same process to infer from the powers of man the purpose of his Maker.
1. Our souls were evidently intended for fellowship with God. That we have faculties resembling the Divine attributes, is an intimation of this purport of our being.
2. Men were plainly framed to work with God as well as to commune with Him. We have benevolent activities resembling the beneficent energies of the Almighty. From our humble level we can pity and succour. We were formed for God-like thoughts, God-like motives, and God-like deeds.
3. Human beings were distinctly marked out for dominion and glory.
III. The incarnation brings out in deepest hues and darkest shades the sinfulness of our race. But of this be sure, that the greatness of man’s sin is inseparable from the greatness of man’s nature.
IV. The incarnation should inspire mankind with brightest hope. If our state had been without the prospect of deliverance, the Son of God would not have become flesh. He would not have appeared in our nature to mock our despair. The Incarnation is Divine testimony to our recoverability.
V. The incarnation seems to suggest, that the moral and regal perfection of our humanity is unattainable unless God dwell in us. Life and beauty, stem and leaf, bloom and fruit, lie hidden in the seed. While there is nothing but the seed, the wonderful vegetable fabric, with its verdure, fragrance, and loveliness, is merely latent. So all the spiritual capabilities of our nature continue undeveloped while the soul subsists in vital and moral isolation from God. The Divine ideal of humanity cannot be fulfilled by humanity alone. There must be a Divine vivification of the dormant energies. The re-creating Spirit must brood over the chaos.
VI. The incarnation demonstrates that your souls are very dear to God. How vast is God’s interest in us! He has sent His own Son to us in the nature of one of our race, one of our very selves. If a monarch waives the pomp of majesty, lays aside the burden of empire, and crosses the threshold of some humble cottage, to minister to a sufferer among the lowly poor, how obvious and how touching is his concern for his obscure and afflicted subject! (H. Batchelor.)
Preparation for the Advent
Our Lord’s appearance on the scene of human history corresponds with the general law so far as this--that He comes when a course of preparation, conducted through previous ages, was at last complete. But then He was not the creation, as we say, of His own or of any preceding age. What is true of all other great men, who are no more than great men, is not true of Him. They receive from their age as much as they give it; they embody and reflect its spirit. They catch the ideas which are in circulation--which are, as we speak, “in the air”--and they express them more vividly than do others, whether by speech or by action. The age contributes much to make them, and the age is pleased with them because it sees itself reflected in them, and their power with it is often in an inverse ratio to that of their real originality. With our Lord it is utterly otherwise. He really owed nothing to the time or the country which welcomed His Advent. He had no contact with the great world of Greek thought, or of Roman politics and administration. He borrowed just so much rabbinical language and sayings as to make Himself intelligible to His own generation; but no rabbi, of whatever school, could have said, or could have omitted to say, what He did. The preceding ages only prepared His way before Him in the circumstances, in the convictions, in the moral experiences of men; and thus a preceding period marked in the counsels of God had to be run out. At last its final hour had struck. That hour was the fulness of time: it was the moment of the Advent. There was a threefold work of preparation for the Son of God, carried forward in what was then called the civilized world; and each portion of this preparation demanded the lapse of a certain period.
I. The world had to be prepared, in a certain sense, politically for Christ’s work.
1. A common language. This was partly provided by the conquests of Alexander. He spread the Greek language throughout Western Asia, throughout Egypt; and when Greece itself was conquered, the educated Romans learnt the language of their vanquished provincials. And thus, when our Lord came, the Greek language, in which the New Testament is written, was the common tongue of the civilized world, ready to St. Paul’s hand for the missionary work of Christianity.
2. A common social system, laws, and government. During the half-century which preceded the birth of Christ, the Roman Empire was finally consolidated into a great political whole, so that Palestine and Spain--so that North Africa and Southern Germany--were administered by a single government. Christianity, indeed, did not need this, for it passed beyond the frontiers of the empire in the lifetime of the apostles; and the earliest translation of the New Testament--that into Syrian, in the first half of the second century--showed that it could dispense with Greek. But this preparation was, nevertheless, an important clement in the process by which preceding ages led up to the fulness of time.
II. Then there was a preparation in the convictions of mankind. The heathen nations were not without some religion--a religion which contained within various degrees certain elements of truth, however mingled with, or overlaid by, extraordinary error. Had it not been for the element of truth which is to be found in all forms of heathenism, heathenism could not have lasted as it did. Had there not been much true religious feeling in the ancient world, although it was lavished often upon unworthy and miserable objects, the great characters with whom we meet in history could not have existed. But the ancient religions tended from the first to bury God, of whose existence the visible world assured them, in that visible world which witnessed to Him. Those powers of nature which are, as we know, but His modes of working--which are but the robe with which he covers Himself--become more and more, when man is without a revelation, objects of devout veneration. The principle is the same in the fetishism which finds a god in some single natural object, and in the pantheism which, like that of India, looks forward to the absorption of the individual soul into the universal life of nature. The Greeks never knew, at their best time, of a literally Almighty God; still less did they know anything of a God of love; but it was necessary that their incapacity to retain in their knowledge the little they did know about Him should be proved to them by experience. Certainly, their great men, such as Plato, tried to spiritualize, in a certain sense, the popular ideas about God, but the old religion would not bear his criticism. It went to pieces when it was discussed; and philosophy, which he wished to take its place, having no facts, that is, no religious facts, to appeal to, but consisting only of views, could never become a real religion, and so take its place. The consequence was the simultaneous growth of gross superstition and of blank unbelief--a growth which continued down to the very time of the Incarnation. Never before was the existence of any Supreme Being so widely denied in civilized human society, as in the age of the first Caesars. Never were there so many magicians, incantations, charms, rites of the most debased and most debasing kind, as in that age. The most gifted of races had done its best with heathenism, anal the result was that all the highest and purest minds loathed the present, and looked forward to the future. It was the fulness of the time. The epoch of religious experiments had been closed in an epoch of despair which was only not altogether hopeless.
III. There was also a preparation in the moral experience of mankind. There was, at times, much of what we call moral earnestness in the ancient world; but men were content, as a rule, with being good citizens, which is by no means necessarily the same thing as being good men. In the eyes of Socrates, for instance, all obligations were discharged if a man obeyed the laws of Athens. Plato, St. Augustine said, approached Christianity more nearly than any other; and yet Plato tolerated popular vices of the gravest description, and he drew a picture of a model State in which there was to be a community of wives. And the moral teachers whom St. Paul afterwards found at Athens were Epicureans and Stoics. They divided the ancient world between them, practically. The Stoic morality has often been compared with Christianity; it differed from it vitally. Every single virtue was dictated by pride, just as every Epicurean virtue was inspired by the wish to economize the sources of pleasure. “Nowadays,” says a pagan writer, Quinctilian, “the greatest vices are concealed under the name of philosophy.” And the morality of the masses of men whom the philosophers could not and did not dare to influence, was just what might be expected. The dreadful picture of the pagan world which St. Paul draws (Romans 1:1-32.), is not a darker picture than that of pagan writers--of moralists like Seneca, of satirists like Juvenal, of historians like Tacitus; and yet enough survived of moral truth in the human conscience to condemn average pagan practices. Man still had, however obscurely, some parts of the law of God written deep in his heart. Men saw and approved (they said it themselves) the better course, and they followed the worse; and the natural law was thus to them only a revelation of sin and of weakness. It led them to yearn for a deliverer, although their aspirations were indefinite enough. Still this widespread corruption, this longing for better things, marked the close of the epoch of moral experiments; it announced that the fulness of the time had come. (Canon Liddon.)
Preparation of the Jewish people for Christ
1. Politically the Jews were expecting change. They retained the feelings while they had lost the privileges of a free people. Their aspirations looked to a better future, though they mistook its character. The sceptre had departed from Judah. Shiloh, they believed, would immediately come.
2. Their purely religious convictions pointed in the same direction. Prophecy had in the course of ages completed its picture of a coming deliverer. Beginning with the indefinite promise of a deliverance, it had gradually narrowed the fulfilment, first to a particular race, then to a particular nation, then to a particular tribe, and a particular family. And the birth, the work, the humiliations, the death, the triumph, of the deliverer had been described during the interval the nation had been particularly active in arranging, comparing, discussing the great treasures which it had received from the past; and there was consequently what the New Testament calls an “expectation of Israel,” for which all good men in that age were waiting.
3. Above all, the Jews had a moral preparation to go through, too--the law, which they had not kept either in letter or spirit, and which was therefore to them nothing less than a constant revelation of their own weakness and sin. It showed them what in their natural strength they could not do; it showed them, like a lantern carried into a dark chamber of horrors which had never been lighted up before, what they had done. Thus the law was a confidential servant (which is the true meaning of pedagogue; not schoolmaster), to whom God had entrusted the education of Israel, to bring him to Christ. And this process of bringing him had just reached its completion; the fulness of the time had come. (Canon Liddon.)
The Divine plan in human affairs
This remarkable expression, “the fulness of the time,” is with a slight variation elsewhere used by St. Paul. He calls the gospel, when writing to the Ephesians, “the dispensation of the fulness of times”; and it is easy to see that in both cases he really means by “fulness” that which fulfils or finishes; he means the arrival of a given hour or moment which completes an epoch--the hour which thus makes its appointed measure and brings it to a close. It was in a like sense that our Lord and His apostles used the word “hour,” as marking a particular point in His life, determined in the counsels of God (John 2:4; John 4:21; John 5:25; John 7:6; John 13:1; Matthew 26:45) All such language is only understood when we bear in mind that that succession of events which, looking at it from a human point of view, we call “time,” is distributed upon a plan eternally present to the Divine mind, and that particular persons or particular characters are assigned, by this eternal plan, their predestinated place in the succession. “To everything,” says the wise man, “there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” All the lesser incidents of our separate lives are really arranged in a preconcerted order. There is a fulness of time at which, and not before, we can understand particular truths or can undertake particular duties, because for these truths or these duties all that has preceded has been a preparation. “My time,” we may say in this sense, too, “is in Thy hand.” And this is peculiarly true of that last awful moment which awaits us all, and for which all that precedes it is one varied preparation--the moment of death. And in like manner it is true, generally, of those whom the world recognizes as its great men, that each appears in the fulness of time; each has his predestined hour, which he may not anticipate. He is in some sense the ripe product of the ages of thought, and feeling, and labour, which have elapsed before he comes: and that he should come when he does is just as much willed by the providence of God, as that he should be born at all. So it is with writers, with artists, with statesmen, even with discoverers and inventors. When such men as these are said to be before their age, it is only meant that the age has not yet taken its own true measure, and that they surprise it by a discovery. They really appear, one and all of them, in the fulness of time. (Canon Liddon.)
The fulness of time
“The fulness of the time” means that moment which filled up the measure of the appointed time, which completed the number of the allotted days; it does not refer to the feelings of men, but to the predestination of God. Scripture tells us that the world was being educated for the coming of Christ, so as to be able to receive Him and to profit by His work. As the heir of some great house is during his childhood treated as a servant, and kept under tutors and governors, so were we under the elements of the world; if heathens, we were under the vague teaching of natural religion; if Jews, under the formal instruction of Mosaic ordinances. History tells us how all things were ripe for the Redeemer’s coming just when He did come. God had prepared the civilized world for the reception of Christianity thus:--
I. By means of the Roman Empire He had reduced all the world under one government, so that there was free intercourse between all parts of the known world, and there was no political obstacle to the spread of the faith from one nation to another.
II. By means of the Greek language, the most perfect instrument of thought ever known, He had made the earth to be (in a very great degree) of one tongue, and thus He had prepared the way for the apostles and evangelists of Christ.
III. By means of the chosen people of the Jews--having still their religious centre at Jerusalem, yet scattered throughout the world--He had provided a nursery for the tender plant of the gospel, where it should be sheltered and fostered under the protection of an elder but kindred religion, until it was strong enough to be planted out in the world.
IV. By reason of the general confluence and mutual competition of all kinds of heathen idolatries, He had caused heathenism to lose all its old repute and power over souls. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
Timeliness of the Advent
It was the fulness of time.
I. In reference to the giver. The moment had arrived which God had ordained from the beginning, and foretold by His prophets, for Messiah’s coming.
II. In reference to the recipient. The gospel was withheld until the world had arrived at mature age; law had worked out its educational purpose and now was susperseded. This educational work had been twofold:
1. Negative. It was the purpose of all law, but especially of the Mosaic law, to deepen the conviction of sin and thus to show the inability of all existing systems to bring men near to God.
2. Positive. The comparison of the child implies more than a negative effect. A moral and spiritual expansion, which rendered the world more capable of apprehending the gospel than it would have been at an earlier age, must be assumed, corresponding to the growth of the individual; since otherwise the metaphor would be robbed of more than half its meaning. The primary reference in all this is plainly to the Mosaic law; but the whole context shows that the Gentile converts of Galatia are also included, and that they, too, are regarded as having undergone an elementary discipline, up to a certain point analogous to that of the Jews. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Shall we say that great events arise from antecedents or without them
In the fulness of time, or out of due season; by sudden crises, or with long purpose and preparation? It is impossible for us to view the great changes of the world under any of these aspects exclusively. The spread of the Roman empire, the fall of the Jewish nation, the decline of the heathen religions, the long series of prophecy and teaching, are the natural links which connect the gospel with the actual state of mankind; the causes, humanly speaking, of its spread, and the soil in which it grew. But there was something else mysterious and inexplicable beyond and above all these causes, of which no account can be given, which came into existence at a particular time, because God chose that it should come into existence at that time. This is what the apostle calls “the fulness of time.” (B. Jowett, M. A.)
Christ’s human birth a wonderful thing
“Is it not strange,” asked a thoughtful boy one day of his tutor, “is it not strange that St. Paul should tell us that our Saviour was born of a woman? Everybody that I know is born of a woman, and it is hard to see why such a matter should be mentioned at all as if it were remarkable.”… There is, it is true, nothing remarkable in this circumstance, if we take human life simply as we find it. For us men to be born of a woman is not merely a rule, it is a rule to which there is no known exception. Since the first parent of our race, no human being has appeared upon this earth who has not owed the debt of existence to the pain and travail of a human mother. The rule holds equally with the wisest, with the strongest, with the saintliest. Millions there have been among the sons of men, who have been also by Divine grace made to become sons of God; millions who have been born again, and thus have seen the kingdom of God; but of these each one was also first born of a human mother. So that we are driven to ask why a circumstance which might have been taken quietly for granted should be invested by the apostle with such prominence in the case of our Saviour Jesus Christ. But observe, the question is whether in His case it could have been taken for granted? If St. Paul mentions it thus emphatically, it is because he, at least, will not at once presume that this is the case. If, indeed, the Christ whom St. Paul loved and served was only a Son of God by grace, while by nature He was only and purely a man, then to have written down that he was “born of a woman” would have been an unmeaning truism. But if, in naming Him, St. Paul is thinking of Being whose nature is such as to make His appearance at all to the eye of sense, and in this visible sphere of things, in a very high degree extraordinary, then to say that He was “born of a woman” is to make an assertion of startling significance. Now, that St. Paul is thinking of such a Being is clear, for when he says, “God sent forth His Son,” he used the same word as when, just after, he says, “God sent forth the Spirit of His Son.” It is a word which implies, not simply the action of God’s providence, placing a created being on the scene of life; it is a word which implies a sending forth from the inmost life, from the depths of Deity itself, of One who shared the essential nature of the Sender. (Canon Liddon.)
Woman exalted by Christ’s birth
The position of women in the ancient world was, as a rule, one of deep degradation. There are some great and saintly women in ancient Israel--Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Huldah. There are women who are socially or politically great in paganism, without being at all saintly--Semiramis, Aspasia, Sappho, and the wives and mothers of the Caesars. But, as a rule, in antiquity woman was degraded; women were at the mercy, and the caprice, and the passions of men. They lived as they live to-day in the Mohammedan East, at least generally, a life in which the luxuries of a petty seclusion scarcely disguise the hard reality of their fate. And yet women were then, as now, the larger part of the human family; and one object, we may dare to say, of the Divine Incarnation, was to put woman’s life on a new footing, within the precincts of the Kingdom of Redemption; and this was done when the Redeemer Himself God’s Own Eternal Son, owning no earthly father, yet deigned to be “born of a woman.” The highest honours ever attained by or bestowed upon the noblest or the saintliest members of the stronger sex, surely pale into insignificance when contrasted with this altogether unique prerogative of Mary. She herself, in the great hymn of the Incarnation, is already conscious of this. Let us think of the best man or woman we have ever known in life, and ask ourselves if it would be possible for him or her to say, without presumption, without absurdity, “Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” But Mary--she utters these words, and from age to age Christendom verifies them. To have been the mother of the Divine Redeemer is a privilege unshared and incommunicable, and it sheds a glory upon all Christian women to the very end of time. It is this fact which has silently created that rare and beautiful feeling which in the Middle Ages took the form of chivalry, but which is wider and more lasting than to be identified with any one period of the Church’s life; that feeling which, without the aid of legislation, without reducing itself to a theory or a philosophy, insensibly corrected the wrongs of centuries, and secured for woman that tender respect and deference which is the true safeguard of her commanding influence, and which alone secures it. The best guarantee of woman’s liberty and influence is to be found in the fact that the Eternal Son deigned to be “born of a woman.” (Canon Liddon.)
The Immaculate Conception
These words not merely affirm, they also deny. Their silence is as exclusive, as their positive import is significant. “Born of a woman.” Nothing, then, is said of another earthly parent. No human father is named as the instrument of the Divine providence. The apostle is thinking, we may say with confidence, on our Lord’s birth of a virgin mother. It is true that in St. Paul’s writings there is no definite and unmistakable reference to the Immaculate Conception; but we must remember
(1) that there is no one occasion in St. Paul’s writings on which such a reference would seem necessary; and
(2) that St. Luke’s Gospel, written under St. Paul’s direction and illustrating his teaching, gives the fullest account of the circumstances of our Lord’s Conception and Birth which we have in the New Testament. The word “woman,” then, is in this passage emphatic. It pointedly implies that our Lord had only one earthly parent. Observe the import of this. It was a prime necessity that the Redeemer of mankind should be sinless. If He was to help our race out of its condition of moral degradation, He must have no part in the evil which it was His work to put away (Hebrews 7:26). But, then, human sin was not merely actual, hut original; not merely a result of each man’s separate life and responsibility, but a consequence of the withdrawal of God’s first gift of righteousness after Adam’s transgression. It was, in fact, a twist of the hereditary human will; it was a taint upon the native affections and intelligence of the race; it was a subtle ingredient of the common character; it was an entail from the obligations of which the generations could not of themselves hope to escape. Men have constantly resented, as they resent to-day, the very idea of such an inheritance of evil; but they act, I observe, at least in social and in public matters, upon the presumption that it is true. Man is ever upon his guard against his brother man, as if he were a disguised or a possible enemy. Society protects itself by laws against human nature, by laws which would be a superfluous and insulting libel upon it if human nature were not by instinct and originally sinful. And thus for the apparition of a Sinless Being, truly sharing in our common nature, yet absolutely free from its inheritance of evil, some striking irregularity in the transmission of natural life--some flaw, if we might say so, conspicuous and intentional--was plainly suitable, in order to mark the entrance upon the scene of human life of One who shared the inheritance of flesh and blood, without sharing the tradition of sin. This was the meaning of the Lord’s Birth of a virgin mother. It was because He “became sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him,” that He was in this emphatic and exclusive sense “born of a woman.” (Canon Liddon.)
Christ’s Birth of a woman consecrates family life
The life of the family is indeed older than Christianity; it is grounded on facts and instincts of human nature. It is perhaps, in the last analysis, the product of the action of man’s reason and man’s conscience upon his rudimentary physical instincts. But the nature and sacredness of family life has been recognized with very different degrees of clearness in different ages and countries of the world. It has had to contend with selfish passions always threatening to break it up, and, in particular, with the widespread and degrading institution of polygamy. Those who have best understood the true well-being of our race have done their best at all times to insist upon and to uphold family life as the safeguard of pure human life, as the firmest foundation of social order. Now, when our Lord condescended to be “born of a woman,” He became a member of a human family, and He bestowed upon family life the greatest consecration it has ever received since the beginning of human history, He had, indeed, no earthly father; but He was subject to His foster-father, St. Joseph, as well as to His own mother, Mary. He was subject, while yet He blessed them. In every age Christians have loved to dwell upon the picture of that incomparable home, first at Bethlehem and then at Nazareth, that home in which for a while Mary presided, and for which Joseph toiled, and in which Jesus was nursed and trained. No homestead, we may be sure, ever rivalled the moral beauties of that which was set up on this earth when the Son of God was “born of a woman.” From that day to this, He has been the inspiring, regulating, combining influence in all Christian households. In the Christian faith we trace His moral authority, in the Christian mother His tenderness and love, in the Christian child His lowly obedience. (Canon Liddon.)
The character of the Messiah
I. Here is the character of the person sent into the world. “God sent forth His Son.” The phrase is of the same import, with those other expressions we meet with in Scripture (John 3:16; Hebrews 1:1). The meaning is: God having of old established several forms of religion among men, by divers ways of revelation, by discovering Himself to the patriarchs, by the delivering of the law to Moses; He did at last in mercy and compassion to mankind vouchsafe to afford them one more clear and perfect revelation of His will, by the preaching of a person of far greater excellence and authority than any before; even by His own Son. The person here declared to be sent into the world, was in a peculiar manner the Son of God. The text also implies that He was with God, in the bosom of the Father, before He was sent into the world.
II. Here is a description of this Divine Person’s condition, and His manner of conversation in the world--“He was made of a woman, made under the law.” He was made of a woman, i.e., He became truly and really a man; not taking upon Him only the similitude of our nature, but being really and truly such; subjected to all the infirmities of human nature, and tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15; see also Hebrews 2:17).
III. Here is the end and design of his coming thus into the world; set forth in the last part of the words--“To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” The same phrase the apostle again makes use of in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 8:15). God deals not with us as a master with his servants, but as a father with his sons, requiring of us not any hard and burdensome service, but only a rational and sincere obedience. Our Lord came “to redeem them that were under the law;” i.e., to abrogate the burdensome ceremonies of the Jewish institutions; “That we might receive the adoption of sons”; i.e., that He might establish with men a new covenant, which should be most easy to observe, and most sufficient to justify those that should observe it. Most easy to observe, is this covenant of the gospel; because its precepts are not positive and carnal ordinances, but the great duties of the moral and eternal law of God. Christ has suffered for us, that we might receive the adoption of sons; but if we continue not to live virtuously as becomes the children of God, it will nothing profit us to have received this adoption. “They only who are led by the Spirit of God, are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). (S. Clarke, D. D.)
Of the fulness of time, in which Christ appeared
1. We may consider it with respect to God’s fore-determination; and then it was therefore the fulness of time, because determined and foretold by the prophets. According to that ancient prediction of Jacob (Genesis 49:10), the Messiah was to appear before the total dissolution of the Jewish Government. Again; the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 3:1), determines the coming of our Saviour to be before the destruction of the second temple. And that no less remarkable prediction of Haggai (Haggai 2:6-7; Haggai 2:9). ‘Tis evident therefore that the incarnation of Christ was in the fulness of time; that is, exactly at the time foretold and fore-determined by the prophets. And indeed these prophecies were so plain, that about the time of our Lord’s appearance, the Jews, and from them the Romans, and all the eastern parts of the world, were in great expectation of some extraordinary person to arise, who should be governor of the world. But--
2. Though it be evident that our Saviour came into the world in the fulness of time, viz., at the time foretold by the prophets; yet the question may still return, Why was that time determined rather than any other, and accordingly foretold by the prophets; for, without doubt, it was in itself absolutely the fittest and the properest season. Now two reasons there seem to have been more especially, of our Saviour’s appearing at that time: the first is, because the insufficiency of the Jewish dispensation, as well as of natural religion, was then, after a long trial, become sufficiently apparent: apparent; not to God, who knows all things at once, and makes accordingly provision for all things from the beginning; but to men, to whom the counsel of God is opened by degrees. The second reason, why we may suppose our Savior appeared just at the time He did, was because the world was at that time by many extraordinary circumstances, peculiarly prepared for his reception. Now, about the time of our Saviour’s birth, it is observable that there was a concurrence of many things in the world, to promote and further the propagation of such a religion. The Romans had then conquered almost all the known parts of the world; they had spread and settled their language among all the nations of their conquests, and had made the communication easy from one part to another. They had, moreover, improved moral philosophy to its greatest height. Further; the great improvement and increase of learning in the world about this time (according to that prophecy of Daniel, “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased”) gave occasion to the Jewish books to be dispersed through the world: and particularly the translating of the Bible some few ages before the birth of Christ into one of the then most known and universal languages upon earth, which had before been confined in a peculiar language to the Jews only, was a singular preparative to the reception of that great Prophet and Saviour of mankind, whose coming was in that book so plainly and so often foretold. Indeed this seems to have been the first step of God’s discovering Himself further than by the light of nature to other nations as well as to the Jews, and of His giving the heathen also the knowledge of His revealed laws, and remarkably instrumental it afterwards appeared to be, in the propagating the Christian religion through the Gentile world. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ
Four thousand years elapsed between the giving of the promise and its fulfilment. It is natural to ask--why?
I. Consider the wisdom and propriety of delaying the fulfilment of the promise until what Paul here calls “the fulness of the time.” St. Paul asserts that at any earlier period it would have been as unwise to have sent His Son into the world, as to make any young man master of his own property till he came of age.
1. At no period before “the fulness of time” would the Incarnation of Christ have been so proper, all things considered. Redemption was equally needed at all times, but taking into account Christ’s doctrines, life, miracles, etc., it would have been untimely earlier. During the antediluvian age, there was no man living who could have written such an account of it as to interest future generations, and at the same time benefit those of his own time. From the Flood to the time of Moses the world’s population was comparatively small and uncivilized. From the time of Moses to the prophets, the Jews required fuller instruction and discipline to fit them for Christ’s teaching. During the four monarchies war was so rife that the religion of Christ would not have gained public attention; or, if it had, men would afterwards have asserted that Christianity was the invention of some political tyrant of that age.
2. In the Augustan age, when Christ did come, the world was prepared thoroughly to examine His claims, was able to appreciate His doctrines by comparison and contrast, and was in such a state as to afford facilities for the extension and propagation of Christianity.
II. Consider the manner of His incarnation.
1. Christ came as a child. Fit emblem of the mission of mercy which brought Him.
2. He was born in a lowly station. No fear, then, but that the poorest and humblest are welcome to Him and to all His benefits.
3. Obedient to the law, and under its curse.
III. Consider the great design of His incarnation.
1. To redeem from the curse, not the obligation, of the law. You cannot obey the law too much, but you must look for justification to Christ alone.
2. To confer on all men the adoption of sons. We must believe this before we can feel it. (R. Philip.)
The Advent of the Redeemer
The purpose of Christ’s earthly manifestation cannot have been to effect any change in God’s disposition towards us, to make Him placable or propitious, for it was the fruit and issue of His love. (1 John 4:10; John 3:16).
I. The timeliness of the advent. Every event in the unfolding of the Divine plan has its proper place. Evidence of this is not wanting in regard to the advent.
1. The proof of the world’s need was complete. Philosophy and religion had been tried, and failed. Nothing remained but disappointment and despair.
2. The Jewish nation was prepared. Prophecy fulfilled. People expectant. The old system worn out.
3. The circumstances of the age were favourable. Peace. Civilization. One language.
II. The subjection to human conditions which Christ’s advent involved.
1. His true humanity.
(1) Identity of nature with all men.
(2) Antecedent mystery of another and higher nature.
(3) Progressive development.
(4) Completeness of sympathy.
2. His legal obedience. He submits to the yoke under which all are bound. (Homiletic Magazine.)
Christ, the Saviour of men
A little above Niagara Falls there is a cluster of islets. The most considerable of these is called Goat Island, and between Goat Island and the shore there is a stream of some breadth, and of exceeding swiftness, crossed by a little wooden bridge. One day a man was painting that bridge, and while thus engaged he happened to miss his footing and slip into the rapids, and was carried down with terrible swiftness. Though he struggled hard to make for the shore, his struggles were all in vain; the current was far too strong for him. Down, down he went, and it seemed as if in a few moments he would take the fearful leap into the unbottomed abyss. But just as it appeared that all hope was gone, he was intercepted by a little islet of rock not very far from the edge of the precipice--you would scarcely have noticed it if you were looking casually on the stream, it was so small; it attracted attention only by the ripples the water made about it. That little islet happened to lie right in his way; it intercepted his progress, and gave him foothold and handhold for a time. There he clung, and cried out for assistance. By and by a crowd gathered on the shore, and they began to devise all sorts of means to save him. They tried one thing after another, and plan after plan failed, until at last one brave man got the idea of having a rope put round his waist; and, getting into the river at just about the place where the man entered the water, so managed to angle across the stream, and yet be carried down it, that he reached the little islet of rock, and grasped the man there with all the strength he had left. And now, firmly clasped in each other’s embrace they set out back again on their perilous journey, and safely reached the shore. By this time a great crowd had gathered, and you may imagine the ringing cheer which went up from that large company when the two men came safely back. Take this story as an illustration of man’s helpless condition in this world until Christ left the eternal shore to come and rescue him. If man was to be saved these six conditions must be fulfilled; and they were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
I. Some one from the shore must undertake to save him.
II. The Helper must leave the shore and come to him so that he can grasp Him. Not enough to see in the distance One who has pity; must be actual contact.
III. In order to reach him the Deliverer must come within the sweep of the law. No other way of reaching him, but through the current.
IV. The Rescuer must bear the drowning man’s share of the curse of the law if He would save him. Powerless to bear the strain himself.
V. The Rescuer must have strength enough to get safely back.
VI. The Saviour and the saved must be firmly bound together. Otherwise the; strain will fall on both, and the latter will inevitably be drowned. Hence the need of faith, which is the grasp of the soul. (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
The world’s majority
A doctrinal explanation of the birth and life of Christ. That event marked--
1. The world’s coming of age. All pre-Christian history anticipative and preparatory.
2. The character of the new relationship opened up to men.
(2) Divine sonship.
3. The means whereby the spiritual maturity of men is brought about.
(1) It involved self-sacrifice on the part of God.
(2) The proper human nature of man is assumed by Christ.
(3) The obligations of the law are voluntarily discharged. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)
The fulness of time
Trench thinks it a very remarkable fact that God’s prophecies concerning the advent of His Son seem to have spread athwart the habitable globe, and in the shape of traditional echoes to have been dispersed all over the world. The poet Virgil says in one of his poems that He would soon be born into the world who would, he expected, bring in the golden age. Suetonius, an ancient historian, states that a certain and settled persuasion prevailed in the East that the cities of Judea would bring forth, about this time, a person who should obtain universal empire. And Tacitus states that it was contained in the ancient books of the Jewish priests that the East should prevail, These were scattered lights that went out from Judea, their reuniting centre, and gave the heathen an anticipation and a persuasion that some great and illustrious Deliverer was about to be born into the world.
God’s gift to the world
An epitome of the scheme of redemption--an outline of the gospel plan--an abbreviating system of Christian divinity.
I. The important event stated.
1. The illustrious Person spoken of.
2. This illustrious Person was divinely commissioned.
3. The nature which He assumed.
4. The obligations to Which He was liable.
(1) He was subject to the ceremonial law. He was circumcised, and presented in the temple; He worshipped in the synagogues, went up to the feasts, etc.
(2) He was under the moral law. He lived it; and in all He spake, and did, and thought, He honoured it. He kept it, in all its extent, perfectly. He also taught it, spiritualized and vindicated it.
(3) He was under both the ceremonial and moral law in His mediatorial capacity. He was both the Victim for sin and the High Priest of our profession.
5. The peculiar period of His manifestation.
(1) The time referred to by the prophets.
(2) After the world had been sufficiently informed as to the event, in various ways and forms, from the first promise to the last prophecy given.
(3) When all means for man’s restoration had proved totally inadequate.
(4) When the world was in a state of profound peace.
(5) When there was a general expectation of Him, especially among the Jews.
(6) At that particular time, fixed upon as the best, by the infinite wisdom of God.
II. The grand ends contemplated in these events.
1. That we might obtain redemption.
2. That we might receive adoption.
3. That believers might thus enjoy redemption and the adoption of sons.
1. The way in which redemption has been effected.
2. The invaluable blessings it presents before us.
3. The importance of a saving, personal interest in them.
4. Exhort the guilty and perishing to believe and have life. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The first Advent of Messiah
I. The time of His coming. He came “when the fulness of the time was come.” And what time was that?
1. It was the time appointed of the Father--the time fixed for His coming in the mind and counsel of God. Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world, and even from all eternity. Nothing happens to Him by chance,
2. It was the time foretold by the prophets--those holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
3. It was a time peculiarly suitable for His coming, and is, therefore, called the fulness of the time. It was a time when events seemed to have gradually ripened for this glorious consummation. It was a time, lastly, when His forerunner appeared to prepare His way before Him, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, and thus making ready a people prepared for the Lord. Such was the time of the Redeemer’s advent.
II. Consider the manner of His coming. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” There are here three particulars for our consideration.
1. God sent forth His Son. This expression evidently implies that the Son of God existed before He was sent forth. And does not the Scripture everywhere corroborate the truth thus implied? But where did He exist before His Divine mission? He existed with God in heaven. He was in the bosom of the Father. “I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.” Consequently, we are not to suppose, when God is here said to have sent Him forth, that it implies any inferiority of nature on the part of the Son; for “such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such, too, is the Holy Ghost.”
2. The Son of God was made of a woman; and He was so made in accordance with the prophecies respecting Him.
3. He was made under the law. As a Divine person, a partaker with the Father in the Godhead, He was not subject to any law; nor as a perfectly holy man was he bound to submit to the ceremonial law, which in everything implied the sinfulness of man. Yet, for us men, and for our salvation, He humbled Himself to be made under the law. He was born of a Jewess, and was circumcised the eighth day, and thus was placed under the law as a covenant of works; that, as the surety of His people, He might in every way answer its full demands.
III. Consider the object of His coming. This was to “redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” By the law, we may here understand both the ceremonial and the moral law. And what is the adoption here spoken of? It is a blessing of which by nature we are utterly destitute; for by nature we are without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But when does God thus adopt us? It is when we truly repent us of our past sins, and embrace by faith the method of salvation revealed in the gospel. And what are the privileges to which as adopted children we become entitled? They are numerous and important, too numerous indeed, to be here all specified.
1. The spirit of adoption, which enables us to approach God with filial confidence, and to open our whole heart before Him.
2. Heirship. (D. Rees.)
The fulness of the time
I. The fulness of time.
1. Time hath a fulness, because it has a capacity (Ephesians 4:13).
2. That fulness comes by degrees. As with life so with time.
3. There is a time when time cometh to its fulness (Joh 7:8. cf John 12:23). In the day at the meridian; in man at full age.
4. When that “when” is. When God sends it. That which fills time is some memorable thing of God’s pouring into it. Moses and the prophets filled it to a certain degree; Christ filled it to the brim. Well might it be called the fulness, for
(1) Christ was the fulness of God (Colossians 2:9; John 3:34; John 1:14-16).
(2) In Him the promises were fulfilled.
(3) The heir, the world had come to his full age, and so was ripe to receive Him its inheritance.
II. The filling of time.
1. From the fulness of His compassion God “sent.”
2. From the fulness of His love He “sent His Son.”
3. In the fulness of humility He sent Him.
(1) “Made of a woman,” to make full union with our nature.
(2) “Made under the law” to make the union yet more perfectly full with our sinful condition by undertaking, at circumcision, to fulfil all the righteousness of its law (Galatians 5:8), and at His passion fulfilling all our obligations to the law (Colossians 2:14).
III. The fulness of the benefit to us.
1. Redemption. Consider
(1) The price paid;
(2) The captives;
(3) The liberation.
(1) Prisoners translated into children;
(2) Slaves of sin into joint heirs with God’s Son.
IV. The fulness of duty by us. Christmas should be--
1. A time of fulness of joy; but not that only; also a time of--
2. Thankfulness to God.
4. Beneficence. (Bp. Andrewes.)
I. Christ came in the fulness of time.
1. What is this?
(1) The time appointed by the Father.
(2) Foretold by the prophets.
2. How doth it appear?
(1) From Genesis 49:10.
(2) Daniel 9:25.
(3) Haggai 2:9; Malachi 3:1.
II. Christ was sent, therefore He had a being before. This appears from
(1) John 6:33; John 6:51;
(2) John 1:15; John 8:58.
(3) John 1:2; Hebrews 1:2; Colossians 1:15-16.
III. Christ was God’s Son.
1. He was God (Romans 9:5; 1 John 5:20).
2. This Godhead He received of the Father (John 5:26).
3. This communication was properly a generation.
IV. Christ was made of a woman.
1. He received His human body substantially from a woman.
2. Made, i.e., without the help of man (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23-24; Luke 1:34-35).
(1) See the infinite love of God to man.
(2) The dignity of man above all other creatures.
2. Exhortation. Be thankful for this inestimable mercy.
(1) How miserable you would be without it. Your sins unpardoned; your God unreconciled; your soul condemned.
(2) How happy by it: your person justified; your God reconciled; your souls saved. Sing with the angels (Luke 2:14). (Bp. Beveridge.)
I. There was a threefold work of preparation, each portion of which demanded the lapse of a certain period.
1. The Gentile world had to he prepared.
(1) Politically. A common language and social system with laws and Government were required and provided in the Greek language and the Roman Empire:
(2) In religious conviction. The old religions went to pieces, and an age of vice, superstition, and unbelief supervened. The epoch of religious experiments closed in an epoch of despair.
(3) In moral experience. Men saw and approved the better course and followed the worse. Consciousness of sin and weakness led them to yearn for a deliverer.
2. The Jewish world--
(1) Politically was expecting change, and that Shiloh would appear.
(2) Their religious convictions pointed to Him.
(3) Their law was a moral preparation, “a schoolmaster to lead them to Christ.”
II. When the time was full Christ came.
1. If we had seen Jesus in His earthly life what impression would He have produced on our unprejudiced souls?
(1) We should have observed in Him a totally different relation to truth from that of every other man.
(a) There was no struggle between His will and God’s law.
(b) He never sinned.
2. His nature was at harmony with itself. No one excellence is out of proportion. Contemplation and action; the desire for the public and the individual good; all that was most manly and most womanly; the Jewish, Greek, Roman types, all harmonized. The first Adam contained the whole race of his descendents; so Christ became the Head of a new race.
3. As we looked steadily we should have seen that He was God’s Son, made of a woman.
III. From what did Christ come to deliver us.
1. From false views of the world and life.
2. From base and desponding views of human nature.
3. From bondage. (Canon Liddon.)
The fulness of the time
I. When Rome had reached the zenith of her power and influence.
II. When civilization had attained her utmost development.
1. Politically the world was one as it had never been before and has never been since.
2. Intellectually. Except, perhaps, the golden age of Greece, without a parallel. Cicero, Lucretius, Caesar, Pliny, Juvenal. Philosophy now in her prime.
3. Materially: every source open from which pleasure could be derived.
III. When men had fathomed the lowest depths of degradation. The fulness of time was marked by--
1. Disgusting licentiousness.
2. Inhuman cruelty.
3. Widespread practice of suicide.
4. Blank atheism.
5. Utter despair. (J. Macgregor, D. D.)
The fulness of the time; or, the ruined world redeemed by Christ
I. A period in which were manifest the bondage, degradation, and misery of man, and the corruption, decay, and death of nations.
1. After the Flood a new term of probation was granted; but Babel became the monument of man’s pride and self-will.
2. After the call of Abraham God’s administration took a two-fold form:
(a) to prepare salvation for the nations;
(b) To prepare the nations for salvation.
(1) To the Jews the law was given as a pedagogue to conduct them to Christ; but they lost sight of the end in the means.
(2) To the Greeks were given exquisite intellectual faculties;.but these great gifts were prostituted to the basest uses.
(3) To the Romans was given the faculty for law and empire; but they became slaves of lust. The world’s extremity was God’s opportunity.
II. A period of special, supernatural, and Divine intervention as manifested in the person and work of Christ, and the spiritual freedom and moral elevation of men.
1. The person of Christ.
(1) His Divinity--“sent forth His Son.”
(2) His humanity--“born of a woman.”
(3) His nationality--“under the law.”
2. The work of Christ--“to redeem, etc.”
3. The kindred and representatives of Christ--“sons,” whose distinctive marks are:
(4) Hopefulness. (Giles Hester.)
I. The general expectation of the people when christ came, as witnessed by Josephus, Suetonious, and Tacitus
II. The state of the world at the period.
1. The Jews.
(1) Their inordinate zeal for ceremonial.
(2) Their moral depravity.
2. The Roman empire.
(1) Its power and wealth.
(2) Its effeminacy and corruption.
3. Its hopelessness. Polytheism and philosophy had failed, and had given place to atheism and sorcery.
III. The results that flowed from the advent.
1. The abolition of Judaism.
2. The extirpation of every preexisting religion and philosophy.
3. The ultimate triumph of Christianity in its effects--
(1) On the individual whom it regenerated;
(2) on the race which it unified into a brotherhood;
(3) on the family which it purified and elevated
(4) on woman to whom it gave power and a sphere;
(5) on children whom it snatched from the murderer;
(6) on legislation which it humanized;
(7) on labour which it ennobled;
(8) on education whose sphere it widened;
(9) or, slavery and war whose horrors it mitigated and whose extinction it requires. (G. Sexton, LL. D.)
The Advent of the Redeemer
I. Its timeliness--“In due time” (Romans 5:6).
1. The proof of the world’s need was complete.
2. God’s preparation as regards the Jews had fulfilled its course.
3. The circumstances of the age were favourable.
II. Christ’s subjection to human conditions which it involved.
1. His true humanity (Hebrews 2:17).
2. His legal obedience. (J. Waite.)
The Advent in redemption
I. Christ became the Son of Man that we might become Sons of God. Christ’s incarnation is--
1. The secret of His influence over us. Attraction is in proportion to nearness. Christ stooped that He might lift (Hebrews 4:15).
2. The source of His power to conquer our foes (Hebrews if. 14).
3. The ground of His atonement unto God (Hebrews 2:17).
II. Christ was made subject to law that He might free us from bondage of law.
1. He was born subject--
(1) To Levitical law as a Jew.
(2) To the social law--subject to His parents (Luke 2:51).
(3) To the civil law (Matthew 17:24-27).
(4) To the moral law.
2. He was subject to the penalties of the law, although Himself sinless.
(1) To the shame and trouble of the world generally.
(2) To death, the distinctive doom of sin.
3. This leads to our liberation.
(1) By facing the death-doom of this law Christ conquers this for us.
(2) By obedience to the law He triumphed over the law.
(3) By rising from obedience to the letter of the law, and the higher obedience of the spirit He leads us also to that freer service of love which is emancipation from law. (W. J. Adeney, M. A.)
Christ’s mission for the adoption of sons in the fulness of time
I. The mission of Christ, and the manner of His manifestation.
1. The dignity of His person--God’s Son.
2. The manner Of His manifestation.
(1) Born of a woman; conceived by the Holy Ghost, Frequently noticed in Old and New Testaments (Genesis 3:18; Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; 1 Timothy 2:14-15).
(2) Made under the law; plainly implying that He was put into a situation different from that which was originally His (cf. Philippians 2:7-8). The necessary condition of every creature is that of submission to the law of God. Christ was born of a woman that He might be made subject to that law.
He was made under--
1. The ceremonial law.
2. The moral law.
3. The mediatorial law; and fulfilled all perfectly.
II. The design of His mission.
1. He came to accomplish that which could not be accomplished by other means or an inferior agency.
2. He came not merely to exemplify a rule of life but to satisfy its violation; not to explain the law but to bear its curse.
3. The character in which He appeared was that of a Substitute and Daysman.
4. In this character He magnified the law and procured justification for us.
5. And further, secured to us the adoption of sons.
III. The fitness of the season which God in His infinite wisdom appointed for the purpose. It was a period--
1. Foretold in prophecy, Jacob, Haggai, Daniel.
2. Of general expectation.
3. Of profoundest peace.
4. Of advanced learning and scepticism; so a time most favourable to detect imposture and to test the merits of true religion.
5. Of toleration.
1. The advent was the most important event in the history of the world.
2. You are all interested in it. Those who neglect it will be eternally deprived of its provisions. (Robert Hall.)
Christmas Day and what it teaches
I. Wherein consisted the preparation of the fulness of time for a new turn in the history of the world? There was a general sickness in the world’s condition.
1. War had left its sores and scars behind.
2. Popular religion was worn out and dying.
3. The faith of Moses and Isaiah had degenerated into a discussion of dress and posture, and into a fierce fanaticism. It was the darkest period before the dawn. Men were dreaming--
(1) That a prophet would come to solve the riddle of life.
(2) That a king would appear who would establish universal monarchy.
(3) That the Golden Age would be restored.
II. Wherein consisted the peculiarity of the coming of Christ which made it the germ of what there was to be in the ages following?
1. The evils of the world, however glittering, found their level in Christ’s presence.
2. Christ revealed to man a new image of the Divine nature and a new idea of human destiny, and made both realizable.
3. All that was good in the world took courage, and was revived and assimilated and strengthened by Christ; what was true in thought, beautiful in art, just in law, were incorporated, and the organic unity of the world gave a framework into which the gospel could fit and spread without hindrance and violence.
III. What are the conditions and what ought to be the effects of Christianity on its nineteenth-century birthdays?
1. As regards our manners and customs.
(1) We have left behind gladiatorial games; have we learned that mercy which the humane spirit of jesus should teach us?
(2) We have left behind the luxury and selfishness of Rome; but is not our extravagance in dress and living contrary to the simplicity, the plain living, and high thinking of Jesus?
(3) We have left behind the foul sins of ancient heathenism; but is our conversation and our literature free from a frivolity and coarseness alien to Him who blessed the pure in heart?
(4) We have left behind divisions between Pharisee and Sadducee, Greek and Barbarian; but have we not so multiplied sects and churches as to break the unity which should be in Christ?
2. As regards our outlook. Just as the advances of Roman civilization were preparations for the gospel, so the advances of modern science, etc. so far from being contrary to the gospel are means of its wider spread.
3. As regards us individually. When the fulness of time is come in joy or sorrow the one redeeming thought is that Christ has redeemed us that we might receive, etc. (Dean Stanley.)
The fulness of time
The phrase marks a great crisis in the history of the world. The ages flow on until they reach a certain defined boundary line, and then a new order of things is established. An apprentice is bound for a term of years; at the expiration of that period the fulness of time has come, and he obtains his freedom from service. An heir arrives at his majority and enters into the possession of freedom when he has filled with service the term fixed by his father or by the law. Boys and girls at school count the weeks which intervene between the period appointed for breaking-up, and long for the fulness of time to come that they may obtain their liberty and hasten home to see their fathers and mothers. So in the history of the world. The old order came to an end. The sand in the hour-glass ran out. It was time to put the old lesson books, the old habits, the old employments, away. (G. Hester.)
The Incarnate Person of Christ
He possessed our human nature in all its completeness--body, soul, and spirit. United to this perfect humanity was the infinite Divine nature with all its glorious perfections. The human nature is the temple, the Divine nature is the glory which dwelleth in the temple. The human nature is the cloud, the Divine nature is the sun shining through that cloud, giving light and life to the souls of men. When He spoke, His human words conveyed Divine wisdom. When He worked His miracles, His human hands were vehicles of Divine power. When He loved, His human heart was surcharged with an infinite, changeless, and everlasting love. (Thomas Jones.)
The three births of Christ
His eternal birth in heaven is inexpressible, where He was born without a mother; His birth on earth is inexpressible, where He was born without a father; His third birth in thy soul is most inexpressible, without father or mother. He had a heavenly birth, by which He was the Eternal Son of God, and without that He had not been a Person able to redeem thee. He had a human birth, by which He was the Son of Mary, and without that He had not been sensible of thine infirmities and necessities. But He hath a spiritual birth in thy soul, without which both His Divine and human birth are utterly unprofitable to thee, and thou art no better off than if there had never been a Son of God in heaven or a son of Mary on earth. (Doune.)
God’s law is spoken of as a fetter or chain, binding a condemned spirit unto sure and speedy punishment. And Christ Jesus is set forth as a gracious Saviour, coming with both price and power to ransom and deliver. These two parts of the figure should be considered in order. First--Here is the Divine law as a bondage or imprisonment. A principle, or power, hemming the sinful soul in and ensuring its destruction. Law--that substantial and sublime thing. Law, a cloud, presently to vanish! Ah me! it is anything else! The very word “law” means something fixed, established, immutable. And as everywhere seen in the Divine government, the thing “law” is the most permanent and immutable of all things. We observe this in regard even of the lowest physical laws of the universe, Take the law of germination--the transmission of vegetable life through the earthly flora--that Divine ordinance at creation: “That grass and herb and tree should yield seed after their kind, whose seed is in itself after its kind;” and observe with what immutable power it reigns over its broad domain. All the physical changes since creation have not abated jot or tittle of its meaning. The oak and the cedar are now in form, in development, yea, in the colour and fibre of spray and leaf, precisely the oak and the cedar of the primal Eden woodlands. And the odours we breathe in spring-time are from the same flowers that made fair and fragrant the garden when the first man walked with his Maker. And upon our thousand hills the cattle feed upon the self-same grasses that fattened the living creatures to which Adam gave names. Around every seed, as it came from the creative hand, was bound as an iron fetter that thing we call “law.” All the men of the world, with all their power and skill of chemistry and magic, cannot produce a rose from a lily seed, nor a pomegranate from a fig-tree. Nor is this natural law without a mighty and merciful meaning. On its steadfastness rests the hope of creation. And from this principle in the natural, how plain the a fortiori argument for the supremacy and vindication of those laws which make up God’s moral administration. A sin committed and not punished would be, in that regard, just what the imponderous rain-drop or the growth of tares from seed-corn would be in a natural world--a demonstration of the mutable and unrighteous character, both of the universal laws and their Omnipotent Lawgiver. One evil act or word, or thought, permitted unpunished; and then all such iniquities would have Divine license and sanction. Sin, the great destroyer, would spread as a deadly pestilence throughout all worlds. Yes, my hearers, law is no insignificant thing, to be broken with impunity: it is an immutable, adamantine, omnipotent ordinance, set to guard all great and universal interests--lifting itself as an impassable barrier between the domains of sin and holiness, disloyalty and love. And therefore, so long as Jehovah reigns, is never to be relaxed in one tittle of its righteous requirements, or defrauded of its full and triumphant vindication. All things made by God, from the atom in the air to the glorious archangel, were placed, at the first, and will remain to the end, inexorably “under law.” And therefore the apostle, in the strong metaphor of the text, represents the condition of an ungodly man, as one around whom this immutable and everlasting law is bound as an iron fetter, and built as an adamantine prison-house, from which he cannot escape, unless by some Divine and Omnipotent deliverance. Under law! under law ! Verily language hath no more startling image than this! And this brings us to consider the other part of this apostolic figure, wherein unto the soul thus hopelessly imprisoned, Christ Jesus is represented as a deliverer, coming both with price and power to work out salvation--“to redeem!--to redeem them that were under the law.” And the figure illustrates strikingly the meaning of redemption. It is something more than deliverance. Our Saviour is not represented as coming in arbitrary omnipotence to open the prison-door and preach liberty to the captive. For this were an abrogation of law, and not its vindication. But He comes to redeem men. The word is “redemption”--i.e., a buying back--not a wresting by power, but a release by purchase. It is not the advent of an armed champion to lift up his challenge at the prison-door, and to carry the stronghold by assault; but the advent of a Mediator, to satisfy every claim, and fulfil every condition of the law which is violated, extenuating nothing of the captive’s guilt--disputing none of the law’s demands--prepared to meet those demands in every jot and tittle; so that if it were possible to distinguish between the Divine attributes, it would be rather the justice of God than His mercy, which loosens the fetter and unbars the dungeon. “Redemption!” “Redemption!” This is the word! Such a vindication of the law in the face of the universe as strengthens the universal faith in its steadfastness! Mediation! Substitution! This is the mighty truth! Not a breaking of the law, but a fulfilling it in behalf of us! Making manifest its tremendous power even in the very act of deliverance--as in a beneficent rescue from some great natural law. Take the law of gravitation. Imagine a child, abroad on a holiday in some Alpine valley, joyously watching summer-birds, or gathering wild flowers; when suddenly, far above, some elemental agency loosens the avalanche, and downward, in awful momentum, it rushes toward the imperilled child! Now, suppose that infant could stand up in the path of that destroyer, and, putting forth its feeble hand, stop it, and roll it backward! Then, though the fond mother would exult in the deliverance, yet all human faith would be shaken in the steadfastness of the great law, and this world, and all worlds, be flung back into chaos. But instead of this, suppose at the first sound of that descending destruction, the father, thoughtful of his child, had sprung to the rescue--bounding from rock to rock, reckless of precipices and chasms--reaching the imperilled not a moment too soon, snatching it from the very jaws of death; and springing backward, bleeding, breathless, into the shelter of some adamantine cavern, had come forth when the mighty terror had gone by, bearing the beloved and saved one--then the cry of gladness filling all that stormy air, would be no more in praise of human love than of the might and majesty of that glorious thing--law! And thus is it in salvation. The claim of God’s holy law is in no sense set aside or weakened! Christ Jesus, for us, bears all its penalty--fulfils all its requirements. And the universe beholds the amazing fact of substitution, assured that the righteousness of God is absolute and immutable, and exults that, even in the deliverance of the sinner, the law is magnified in the punishment of sin. These, then, are the two truths which the text’s metaphor illustrates: The law an imprisonment! Christ Jesus a Redeemer. Yet each should receive at our hands its just personal application.
1. If we are impenitent and unpardoned men, let us at least consider seriously our true estate of dark and unsheltered condemnation. “You are under the law!” and as the most necessary and certain of all things, that law must be vindicated. If you will not accept of redemption as offered in Christ, yours is no part in salvation. Law--law. What a fearful thing it is in its aspects towards transgression! Even human law, weak, uncertain, mutable, imperfect--yet how its violator recoils, if it hem him in to destruction! See yonder! through the dark night hurries a trembling fugitive! That man’s hands are stained with blood. In silence and solitude, with no human eye to see, he struck the fatal blow, and now on swift foot turns from the face of the dead man! But, alas for him, the avenger of blood is on his track! Law! Law! that inexorable power of retribution--with an eye that gathers evidence from a footprint in earth, or a stain in water, or a whisper in air--is following his footsteps, and will find him and lay a mighty hand on him, and bind him in iron fetters which no power can break, and consign him to dungeons whence no skill can deliver. And if human law is terrible what think ye of Divine law? God’s natural laws are fearful! You see a fair child gathering flowers on the brink of a precipice; singing its glad songs and weaving its dewy garlands, it approaches the dizzy verge! Far out, in a cleft of a rock, grows a tempting violet; the child sees it, longs for it--reaches for it--reaches too far! See, its little feet slip! and you shudder, recoil, cry out with terror! Why? Is not God merciful? Are not God’s providences gracious? Yes, indeed; but even God’s merciful providences are according to immutable ordinances. That child is under law. The law, that holds the universe together, and is as inexorable as its Maker, hems it in, and presses on it, and will dash it to destruction. And do you think God’s moral laws are narrower in their play, or weaker in their pressure? O, ungodly man! be alarmed for yourself! You are pursuing your chosen courses under law--“under law!” You are gathering flowers of sin upon precipices, and below are unfathomed depths of indignation and anguish; and the moral law that binds into one rejoicing universe all sinless ranks of life, is over you, and around you, and pressing you down to destruction, and at the next footstep your feet may slide, and there be none to deliver! Oh, the overwhelming thought! Beings passing to immortality under law--“under law.”
2. Meantime, unto the believing and penitent soul the text is full of consolation. We were under the law, but Christ hath redeemed us! Redeemed! Redeemed! Oh, what a word it is! Saved! Saved! How the very thought thrills us! A child saved from a burning house! From foundation to roof swept the red surges, hemming him in unto destruction! But right through the encircling fire rushed a strong deliverer, reckless of danger, to restore it in joyous life to the mother’s loving heart! Saved! Saved! A man overboard, in a night of storm, lifting one despairing cry upon the rushing wind, and sinking, in despairing anguish, in the devouring sea! But, behold! a life-boat lowered, manned, darting like a sea-bird through the blinding spray, and strong arms outstretched to snatch the victim from the very jaws of death! Saved! saved! saved! Oh, what a word it is! And yet thus, O children of God, are you saved from the unfathomed ocean and the unquenchable fire! Saved, saved for ever! Oh, what gratitude becomes us! What consecration! What deep, adoring love! (C. Wadsworth.)
Of Christ, the only Redeemer of God’s elect
1. The season in which this freedom or redemption was brought about: “When the fulness of the time was come,” says the apostle.
2. We have the means of this deliverance, namely, Christ’s incarnation and manifestation in the flesh; “God sent forth His own Son, made of a woman.”
3. We have the condition in which Christ came; “made under the law.” Being made flesh, He subjected himself both to the precepts and to the curse of the law.
4. The freedom and deliverance itself: “God sent forth His Son,” thus qualified, “to redeem them that were under the law”; that is, to free all the elect from the curse and punishment that was due to them for the transgression of it (Galatians 3:13). And hereby also was procured to believers the adoption of sons: by which we are to understand, not only the benefit of adoption itself, which was the privilege of believers under the Old Testament as well as now under the New, but also and chiefly a clearer manifestation of that privilege, and a more free use and fruition of it. They have now a more full and plentiful measure of the Spirit than believers had under the Old Testament dispensation.
I. The only redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Consider the titles and names of our Redeemer.
(1) Lord--absolute and Universal sovereign over all creatures. The government belongs to Him originally as God, and derivatively as God-Man, Mediator.
(2) Jesus. No salvation but through Him.
(3) Christ. Anointed to His office by the Father. Three sorts of persons were commonly anointed among the Jews--kings, priests, prophets. As oil strengthened and suppled the joints, and made them agile and fit for exercise, so it denoted a designation and fitness in a person for the function to which he was appointed.
(a) It implies the Father’s fitting and furnishing Him with all things necessary, that He might be a complete Redeemer to His people.
(b) It implies the Father’s giving Him a commission to redeem poor sinners from hell and wrath. He was invested with a fulness of authority and power for this very end. And therefore in Scripture He is said to be sealed, as having His commission under the great seal of Heaven.
2. Consider His office and work in general. He is called the Mediator, which properly signifies a midsman, that travels betwixt two persons who are at variance to reconcile them. Now, Christ is Mediator,
(1) In respect of His person, being a middle person betwixt God and man, participating of both natures.
(2) In respect of His office; being a middle person dealing betwixt God and man, in the offices of a Prophet, Priest, and King.
II. Our next business is to illustrate this grand truth, that Jesus Christ being the eternal Son of God, became man.
1. Christ is the eternal Son of God. As to the nature of this generation our Lord Himself in some measure explains it to us, so far as we are capable of apprehending the great mystery, when He tells us (John 5:26), “As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.”
2. The Son of God became man. It was not the Father, nor the Holy Ghost, that was incarnate, but the Son (John 1:14 “The Word was made flesh “). He was “God manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16).
3. Why did it behove Christ, in order to be our Redeemer, to be God and man? He could not be our Redeemer, if He had not been both.
(1) He behoved to be God, (a)
That He might be able to bear the weight of the infinite wrath of God due to the elect’s sins, and come out from under that heavy load (Acts 2:24).
(2) That His temporary sufferings might be of infinite value, and afford full satisfaction to the law and justice of God (Hebrews 9:14). In these respects none other but one who was God could redeem us.
(2) He behoved to be man,
(a) That He might be capable to suffer death (Hebrews 2:14).
(b) That the same nature which sinned might suffer (Ezekiel 18:4). “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
(3) That He might be a merciful High Priest (Hebrews 2:16-17), and that we might have comfort and boldness of access to the throne of grace, having an High Priest of our own nature as our Intercessor there.
III. I come now to prove, that Christ is God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person. Christ is God and man by a personal union of two natures. The two natures in Christ remain distinct: the Godhead was not changed into the manhood, nor the manhood into the Godhead; for the Scripture speaks of these as distinct (Romans 1:3; 1 Peter 3:18 Hebrews 9:14), and of two wills in Christ, a human and a Divine (Luke 22:42). These natures remain still with their distinct properties, that as the Divine nature is not made finite, so neither is the human nature adorned with the Divine attributes. It is not omnipotent (2 Corinthians 13:4), nor omnipresent (John 11:15); nor omniscient (Mark 13:22, etc.) Yet are they not divided: nor is Christ two persons, but one; even as our soul and body, though distinct things, make but one person. This is clear from the text, which shows that the Son of God was made of a woman; which seeing it cannot be understood of His Divine nature, but of the human, it is plain that both natures make but one person. And elsewhere He is described as one person consisting of two natures (Romans 1:3; Romans 9:5). And it was necessary that the natures should be distinct; because otherwise, either the Divinity would have advanced His humanity above the capacity of suffering, or His humanity depressed His Divinity below the capacity of meriting. And it was necessary that He should be one person; because otherwise His blood had not been the blood of God (Acts 20:28), nor of the Son of God (1 John 1:7), and so not of infinite value. Wherefore Christ took on Him the human nature, but not a human person. Concluding inferences:
1. The redemption of the soul is precious. Saving sinners was a greater work than making the world.
2. See here the wonderful love and grace of God, in sending His own Son to be the Redeemer of sinful men.
3. See the matchless love of the Son of God to poor sinners.
4. All who live and die out of Christ must perish. No other Mediator.
5. How highly is our nature exalted and dignified in the person of the Lord Jesus.
6. It is impious and absurd to ascribe any part of man’s redemption to any other. It is dishonourable to Christ, and dangerous for men, to join anything of their own to His righteousness, in point of justification before God. The blessed Redeemer will never endure it. It reflects upon His Mediatory undertaking. If He be the only Redeemer of God’s elect, then certainly there can be no other. If He hath finished that work, then there is no need of our additions. And if that work be not finished by Him, how can it be finished by men? It is simply impossible for any creature to finish that which Christ Himself could not. But men would fain be sharing with Him in this honour, which He will never endure. He is the only Saviour of sinners: and He will never divide the glory of it with us. (T. Boston, D. D.)
The work of the Messiah
1. The text asserts that “God sent forth His Son.” Who is intended to be designated by the term Son, I need scarcely pause to inform you. It is that Divine Being who is elsewhere called “the Word,” “who was in the beginning with God, who was God,” “by whom all things were made, and without whom not any thing was made that was made.”
2. God sent forth His Son, “made of a woman.” The term “made of a woman” intends, as I suppose, to assert that the Son appeared on earth a human being; that He took upon Himself a human, in opposition to an angelic or any other nature. If this be true, then the Messiah possessed a perfect human constitution, endowed with all the powers and faculties belonging to such a constitution, just like any one of us. He possessed an understanding, a taste, a conscience, a will, appetites, passions, senses, just like our own, save only that they were not defiled with the stain of sin. “Wherefore He is not ashamed to call us brethren.”
3. “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” What is the meaning of this last phrase--“made under the law”? The law spoken of here must be either the ceremonial or the moral law. The word “law” is used twice in the sentence which forms the text. In both cases it must have the same signification. It is said, in the latter clause, Christ came to redeem those who were under the law. The word here cannot mean the ceremonial law, since this exposition would restrict the blessings flowing from the atonement of Christ to the Jews, who were the only people under this law; and would also make the salvation of the gospel nothing more than a deliverance from ceremonial observances. When we say, therefore, that Christ was made under the law, we mean the moral law, that under which the human race was created, which they are bound to obey, and by which they will all be judged in the day of final account. What, then, does the apostle mean, when he declares that Christ was under the moral law? You observe that Christ was made under the law “to redeem those that are under the law.” It is evident that the expression in these two places has the same signification. We cannot, then, escape the conclusion that Christ was made under the law in the same sense that we are under the law. He placed Himself under the same moral constitution as that under which the race of man was placed; or, in other words, the same as that under which Adam was originally placed in the garden of Eden. When, however, I assert this, it is proper to remark that the Messiah voluntarily placed Himself under this constitution. He was, in His Divine nature, infinitely removed from the moral law proper for human nature. The Creator cannot, from His nature, be subject to the law of the creature. He, of His own incomprehensible benevolence, placed Himself under the law which He had appointed for the creature in order to work out our redemption. After, however, the Son of God had placed Himself under the law of human nature, He became subject to it, in the same manner as that nature; that is, specially as Adam was subject to it, when he commenced his probation. He was exposed to all the consequences of disobedience, and entitled to all the rewards of obedience, just as we suppose our first parent to have been before his fall. This, however, includes several particulars, which may properly be stated somewhat more explicitly. On this part of our subject I would remark, first, He took upon himself a nature liable to sin. Were it otherwise, it would not have been a human nature, and He would neither have been under the law, nor would He have been of the seed of Abraham. Secondly. It follows, that if the Messiah had sinned, the consequences to Himself would have been the same as to any one of us. Nay, more: the plan of redemption, on which the wisdom of Omniscience had been exhausted, would have proved abortive. On this conflict, then, we may well suppose that the destinies of the universe were suspended. By the obedience of the Messiah was it to be determined whether sin or holiness should be henceforth in the ascendant.
II. Let us now survey this transaction from another point of view, and endeavour to form a conception of the life of Christ under the conditions which we have endeavoured thus imperfectly to explain.
1. Every one of us may possibly know from experience how oppressive is the weight of solemn and important responsibility. There are critical moments in the life of almost every man, when the whole colour of his destiny has been determined by a single decision. He who remembers these eras in his history needs not to be reminded of the fear and trembling with which he approached them. In the case of the Messiah, however, not temporal but eternal interests were suspended upon His decisions. It was not merely the result of His actions upon His own happiness or misery, but their result upon the happiness or misery of innumerable millions, that pressed with overwhelming anxiety upon His holy soul. It was not merely the happiness or misery of created beings, be they ever so numerous, or how largely soever susceptible of pleasure or pain; it was the honour of that holy law which, in the presence of the universe, He had undertaken to magnify, which was perilled upon the condition of His sinless obedience. And yet more: these stupendous consequences were not suspended upon a single hour, or day, or year of the Messiah’s life, but upon every action, every word, every thought, every motive, throughout his whole probationary existence. Every moral bias, during His continuance under the law, was put forth under the pressure of this infinite responsibility. Again: when men are placed in circumstances of peculiar trial, they are of necessity intimately associated together. The chief actor in a momentous enterprise unites with himself others who sympathize in his motives, comprehend his plans, carry forward his designs, and who would cheerfully sacrifice their lives in behalf of the cause in which all are equally engaged. How much this tends to alleviate anxiety, and soften the pressure of otherwise intolerable care, I surely need not remind you. None of these ameliorating circumstances, however, relieved the anxieties of Jesus of Nazareth. Of all the beings who have dwelt upon our earth, none was ever so emphatically a lone man as the Messiah. (F. Wayland, D. D.)
Nature of the deliverance resulting from the Incarnation
What is it that the Incarnation should deliver us from?
1. It delivers us from false views of the world and of life. It divides all history into two portions for the Christian--that which precedes and that which follows it. It divides the human race into two portions--that which is within the kingdom of the Incarnate Son, and that which is without it. It divides the interests of life, of thought, of work, for a downright, genuine Christian into two portions--that which bears upon and advances God’s work of love in the Incarnation of His Son, and that which does not do so. When a man has once learnt really what it means--this stupendous event, the Incarnation of the Eternal Son, up to which all history leads, down from which all true human interests worthy of the name will ultimately be found to radiate--then life, work, the world, death, the future, all wear another aspect.
2. It delivers us from base and desponding views of this our human nature. Often enough we are weighed down to the very dust by a sense of weakness, of defilement, of distance from the source of sanctity and peace; and yet what must be the worth, the capacities, of these poor human powers, when retouched, when regenerated by God--this nature upon which the Eternal Son has put such high honour that He has robed Himself in it that it might become to us a channel of sanctification and grace.
3. And the Incarnation delivers us from bondage. In every Christian in whom the life of Christ really exists--in whose heart it beats, however intermittently--there is a knowledge that by union with Christ he is free. He knows he is not a slave, but a son. He knows that this filial freedom is a possession of which nothing without him can deprive him, although he may forfeit it himself--a possession of which every prayer, every act of sacrifice, every true conquest of self, enhances the value. (Canon Liddon.)
Redemption and adoption
I. Redemption makes us servants, but it is but servants; adoption makes us, who are thus made servants by redemption, sons.
1. He that adopted another must be a man who had no children of his own. We were children of wrath, not God’s children.
2. He must be a man who had had children, or naturally might have had; for a man under years or naturally disabled could not adopt. This was God’s case, for by our creation we were His sons, till we died, and lost all right and means of regaining our privilege but by the way of adoption in Jesus.
3. No man might adopt an elder man than himself. God is from the beginning.
4. No man might adopt a man of better quality than himself, and here we are so far from comparing, that we cannot comprehend God’s greatness and goodness.
5. No man might be adopted into any other degree of kindred, but into the name and right of a son: he could not be an adopted brother, cousin, or nephew, and this is especially our dignity. We have the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (J. Donne.)
is a second buying, a buying back of a thing alienated or sold. A kind of alienation had formerly been, whereby we had made away ourselves, for a sale I cannot call it, it was for such a trifle; our nature alienated in Adam for the forbidden fruit--our persons likewise; daily we ourselves alien for some trifling pleasure or profit, and when we have thus passed ourselves away, by this “selling of ourselves under sin,” the law seizeth on us, and under it we are “locked up” as it were in a dungeon (Galatians 3:23), “tied fast with the cords of our sins” (Proverbs 5:22); the sentence passed on us, and we waiting but for execution. Christ got us rid from this estate. He did it, not by way of entreaty) step in and beg our pardon; that would not serve. Sold we were, and bought we must be; and it cost Him dear to pay the price. He put Himself in the place of the condemned malefactors, and died Himself to set us free. But He leaves us not here as prisoners enlarged. He brings us to the same estate as Himself, and makes us sons of God and joint heirs. (Bishop Andrewes.)
Redemption and adoption
Kennett says: “There was no custom more prevalent at Rome than adoption. The adopted person was to hold the place of a son, and to enjoy all its privileges. When a man had a mind to adopt another into his family it formed a public process in law. There was also a private ceremony, which consisted in buying the person to be adopted.”
God’s redeeming love
An ancient historian tells us that, at the siege of Babylon, Darius condemned to the cross three thousand captives. Another relates how, when Alexander inflicted long-threatened vengeance on Tyre, he crucified two thousand prisoners, and that crosses stood on her bloody shores thicker than ship masts in her crowded harbour. And when the Roman let fly his eagles against Jerusalem, Titus, measuring out to the Jews the measure they had meted to Jesus, gave them crosses enough, “good measure, pressed down and shaken together, and running ever.” A spectator of the scenes, the dreadful tragic scenes, amid which Judah’s sun set in blood for ever, tells that wood was wanting for crosses, and crosses were wanting for bodies. Yet had Babylon’s, Tyre’s, Jerusalem’s, all these crosses been raised to save you, and on each cross of that forest, not a man, but a dying angel hung, had all heaven been crucified, here is greater love, a greater spectacle. God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Dr. Guthrie.)
Jesus paid the debt
“I, Alexander.” This was what the late Emperor of Russia wrote in answer to the question, “Who is to pay all these?” One of His Majesty’s aides-de-camp, who owed a great deal more than he could pay, had drawn up a list of his debts, and having in despair dashed off the above question at the foot of the paper, had fallen asleep in his chair. The Emperor, happening to pass through the room, and seeing the document, generously took up a pen and wrote, “I, Alexander,” and left the room without disturbing the sleeper. When the latter awoke he found himself all at once freely released from his obligations. Unconverted reader, this is the way God freely releases you. There is no condemnation to those who accept pardon in the name of Jesus Christ, who, by His death on the cross, paid the debt we owed to justice, and now we are released debtors.
Christ redeemed us
A gentleman was once passing through the auction mart of a Southern Slave State, when he noticed the tears of a little girl who was just going to be put up for sale. The other slaves of the same group did not seem to care about it, while each knock of the hammer made her shake. The kind man stopped to inquire why she alone wept. He was told that the others were used to such things, and might be glad of a change from hard, harsh homes, but that she had been brought up with much care by a good owner, and she was terrified to think who might buy her. The stranger asked her price. It was a great sum, but he paid it down. The tears fell fast on the signed parchment which her deliverer brought to prove to her her freedom. She only looked at him with fear. She had been born a slave and knew not what freedom meant. When the gentleman was gone, it began to dawn upon her what her freedom was. With the first breath she said, “I will follow him! I will follow him! I will serve him all my days,” and when reasoned with against it, she only cried, “He redeemed me! He redeemed me! He redeemed me!” And so let it be with you. Serve Jesus as sinners bought back with blood, and when men notice the way you serve Him--the joy that is in your looks--the love that is in your tone, the freedom of your service, have one answer to give them: “He redeemed me!”
The atonement: Scripture doctrine and current theories
Most of the leading topics to be attended to, in a survey of the great doctrine of the atonement, are more or less fully stated or indicated in the text. They are these: First, the connection between the Person and the work of Christ, or between His proper Divinity and His vicarious atonement. Second, the necessity of an atonement or satisfaction, in order to the forgiveness of sin. Third, the reality and the true nature of an atonement or satisfaction as effected by the sufferings and death of Christ. And, fourth, the extent of the atonement. The first of these topics is brought before us by the ascription of the whole scheme of the salvation of fallen men to God, who sent His Son to accomplish this great object, and by the description given of Him who was sent, as being at once God’s own Son and also made of a woman, having thus the Divine and human nature united. The reality of an atonement, and its true nature, and immediate object and effect, are brought out in the statement that God’s Son “was made under the law,” and was “sent to redeem those who were under the law;” while the last clause, viz., “that we might receive the adoption of sons,” bears, though not very formally or explicitly, upon the subject of the extent of the atonement. (Bishop Andrewes, D. D.)
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts.
The spirit and the cry of adoption
I. The dignity of believers. Adoption gives us the rights of children; regeneration gives us the nature of children: we are partakers of both of these, for we are sons.
1. This sonship is a gift of grace received by faith.
(1) Faith brings us justification.
(2) Faith sets us free from the bondage of the law.
(3) Faith is the mark of sonship in all who have it.
2. Adoption comes to us by redemption.
3. We now enjoy the privilege of sonship. Not only sons, but full-grown sons.
II. The consequent indwelling of the Holy Ghost in believers.
1. Here is a Divine act of the Father.
2. He comes as the Spirit of Jesus.
3. He takes up His residence in the believer’s heart. Coming into the central fortress and universal citadel of our nature, He takes possession of the whole.
4. This wonderful blessing is fraught with marvellous results. Sonship sealed by the indwelling Spirit brings us peace and joy; it leads to nearness to God and fellowship with Him; it excites trust, love, and vehement desire; and creates in us reverence, obedience, and actual likeness to God.
III. The filial cry.
1. It is the Spirit of God that cries.
2. It is literally the cry of the Son.
3. This cry in our hearts is exceedingly near and familiar. A cry is a sound which we are not anxious that every passer-by should hear; yet what child minds his father hearing him cry?
4. How earnest a thing is a cry.
5. The most of this crying is kept within the heart, and does not come out at the lips. At all times and in all places we can lift up our hearts and cry to God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The gain of adoption
By adoption God gives us
(1) a new nature (2 Peter 1:3);
(2) a new name (Revelation 3:12);
(3) a new inheritance (Romans 8:17);
(4) new relations (Romans 8:15-16);
(5) a new hope (1 Peter 1:3). (John Bate.)
What is implied in adoption
1. Derivation of nature from God (John 1:13; James 1:18; 1 John 5:18).
2. Being born again in the image of God, bearing His likeness (Rom 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10; 2 Peter 1:4).
3. Bearing His name (1 John 3:1; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12).
4. Being the objects of His peculiar love (John 17:23; Romans 5:5-8; Titus 3:4; 1 John 4:7-11).
5. The indwelling of the Spirit of His Son; who gives an obedient spirit (1 Peter 1:14; 2 John 1:6), a spirit free from sense of guilt, legal bondage, fear of death (Romans 8:15; Rom 8:21; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1; Hebrews 2:15; 1 John 5:14), a spirit elevated with a holy boldness and royal dignity (Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 Peter 4:14).
6. Present protection, consolations, and abundant provisions (Psalms 125:2; Isaiah 66:13; Luke 12:27-32; John 14:18; 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; 2 Corinthians 1:4).
7. Present fatherly chastisements for our good, including both temporal and spiritual afflictions (Psalms 51:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-11).
8. The certain inheritance of the riches of our Father’s glory, as heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17; James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 3:7), including the exaltation of our bodies to fellowship with Him (Romans 8:28; Philippians 3:21). (A. A. Hodge.)
Divine adoption contrasted with human
1. Men generally adopt when they have no children of their own. But God had a Son, His dear Son, His well-beloved Son. He also had angels.
2. Men generally adopt such as they think deserving; God adopts criminals, traitors, enemies.
3. Men adopt living children; God, those who are by nature spiritually dead.
4. Man generally adopts one only: God, many. (G. S. Bowes.)
Privileges of adoption
1. God the Father is made our Father.
2. The incarnate God.Man is made our elder Brother, and we are made
(1) like Him;
(2) intimately associated with Him in community of life, standing, relations, privileges;
(3) joint-heirs with Him of His glory.
3. The Holy Ghost is our indweller, teacher, guide, advocate, comforter, sanctifier.
4. All believers, being subjects of the same adoption, are brethren (Ephesians 3:6; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 5:1). (A. A. Hodge.)
Heathen and Christian conceptions of God
A Jew entered a Persian temple, and saw there the sacred fire. He said to the priest, “How! do you worship fire?” “Not the fire; it is to us an emblem of the sun and of his animating light,” said the priest. Then asked the Jew, “Do you adore the sun as a deity? Do you know that he also is a creature of the Almighty?” The priest explained that the sun was to them only an emblem of the invisible light which preserves all things. The Israelite continued, “Does your nation distinguish the image from the original? They call the sun their god, and kneel before the earthly flame. You dazzle the eye of the body, but darken that of the mind; in presenting to them the terrestrial light you take from them the celestial.” The Persian asked, “How do you name the Supreme Being?” “We call Him Jehovah Adonai; that is, the Lord who was, and is, and shall be.” “Your word is great and glorious; but it is terrible,” said the Persian. A Christian approaching, said, “We call Him Abba, Father.” Then the Gentile and the Jew regarded each other with surprise, and said, “Your word is the nearest and the highest; but who gives you courage to call the Eternal thus?” “The Father Himself,” replied the Christian; and with that he proceeded to expound to them the plan of redemption. Then they believed, and lifted up their eyes to heaven, saying, “Father, dear Father;” and, joining hands, called each other brethren. (Krummacher.)
I. The spirit sent.
1. There are Three Persons in the Godhead who are often mentioned together as here (Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 John 5:7).
2. The Spirit is the third Person because He proceeds from the Father and the Son (John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:15, and here).
II. Who sent him?
1. God sent His Son (Galatians 4:4).
2. By the mediation of His Son. He sent the Spirit too (John 16:6-7; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; Acts 2:1).
III. why?, Because ye are sons.
1. All believers are God’s sons (John 1:12).
2. There fore, because they believe, and so are His Sons, God gives them His Spirit.
IV. Whither? Into your hearts.
1. Because the heart is the fountain of life (Proverbs 4:23).
2. The seat of true grace.
V. What to do?
1. To be a pledge of Christ’s presence (John 14:16-18; Matthew 28:20).
2. To teach us all things needful (John 14:26).
3. To guide us into all truth.
4. To comfort us (John 15:26; John 16:7).
5. To seal our redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 4:30).
6. To uphold us under all afflictions (Psalms 51:12).
7. To witness our adoption (Romans 8:15-16).
1. Examine yourselves whether you have this Spirit.
(1) He is a convincing Spirit (John 16:9-11)
(a) of sin in ourselves,
(b) of righteousness in Christ,
(c) of Christ’s power and judgment to come.
(2) A renewing Spirit (Titus 3:5; John 3:3-5).
(3) A quickening Spirit (Romans 8:2; John 6:63)
(4) A leading Spirit (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:14).
(5) A praying Spirit (Romans 8:15; Romans 8:26).
2. Use all the means to get the Spirit in your hearts.
VII. Motives. Consider--
1. Till then you are not Christ’s (Romans 8:9).
2. Can do no good thing (John 15:5; Romans 8:26).
3. Are exposed to all sin.
4. In continual danger of hell.
5. Can have no true comfort.
1. Pray to God for it (Luke 11:13).
2. Frequent all public ordinances (Acts 2:1). (Bishop Beveridge.)
The work of the Spirit
I. The worker. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of the Son because--
1. Of His eternal procession from the Son.
2. He was given to the Son as Head of the Church for the unction, consecration, and sanctification of His human nature.
3. He is communicated through the Son to all believers.
(1) Authoritatively, by virtue of the covenant of redemption (Acts 2:33; Acts 5:32).
(2) Formally, in that all the graces of the Spirit are derived by us from Him (Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:19; Colossians 3:1-4; Ephesians 4:16).
II. The work. He enables God’s adopted children to behave themselves suitably to their state and condition.
1. Not as strangers, foreigners, or even servants, but
2. as children and heirs by becoming in them the Spirit of power, love, and sobriety (2 Timothy 1:7).
III. The effects of the working.
1. Freedom of access to the “Father” is secured.
2. He becomes to us the Spirit of grace and of supplications,
(1) by exerting graces and gracious affections in our souls in the duty of prayer: especially those of faith, love, and delight;
(2) by enabling us to exercise those graces and express those affections in vocal prayer. (J. Owen, D. D.)
I. The first, a Hebrew word, and the second, a Greek, signifies the union of Jews and Gentiles in our Church. In Christ the corner-stone both are joined by becoming sons: circumcision from one place, wherefore “Abba”--uncircumcision from another, wherefore “Father” is named, the concord of walls being the glory of the corner-stone.
II. The word “Abba” is retained because it is full of affection; but “Father” is added not only to expound the same, but the better to express the eager moving, the earnest and vehement desires and singular affections of believers in their crying unto God. (Brooks.)
You are to look unto your experience, and try and find out whether there there be not working with your soul, working through it, working beneath it, distinct from it, but not distinguishable from it by anything but its consequences and fruitfulness--a deeper voice than yours--a “still, small voice.” No whirlwind, nor fire, nor earthquake, but the voice of God speaking in secret, taking the voice and tones of your own heart and your own consciousness, and saying to you: Thou art My child, inasmuch as, operated by My grace, and Mine inspiration alone, there rises tremlingly, but truly, in thine own soul the cry Abba, Father.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
It involves that the Father and the child shall have kindred life--the Father bestowing, and the child possessing, a life which is derived; and because derived, kindred; and because kindred, unfolding itself in likeness to the Father that gave it. And it requires that between the Father’s heart and the child’s heart there shall pass in blessed interchange and quick correspondence, answering love, flashing backwards and forwards, like the lightning that touches the earth, and rises from it again. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The character and privileges of the children of God
I. The distinguishing characteristics of the children of God. Believing Christians enter into a higher condition. The servant becomes a son. Everything which would obstruct the view of a God of love is done away in Christ.
1. A spirit of filial confidence, as opposed to servile fear.
2. A spirit of holy love, as opposed to the bondage of sin.
3. A spirit of ready obedience, as opposed to the gloomy spirit of servitude. As love is the most powerful and self-devoted passion of our nature, it explains the character as well as the principle of Christian obedience. It is self-denying; for we no longer live to ourselves, but to Him who died for us and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:15). It is soul-absorbing; for it is not so much we that now live, as Christ that liveth in us (Galatians 2:20). It is devoted, for our will is swallowed up in His, and the cry of the heart is, “Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do?” Hence the bold assertion of St. Paul, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).
II. We now proceed to consider some of the distinguishing privileges of the children of God. It will be at once acknowledged that the characteristics which we have mentioned are also exalted privileges. To have a satisfactory sense of sin being pardoned; to walk in the light of God’s countenance, with a secret assurance of His love and favour; to be freed from the degrading bondage of Sin, and the servile fear of a holy law; to possess the moral power of holy obedience, and to have this heavenly principle pervading the soul; these are distinguishing gifts of Divine mercy. Whilst the “spirit of a son” has its characteristic endowments, the condition of a child has its peculiar prerogatives. The one is the family genius, the other the family privileges.
1. The child of God has a part in the Father’s love and care.
2. The child of God has a filial resemblance to his heavenly Father. In the households of earth there is what is termed a family likeness. Some distinguishing trait of feature often marks the countenances of all the offspring. However varied may be the form and hue of their faces, there is some identity of expression which makes them like their parent, and like to one another. So it is with the family of God, Being born from above, they possess the characteristics of a heavenly nature. They differ in the proportion and intensity of their spiritual graces, but they are all marked with the lineaments of virtue. One is more eminent for faith, another for zeal, another for wisdom; some excel in patience, or meekness, or fervid hope, or gentle love; but all have the fundamentals of these holy principles. They all bear the marks of a noble lineage. You might see in each of their hearts the peculiar traits of royalty. You might readily perceive that each inherits his Father’s holiness. He is the child of a King, a prince of God (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).
3. Children of God have the privileges of family communion and fellowship. It is not now granted to man to hold conversational intercourse with angelic or sainted members of the heavenly family. He must be satisfied with knowing that they have some communion with his spirit. This is often alleged in the Scriptures, And who can tell what benefits we receive from holy thoughts, counsels, and promptings, whispered to the soul by hovering spirits of an ethereal nature? But we are privileged with the “communion of saints.” We may associate with the wise and good, the saints that are in the earth, and the excellent (Psalms 16:3). Above all, the Christian has access to the throne of grace, and holds communion with the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit.
4. Children of God have a share in the family provisions. There is a common stock of mercies, of which all the children have a right to partake. A certain property in blessings belongs to the household of faith. Exceeding great and precious promises have been provided by their heavenly Father. There is a fulness in Christ out of which His Church are permitted to receive. Every one is exhorted to take largely of these Divine gifts. Unlike property of an earthly nature, these riches never diminish by using. There could, therefore, be no reason for withholding them from any seeking soul. All are at liberty to “ask and receive, that their joy may be full.”
5. Children have a title to the future inheritance. “If a son, then an heir of God through Christ;” or, as the apostle writes in another place, “If children then heirs,” etc. “Heirs of God”--it is a strange expression! What does it mean? (R. M. Macbraire, M. A.)
I. In what does adoption consist? It is the translation of a person out of one family into another. The act of grace by which God takes the children of the wicked one out of the world, and makes them the sons and daughters of His spiritual family.
1. Points of similarity between natural and spiritual adoption.
(1) In adoption we cease to have our former name, and are designated after the name of God, who adopted us; then sinners, now saints; then enemies, now reconciled; then aliens and rebels, now brought nigh and the friends of God.
(2) In adoption we change our abode. Once in the world, in the kingdom of darkness, in a far country; now in the Church, in the kingdom of God’s dear Son, in the household of faith, and family of heaven.
(3) We change our costume. Conform to the family dress.
2. Points of difference between natural and spiritual adoption.
(1) Natural adoption was to supply a family defect. Because there was no son. God had hosts of sons--the angels, etc.
(2) Natural adoption was only of sons. God makes no distinction as to sex, race, etc.
(3) In natural adoption there was only a change of condition; the child never became really the son of the adopter. But God makes His children partakers of His own nature, and imprints on them His own image.
(4) In natural adoption only one was adopted; but God adopts multitudes.
(5) In natural adoption only temporal advantages were derived; but in spiritual, the blessings are eternal.
II. The signs of adoption.
1. Internal (see Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:14-16). The Spirit will produce within us
(1) peace of mind,
(2) comfort of heart,
(3) spiritual joy.
(1) Language. Conversation such as becometh the gospel of Christ.
(2) Profession. We shall appear as the sons of the family of God; have the family badge, be enrolled in the family book, be found in the family circle, and sit at the family table.
(3) Obedience. God’s family has its laws, its specific rules for the government of itself, and for the direction of its conduct towards those who are without,
III. Its privileges.
1. Deliverance from all the miseries of our pristine state. Poverty, rags, misery, ruin.
2. Investiture into all the benefits of Christ’s family on earth.
3. A title to the celestial inheritance which Christ has bought and prepared for all who lave Him.
1. Learn the essential importance of this blessing. What would pardon and regeneration be without it? Let us seek the good of God’s family. We are in it to labour as well as enjoy.
2. Invite strangers to become the sons and heirs of God. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Sons by adoption
Great indeed is the rank and privilege of a son of God. The son of Adam, that is taken to be the Son of God, is taken out of the company of the rebels against God, into the company of those that adore and bless His name with thanksgiving, and perform His service with diligence, in His glorious presence. But he always remembers whence he has been taken; that if as a son of Adam he was taken from the comparatively vile dust of the earth, as a son of God he has been taken into a spiritual nature out of the comparatively much viler fleshly nature. He remembers that he is not a real son, but an adopted. Now a real son is always a son to his father, happen what will. And having been born and bred in his house, he knows all that is required of him, and does naturally all the duties of a member of the family. But very different is the condition of an adopted son; he has been born and bred in another family, and therefore under different rules; and hence, however respectable his family may be, he cannot accommodate himself so freely and fully as he could wish, nor sufficiently know the mind of a father, whom he has not known from childhood. Much more then if he be taken out of a family whose habits are quite contrary, and disreputably contrary, to the habits of that into which he has been adopted, he must be in continual fear and perplexity. All is quite strange to him, and let him be ever so willing to accommodate himself to his new situation, still he is in continual doubt as to what he should do, and what he should not do, and is continually, notwithstanding all his watchfulness, letting out the secrets of the corrupt habits of his old family. But on the very account of this natural infirmity, God hath put him under an instructor, to give him the proper knowledge, to form his habits, to influence his will, and by such a thorough change, to qualify him for the duties of the new station to which he has been admitted. And this instructor is the Holy Spirit, called also, from this His very office amongst us, the spirit of adoption, as in Romans 8:14-15. (R. W. Evans, M. A.)
Comfort of assurance
Death, like the proud Philistine, comes marching out in his hideous shape, daring the whole host of Israel to match him with an equal combatant. The atheist dares not die for fear non esse,--that he shall not be at all; the profane dares not die, for fear male esse--to be damned; the doubtful conscience dares not die, because he knows not whether he shall be, or be damned, or not be at all. Only the resolved Christian dares die, because he is assured of his election; he knows he shall be happy; and so lifts up pleasant eyes to heaven, the infallible place of his eternal rest. He dares encounter with his last enemy, trample on him with the foot of disdain, and triumphantly sing over him, “O death! where is thy sting? O gravel where is thy victory?” He conquers in being conquered; and all because God hath said to his soul, “I am thy salvation.” (T. Adams.)
Assurance of adoption
In 1768 Mr. Wesley visited Glasgow, where the greatest part of the members had found peace with God. Three years before Thomas Taylor had been sent there, and had for his first congregation two bakers’ boys and two old women. He kept off preaching, and his hearers increased also to two hundred, but for want of means he never kept so many fast days in his life. He hired a room, formed a society, and paid a precentor fourpence for each service to lead off the psalms, but the money falling short, he had to dismiss both the psalms and the precentor; but he left a society of seventy members. One of these was old Janet, of whom John Pawson records this anecdote. Meeting the minister of the kirk she had long attended, she was thus accosted: “Oh, Janet, where have ye been, woman? I have no seen ye at the kirk for long.” She replied, “I go among the Methodists.” “Why, what gude get ye there, woman?” “Glory to God!” said Janet; “I do get gude; for God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven me a’ my sins.” “Ah, Janet, be not highminded, but fear; the de’il is a cunning adversary.” “I dinna care a button for the de’il,” said Janet; I’ve gotten him under my feet. I ken the de’il can do muckle deal, but there is ant thing he canna do.” “What is that, Janet?” “He canna shed abroad the love of God in my heart; an’ I am sure I’ve got it there!” “Weel, weel,” said the minister, “If ye have got that there, hold it fast, Janet, and never let it go.” Benefit of assurance:--Latimer writes to Ridley, “When I live in a settled and steadfast assurance about the state of my soul, methinks I am as bold as a lion; I can laugh at all trouble; no affliction daunts me; but, when I am eclipsed in my comforts, I am of so fearful a spirit, that I could run into a very mouse-hole.”
Sonship of the believer
I. The true position of the Christian. “Sons.” Many fail to see it. They admit “believers,” “Christians,” “disciples,” “soldiers,” “servants.” True. Each has a truth. Just as “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Master,” “Lord;” but “Emanuel” reveals a new connection. So with the believer. “Son.” Christ took our nature, and we receive His in degree (2 Peter 1:4). This is often urged in Scripture. Romans 7:1-25. plainly describes “law of nature” and “law of grace.” Why urge this?
1. Because of privileges, of which we shall speak soon.
2. Because it is a necessity of life. Many fail in efforts. They “try to be good,” and fail. Because they begin wrongly. Must be so. Ostrich cannot soar as eagle. Nature is fitted to habits. So in grace. God requires great things. A new life begins. How? Not by laws or precepts--it is a new gift. Adoption transfers from Satan’s family to God’s, and then a new nature is given.
II. The power by whom this adoption is wrought. By “God’s Spirit.” In every aspect--redemption, sanctification, preservation, fruitfulness--the believer is a Divine work. Often forgotten. We are surrounded by human instruments, and the agent is not seen. Insufficient. Only the statue, not the man. Form without life. Both solemn and assuring.
III. The necessary results of this indwelling. “Whereby,” etc. Immediate connection between life and action. The means may lie dormant, but the grace never. What results?
1. God is known. In daily life such knowledge must be imparted. Very true of spiritual things. This knowledge surpasses that imparted by Scripture or human teachers. Examples: 1Sa 3:7; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 3:16-17. Samuel and Paul both taught by man, and yet they were spiritually ignorant. So, however much we may study, prize, increasingly value the Bible, each must go beyond it.
2. Confidence is enjoyed. Point of argument lies in “son” and “slave.” The difference, the unwavering confidence of “son.” So boldness in prayer, conflict, work, is believer’s privilege. The Father never deserts His child.
3. Consistent life. A great name should never be disgraced. What so noble as this? where else is such honour entrusted? “Be imitators of God.” (H. T. Cavell.)
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son.
Servitude and sonship
I. Sonship is here contrasted with servitude.
1. It is a change from ignorance to knowledge.
2. A change from bondage to self-control.
3. A change from a temporal relationship to an eternal one.
II. This sonship is the gift of God.
1. God intervenes with the offer of sonship at the fitting time.
2. God sends the only Being who can win us to sonship.
3. God accompanies the gift of sonship with the only infallible witness--the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
III. This gift of sonship makes us heirs of God. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
The Christian’s inheritance
For what purpose did God make the worlds? Not that He might in solitary joy behold their glittering brightness; but that they might minister to our sense of beauty, and cast lights on our devious way. If we truly understood our relation to the world in which we live, and indeed to the universe of which we form a part, we should see that the material has been made for the sake of the moral, that all things have been put under our feet because we are sons of God Who has more right to the world’s riches and wealth than a child of Him to whom the world belongs? Let him erect his machinery, carry on his transactions, dive into the mine, cross the ocean, span yawning gulfs, and pierce hard rocks, assured that He is doing his Father’s will in thus obtaining and using his leather’s wealth “All things are yours--things present and things to come.” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” But higher things are ours if we are children of God. We become partakers of the Divine nature. That nature is spirit, and our spirits overcome and subjugate the grosset part of our being. That nature is righteous, and we become pure in heart, single in purpose, simple in behaviour, lust toward all men. That nature is mercy, and we, having ourselves obtained the blessings of Divine pity, look with compassion on the fallen, and long to win them to the home from which they have been so long exiles. That nature is changeless power, and our weakness becomes strength, and an inward energy is granted enabling us to triumph over time, the world, and self. That nature is infinite wisdom, and by dwelling ever in the presence of God we see the world’s troubles and our own in the light of higher purposes, and when we cannot understand we learn in quiet repose to trust in Him who doeth all things well. That nature is world-embracing and unquenchable love; He takes away the patriarchs when their weary pilgrimage is finished, that He may give them perfect rest. He makes us ask, “The fathers, where are they?” because He wants them home with Him; and soon the doors of His presence-chamber will open for us, new visions of bliss and joy will open upon us, and we shall see God as He is, and be like Him. In the meanwhile our rejoicing is, that “now are we the sons of God.” (S. Pearson, M. A.)
The Christian’s scorn of the world
Whoever could believe without any doubt that it were true, and certainly comprehend how immeasurably great a thing it is, that one should be God’s child and heir, such an one would without doubt take little account of the world, with all that therein is esteemed precious and honourable, such as human righteousness, wisdom, dominion, power, money, possessions, honour, pleasure, and the like; yea, all that in the world is honourable and glorious, would be to him loathsome and an abomination. (Luther.)
Sons and heirs
I. No inheritance without sonship. Spiritual blessings are only for those who are in a spiritual condition.
1. The lower orders of creatures are shut out from gifts which belong to the higher forms of life because they are so organized that these cannot enter into their nature.
2. So the soul must be adapted to the enjoyment of spiritual salvation.
3. The final inheritance depends on character. To possess God for ever we must love Him for ever.
II. No Sonship Without A Spiritual Birth.
1. We are sons in some sense by nature.
2. But we become spiritual sons by grace.
III. No spiritual birth without Christ.
1. The very figure shows us that the process of becoming sons does not; lie within our own power.
2. Christ has come to give the spirit of adoption and regeneration.
IV. No Christ without faith.
1. Ceremonies are nothing.
2. Trust in Christ is everything. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Sonship through Christ
Christ has effected an actual change in the possible aspect of the Divine justice and government to us; and He has carried in the golden urn of His humanity a new spirit and a new life which He has set down in the midst of the race; and the urn was broken on the Cross of Calvary, and the water flowed out, and whithersoever that water comes there is life, and whithersoever it comes not there is death. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Adoption and confidence
A train dashed into a tunnel with a warning whistle. The whistle and darkness startled a child in his mother’s arms, and caused him to scream with fear; but directly the mother’s voice was heard, and he felt the soothing hand upon his face, all fear vanished. Yet the child knew not why the train went through the darkness, but immediately the parent’s voice reached him, he trusted. When we go through any dark or laborious way, let us also trust our Father in heaven, and nothing will harm us. “The darkness and the light, O Lord, are both alike to Thee.”
Privileges of adoption
By it God the Father is made our Father. The incarnate God-man is made our Elder Brother, and we are made--
1. Like Him.
2. Intimately associated with Him in community of life, standing, relations, and privileges.
3. Joint-heirs with Him of His glory. The Holy Ghost is our Indweller, Guide, Advocate, Comforter, and Sanctifier. All believers being subjects of the same adoption are brethren. (A. A. Hodge.)
The Christian a Son of God
I. Then we are to notice the gracious relation in which good men stand to God. They are not servants, but sons. As I have before intimated, this privilege belongs to believers alone; they only can properly be called the sons of God.
1. That true believers are the sons of God by a new creation. By nature they are the children of wrath even as others. They are the offspring of degenerate, fallen man, the posterity of Adam, the sinful representative of mankind. The temper of the mind is renewed, and the outward conduct is reformed. A spiritual and vital influence is felt, and a spiritual and vital principle is imparted.
2. Believers are the sons of God, by their union with Christ. “Wherefore, my brethren,” says the apostle to the Romans, “ye are also become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him that is raised from the dead, that ye should bring forth fruit unto God.”
3. Believers are the sons of God by adoption. Adoption was an act frequent among the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans.
II. The happy consequence which results from the privilege of our being the sons of God. If a son, then an heir of God, through Christ. They are heirs of all that God possesses. The treasures to which they are entitled are vast and immeasurable. Believers, too, are heirs of all that God has promised. Christians are said to be heirs of the promise. If they have but little in possession, they have much in prospect; if not rich in enjoyment, they are rich in faith and hope. Believers, too, are heirs of the righteousness of Christ. Believers, too, are heirs of salvation, and angels are their ministering spirits. Those happy beings have charge over the people of God, and minister to them in their path to glory. They are called, too, heirs of the grace of life. Salvation is all of grace. Believers, too, are heirs of the kingdom. God has provided a kingdom for them that love Him, and of this kingdom they are heirs. They are also heirs of the world. This promise primarily refers to the land of Canaan, which Abraham and his seed were to possess; but here heaven is typically promised and represented.
III. Notice the means by which this privilege is obtained. If a son, then an heir of God, through Christ. Now we are heirs of God through Christ, because he has purchased this privilege for us. Christ, too, can only give this glorious privilege. He is the Head and Representative of His Church. Believers are the members of His body, and receive their spiritual nourishment from Him. It is through Christ we obtain this privilege as joint-heirs with Him. To Him the birthright blessing properly belongs. The Father loved the Son, and hath given all things into His hands. In conclusion, let me inquire--If not heirs of God, what are we? We are heirs of Satan--that prince of darkness, who now employs us in the drudgery of sin in order that he may reward us with the damnation of hell. (Isaac Clarkson.)
A servant or a son
The apostle had laid down some broad, simple rules of the gospel (verses 4, 5).
Here he points out
I. The believer’s change: he was a servant; he is a son.
1. A servant to sin (Romans 6:16). Unconverted man’s virtues are splendid sins. Servants in a large house have different work, but if well done, master is satisfied.
2. Slave to the world--its fashions, opinions, pleasures.
3. In bondage to the law. He cannot see the freeness of the gospel (Romans 3:28; Romans 5:1). But there is a change (verse 6; Romans 8:15). There is now an interest in God; filial affection to Him; freedom of access (Ephesians 2:18; Proverbs 15:8); an abode in the Father’s house (John 8:34-35; Ephesians 2:19-22).
II. The believer’s hope. An inheritance is not purchased by ourselves--it descends. It implies--
1. Full forgiveness. One unpardoned sin is certain hell (Ezekiel 18:4; 1 John 1:7).
2. Inward righteousness--imperfect, but improving (Luke 23:41; Hebrews 12:14).
3. That God Himself will be the portion of His believing people (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). Whatever Christ has, we have.
1. Is it not a wonder that privileges such as these should be so much overlooked, undervalued? Can every one here say; “I was a servant of sin, but I am now a son of God?” (Romans 10:10).
2. If not a son of God, what is the alternative? (Galatians 6:7-8). An heir of the one or of the other is every one present at this moment. We must expect opposition, but we are well led, supported (2 Corinthians 12:9; Revelation 21:7). (H. M. Villiers.)
“No more a servant, but a son:”
He simply reminds those Christians of their early state, and calls them to consider their present condition. Once they were servants, now they are sons; once in bondage, now free.
I. Every believer will find it to his advantage occasionally to recall his former condition under the Divine law, previous to the glad day in which grace came to him with full redemption. They say it is the custom in the city of Munich to arrest every mendicant child that is caught begging in the street, and put him immediately at school under some proper supervision until he is able to obtain a moderate support. As he enters the institution, his portrait is taken by an artist precisely as he appears in his uncleanliness and rags. This picture is always carefully preserved, so that when he is educated and matured enough to appreciate his position it may be shown to him. Then he will know how much has been done for his good, even while he was thinking unkindly of the restraint he resisted. Furthermore: he is made then to promise that he will keep She likeness ever afterwards, in order not only that it may remind him of his abject career as a beggar, and so keep him humble, but also make him think of others as companions in misfortune, and so render him charitable to the poor. And it is said in the reports that some of these castaways thus saved to usefulness, make the strongest and the most hopeful friends for the recovery and rescue of any young lad, however unpromising he may at first sight appear, a mere waif and wanderer in the world. Here in our lesson the apostle seems to have a very similar purpose in mind. For he begins with the description of men in a state of nature (verses 1-3), and having shown how deeply in “bondage” they are, he proceeds to set forth the glorious interposition of grace in the gospel (verses 4-6), by which they might receive the “adoption of sons.” It is as if we all looked steadily back for a moment to see what we were once, and in the height of our gratitude looked around to see what we now have become, and to inquire how best we could glorify our Saviour.
II. In the next place, the apostle dwells upon the lofty position of those who are the children of God. They are not any more bound by the drudgeries of service; they are not under “tutors and governors” any longer; they are “sons.” It remains for us only to understand what adoption implies, and then this liberty will be defined, and this relationship established.
1. A son by adoption takes the name of his new father for all the future. No matter how honourable that may be; no matter how clear the aristocratic blood may have run in the ancestral veins; no matter what the world’s heraldry has to say of ancient prowess or feudal right; any one who is legally adopted bears the same proud designation. Although the forefathers never knew him, the Children of this generation must hereafter call him a brother, the mother must consider him the same as her son. The analogy holds perfectly here. To be sons of God means to bear His name. Christians are called such after Christ; it is said that the Germans often call a true believer a “Christ.”
2. An adopted child receives the care of his father. The privileges bestowed upon the other children are exactly the privileges bestowed upon him. Indeed, a son by adoption is often more likely to want peculiar help, simply because on entering an entirely fresh line of relations and duties he has everything to learn and much to unlearn. He hardly knows the first rules of the house, and he does not at all understand the dispositions of those within the family circle. He cannot be expected to arrive at once, as if by a flash of intuition, at a full apprehension of even his father’s will; he will need time to be instructed in the delicate solicitudes of watchful obedience. Hence, he must have more forbearance, more patient instruction, more provident guardianship, perhaps than all the rest together. To be the adopted sons of God means just in this way to share His peculiar parental care. Jesus our Lord left on record an engagement of it for His brethren (John 16:27). Even the Father Himself has made a covenant promise for help (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).
3. An adopted child takes the honours of his father. The child goes away from the old condition wholly into the new. A prince might bring a peasant’s son into a royal household; then he will be a peasant-boy no longer; he is a king’s son. That sets him on a level with the nobles of the realm; for he takes the condition of his parent as if he had been born under the same roof.
4. A child by adoption receives an appropriate share in the wealth of his father. Numbered in the household, bearing the common name, he can also draw on the joint resources. Former poverty is forgotten. Avenues of influence are suddenly thrown open to him.
5. An adopted child receives at last the inheritance of his father. “What God has laid out for His people is much, what He has laid up for them is more. “The Saints’ Inventory” contains a list of spiritual possessions, most rare and valuable (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
III. It would seem now as if there could be no need for the apostle to press his closing consideration. How could any one wish to go back into service after he had experienced these advantages of sonship? How could he “desire again to be in bondage”? We are told that the Israelites, even when they had manna, wished for onions and leeks of Egypt; and, even when God was feeding them, sighed for garlic. But what is this beside the folly of those who accept times and seasons in the place of the “ blessedness” of a sonship of God with Christ! (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Son and heir
I. What we were--servants. The idea of bondage is implied, and refers to the twofold influence of sin.
1. Its entire sway over ourselves. The language of Scripture is decisive on this matter. Sin has not only affected a part of human nature, but the whole.
2. Its power to exclude every good influence. The slave has no intercourse with the outside world. Others must not speak to him, or offer him any counsel. His master will not allow any foreign influence. Sin keeps out the light; the sinner does neither see himself nor his surroundings.
II. What we are--sons, Adoption is the term used by the apostle to designate the change. No comparison, however, will exactly represent the altered state.
1. As sons we are partakers of the Divine nature. The Spirit of God has imparted a heavenly disposition to our hearts.
2. As sons we are partakers of God’s care and government. Correction is a necessary part of the relationship.
III. What we shall be--heirs. There is a present right, but minority excludes full possession for want of fitness.
1. Maturity There is a stage in our experience when restrictions and limitations will be removed. We now only know in part.
2. Indebtedness--“through Christ.” He is the!ink between us and the inheritance. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
The three estates of the Galatian Church
I. Before their conversion.
1. Ignorance of God. There is a twofold knowledge of God.
(1) Natural (Acts 14:17; Romans 1:20), but this is
(2) Revealed: of the Father in Christ; neither of which did the Galatians possess.
(1) False gods are set up in two ways,
(a) when that which is not God is worshipped as God,
(b) when men acknowledge the true God but do not conceive of Him as He will be conceived.
(2) There is a spiritual idolatry. What a man loves most is His god--wealth, pleasure, sin.
(3) That the sin of idolatry be rooted out there must be
(a) an illumination of the mind,
(b) a renovation of the heart.
II. In their conversion.
1. They knew God.
(1) The foundation of this knowledge: the revelation of God in Christ (Hebrews 1:2; 2 Corinthians 4:6).
(2) Its properties
(a) special: whereby we acknowledge Him to be our God in Christ through faith;
(b) distinct, not confused: His presence with us, providence over us, will concerning us; life is as
(c) effectual (1 John 2:4; 1 John 3:6).
2. God knew them.
1. This knowledge is the root of ours. We know Him because He first knew us.
2. The ground of all our hope and comfort (Isaiah 49:15).
III. In their apostasy, which was--
1. An intolerable sin.
2. A voluntary sin.
3. A senseless sin.
4. A common sin. (W. Perkins.)
Idolatry: its commonness
Many people have their own god; and he is much what the French mean when they talk of le bon Dieu,--very indulgent, rather weak, near at hand when we want anything, but far away out of sight when we have a mind to do wrong. Such-a god is as much an idol as if he were an image of wood or stone. (Archdeacon Hare.)
Idolatry: misrepresentation of God
It is, as it were, putting a mask on the face of God. Now if we do not make idols, still we may misrepresent God. We often speak as though God did not rejoice to see us enjoying ourselves. (T. T. Lynch.)
Idolatry: its power
Idolatry is one of the most unconquerable of all the corrupt propensities of the human soul. Miracles under the new dispensation had scarcely ceased, the apostolic fathers were scarcely cold in their graves, before idolatrous forms were superinduced upon the pure spirituality of the holy gospel. (J. B. Walker, M. A.)
Idolatry: its folly
How senseless it is! We should think that artist beside himself who would undertake to draw a likeness of something which he had never seen, nor ever could see; to paint a portrait of the air, the wind, the fragrance of flowers. And God is a Spirit. To what shall we liken Him? (D. Thomas, D.D)
The testimony of idolatry
It is a very important truth that the prevalence of idolatry is in itself a strong testimony for the existence of one supreme God. For we find idolatry in some form amongst all but the most degraded and debased of nations, such as are some of the African tribes, and it is not certain that its remnants are not traceable there. As Luther puts it: “All idolatry in the world arises from this, that people by nature have had the common knowledge that there is a God, without which idolatry would remain unpractised. With this knowledge engrafted in mankind, they have (without God’s Word) fancied all manner of ungodly opinions about God.” (Biblical Treasury.)
But now, after that ye have known God.
Knowledge of God
That is not the best and truest knowledge of God which is wrought out by the labour and sweat of brain, but that which is kindled within us by a heavenly warmth in our hearts. As, in the natural body, it is the heart that sends up good blood and warm spirits into the head, whereby it is best enabled to perform its several functions; so that which enables us to know and understand aright in the things of God, must be a living principle of holiness within us. (John Smith.)
God’s knowledge of us
I. Its basis.
1. His omniscience.
2. His intimate connection with us through all the st.ages of our life.
(2) Spiritually: as our Maker, Preserver, Redeemer, Sanctifier.
II. Its wide embrace.
1. God knows every one of us
2. Our innermost thoughts.
3. Our secret wants.
4. Under all disguises:
5. In all circumstances.
1. A warning to the sinner;
2. An encouragement to the believer.
However doubtful may be our estimate of ourselves or that of others, there is no doubt as to God’s estimate of us being the right one (T. T. Lynch.)
Weak and beggarly elements
I. Weak, because they have no power to rescue man from condemnation.
II. Beggarly, for they bring no rich endowments of spiritual treasures. A passionate and striking ritualism, expressing itself in bodily mortifications of the most terrible kind had been supplanted by the simple spiritual teaching of the gospel. For a time the pure morality and lofty sanctions of the new faith appealed not in vain to their higher instincts, but they soon began to yearn after a creed which suited their material cravings better, and was more allied to the systems they had abandoned. This end they attained by overlaying the simplicity of the gospel with Judaic observances. This new phase is ascribed to the temper which their old heathen education had fostered It was a return to the “weak and beggarly elements” which they had outgrown, a renewed subjection to the “yoke of bondage” which they had thrown off in Christ. They had escaped from one ritualistic system, only to bow before another. The innate failings of a race whom Caesar (Bell. Gall. 6:16) describes as “excessive in its devotion to external observances” was here reasserting itself. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
The use and abuse of ordinances
Ordinances may be considered three ways.
I. With Christ.
1. As types and figures of Christ to come.
2. As signs of grace of Divine institution.
II. Without Christ. As mere customs whether before or after Him.
III. Against Christ. As meritorious causes of salvation. (W. Perkins.)
The difficulty of not believing
I have been thinking how difficult it would be for us not to be Christians. It is hard, we say, to have faith; but do we realize what a task a man imposes upon himself if he attempts to live without faith? Is not some faith one of the first vital necessities of the human reason and heart? I wish, then, this morning, to invert a very common way of reasoning about religion among men. Instead of treating a religious faith as though it were a good thing to be added to a man’s moral capital in life, I would raise the question rather, whether a man will have capital enough for life left if he lets a Christian faith go from him?
I. In order not to have faith, one must vacate a considerable portion of his own mental experience.
1. There is a large part of every man’s self-conciousness which is bound up with faith in realities beyond this present world of sights and sounds. It would be almost an impossible task for us to disentangle all faith in things Divine and eternal from the elements of our self-consciousness. Our reasons have their roots in the Divine. If these primal beliefs in God and immortality were simply results of argument, we might reason ourselves out of them: but they are elements, rather, of our rational and conscious life, so that we cannot separate them wholly from ourselves. Atheists, after all, can only make believe not to believe.
2. There is another tremendously present thing which would have to be put away from us in order that we might be able to live without faith, and that is the Divine imperative of conscience. Something higher and better than we lays hold of us in conscience. There are several other vital elements which must be sacrificed in the vain effort to live without faith.
3. One will have to leave out some of the most marked experiences of his life. The simple fact is, that the invisible powers are constantly laying hold of the life of man in the world. It would be an impossible task for us to account wholly for our own lives simply and solely upon natural causes. Super-sensible influences do mingle and blend with the sensible; providences are realities of human experience.
4. There is another side of our experience, which I will just mention, from which one must cut himself loose, if he would have any success in not belonging to a Christian world; he must break off his fellowship with the truest and best life of humanity. The history of man is not merely, nor chiefly, political; it is religious. The history of the kingdom of redemption is the paramount part of human history. Other history, what we call profane history, is the form and shaping of events only; the substance of history is its spiritual progress; the issue of it, and the main thing in it all along, is redemption. If, then, one wants not to be a Christian believer, a citizen of a world becoming Christian, he will have to begin by denying himself a goodly fellowship.
II. Let us consider further how much one will have to believe in order not to be a christian, in relation to some particulars of the Christian life.
1. One vital element of the Christian life is trust in the goodness of the heavenly Father. We do not conceal from ourselves, we cannot, that this is a trust written often across the face of events in our lives which seem to contradict it. As Christians we believe in the sunny side, that is, in the Divine side, of everything. We say it is only our present position in the shadow, or under some cloud, which prevents our seeing the bright and eternal side of it. Wait, and we shall see the goodness of the Lord. We were sailing one afternoon with the broken coast of Maine in the distance projecting upon our horizon. A black thundercloud gathered in shore over the hill-tops. We could see the play of the lightnings, and the waters breaking from the cloud. That was all that the villagers and the fishermen along the shore could have seen. But we, at our distance, beheld also the untroubled sun in the clear sky above; its beams struck the edges of that heavy mass of vapours, and above the darkness and the lightnings we could see the upper side of the cloud turn to gold; and, even while it was blackness and fear to those below, its pinnacles and towers were shining before our eyes like the city of God descending from heaven. Thus Christian faith beholds also the heavenly side of this world’s storm and darkness.
2. Take as another instance the Christian belief in our personal sinfulness and need of forgiveness. How many thoughts of the heart must one forget not to believe that? I pass to two other examples.
3. Men say it is hard to believe in an atonement. Perhaps it may be in some of our human philosophies of God’s method of reconciling the world; but not to believe in Jesus’ word that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sin, would require us to believe some things about God which it would be very hard for us to hold of the Creator of our hearts. Even a human government would be incomplete unless, in some hand, there should be lodged some power of pardon. Not to believe in the authority of God Himself over the execution of His own law is to believe that God’s government is not so perfect as man’s. Or, to take the subject up to a higher plane, where I much prefer to study it, our human love can sometimes find for itself a way of forgiveness which it will follow without dimming its own purity, or losing its own self-respect, though it be for it a way of tears. To believe, then, that the God of love can find no way of atonement for sin, though it be the way of the Cross, is to believe that man’s heart is diviner than God’s.
4. The other remaining point which I will mention is the Christian belief in the last judgment. Surely everything in this world would be left at loose ends, and all our instincts of justice, righteousness, and love thrown into confusion, if we should attempt to wrench the substance of this Christian faith in the judgment to come from our experience of this present life. Not to believe in it requires a great task of reason and conscience; for then one must believe that there is no moral order, as there is plainly a natural order of things; one must then believe that the one constant undertone of justice in man’s consciousness is a false note of life; that the first laws of things are but principles of eternal discord; that man’s whole moral life and history, in short, is meaningless and worthless. You say it is a terrible thing to believe in the judgment to come; yes, but it is a more fearful thing not to believe in it. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
How a faithful minister seeks to recover the erring
I. To the conscience--reminding them of the gracious change God had effected in them (Galatians 4:8-9).
II. To the understanding--remanding the reason of their instability--exhibiting its folly (Galatians 4:9-11).
III. To the heart--by affectionate entreaty--tender and happy reminiscences (Galatians 4:12-15).
IV. To their regard for the truth--which he faithfully preaches--others have perverted--should be zealously maintained (Galatians 4:16-18).
V. To his own sincerity--he is anxious for their happiness--to have the assurance of it. (J. Lyth.)
The folly of returning to the world
I. It is to act in opposition to knowledge.
II. To abuse the grace of God.
III. To seek happiness in that we have already proved unsatisfactory.
IV. To subject ourselves to a new bondage. (J. Lyth.)
To observe days and months
The observance of days and seasons
Natural. When days are observed according to the course of the sun and moon. Thus night follows day, and every year hath four seasons.
II. Civil. When set times are observed in husbandry, for household affairs, for matters of the commonwealth, and for business.
III. Ecclesiastics. When set days are observed for order’s sake, as days of thanksgiving, and days of humiliation.
1. Jewish: when made compulsory on the conscience.
2. Heathen: when good and bad success are dependent on them. From this last the Sabbath is excluded because
(1) it is the Lord’s day, and
(2) a moral commandment.
1. Romish festivals.
2. Lucky or unlucky periods. (W. Perkins.)
St. Paul is not here dealing with the Sabbath
The apostle is dealing with some of the difficulties which had arisen out of their former heathenism. The Galatian had worshipped “them which by nature were no gods,” the powers of nature and celestial objects, which indicate and influence the changes of seasons, months, and days, and were returning to these “weak and beggarly elements.” They were in danger not only of taking up with the Judaistic doctrine of justification by works, but also of relapsing into the heathen custom of calculating lucky and unlucky days and auspicious seasons by methods of astrology. Against this the apostle enters his protest. There is no evidence that he had any idea of the Jewish Sabbath in his mind. (W. Spiers, M. A.)
Christian festivals not prohibited
If it be objected that we are accustomed to observe certain days--as, e.g., the Lord’s Day, the Preparation, the Passover, or Pentecost, I have to answer that, to the perfect Christian--who is ever in his thoughts, words, and deeds, serving Christ--all his days are the Lord’s, and he is always keeping the Lord’s Day. He, also, who is unceasingly preparing himself for the true life, such an one is always keeping the Preparation day. Again, he who considers that “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us,” and that it is of his duty to keep the feast by eating of the flesh of the Word, never ceases to keep the Paschal feast. And, finally, he who can truly say: “We are risen with Christ,” and “He hath exalted us, and made us sit with Him in heavenly places in Christ” is always living in the season of Pentecost. But the majority of believers are not of this advanced class; but from being either unable or unwilling to keep every day in this manner, they require some sensible memorial to prevent spiritual things from passing altogether from their minds. (Origen.)
Superstition respecting days
The superstitious belief in good and evil days has prevailed in all ages and countries. No season of the year, no month, no week, has been free from them. From Egypt unlucky days have received the name of Egyptian days. The Romans had their dies atri, which were pointed out on the calendar with a black character denoting a day of bad luck, and their dies albi, pointed out with a white character denoting good luck. In commenting on the text Augustine says: “Those whom the apostle blames are those who say” “I will not set forward on my journey because it is the next day after such a time or because the moon is so; or I’ll set forward that I may have luck, because such is just now the position of the stars. I will not traffic this month because a star presides, or I will because it does.” Lodge (1596) tells us of those “who would not eat their dinner before they have lookt in their almanacke.” Aubrey, the antiquarian, later on, in dealing with the same subject, says: “I shall take particular notice here of November 3rd, both because ‘tis my own birthday, and for the remarkable accidents that have happened thereupon. Constantius, son of Constantine the Great, died on this day, Exveteri calendaris penes me. Thomas Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, that famous commander under Henries IV., V., and VI., died this day from a cannon shot received at Orleans. So also did Cardinal Borrhomes, and Sir John Perot, Lord deputy of Ireland, son to Henry VIII., and extremely like him; grief of the fatality of the day killed him. Stow in his annals says, November 3rd, 1099, the sea broke in on Scotland and England, drowning divers towns, and much people and cattle, submerging the lands once belonging to Earl Godwin in Kent, now called Godwin Sands, My father died in 1643, and within a year and a half of his decease such changes came upon my marsh lands in Kent by the influence of the sea that it was never worth one farthing to me; so that I often think this day being my birthday hath the same influence upon me that it had five hundred and eighty years since upon Earl Godwin and others. The Parliament so fatal to Rome’s concerns here in Henry VIII.’s time began on November 3rd. The 3rd of November, 1640, began that Parliament so direfully fatal to England and its King.” After the Reformation the unlucky day seems to have been Friday; fishermen and sailors would not go forth on that day, or servants take a place. No one on that day would get married, or begin a journey, or open a house of business on that day A similar superstition prevails among the Brahmins. In Japan a particular table is employed by travellers, which, it is said, has been observed to hold true by a continued experience of many ages, and wherein are set down all the unfortunate days of every month. A copy of this table is printed in all their road books. The Siamese observe the feasts of the new and full moon, and think the days that from the change precede the full are more fortunate than those that follow it. Their almanacks are marked with lucky and unlucky days. Neither prince nor any one who has means of applying to the astrologers will undertake anything without consulting them The Mexicans predicted the good or bad fortunes of infants from the sign under which they were born, and the happiness or misfortune of marriages, the success of wars; and of nearly everything from the day on which they were undertaken Nor are these notions confined to heathen countries. The newspapers frequently bring to light the credulity of Englishmen. “Such an extravagant cast of mind,” truly says The Spectator, “engages multitudes of people not only in needless terrors but in supernumerary duties, and arises from that fear and ignorance which are natural to the soul of man. Wise men concern themselves to retrench the evils of life by the reasonings of philosophy; fools seek to multiply them by the sentiments of superstition. God’s providence overrules all things. We should do our part faithfully, and leave the event with Him.”
The advantages of a fixed Sabbath
There are two distinct grounds on which works in religion are appraised at a low or rather worthless valuation in the Bible, and either rejected or denounced accordingly. The first is when they are offered as the price of our justification in the sight of God; as an equivalent upon which the Lawgiver is challenged for the honour and the regard that are due to righteousness; then does the Bible utterly hold at nought the most laborious, and, perhaps, when looked to in another view, the most holy and estimable of all human performances. The other ground on which works are computed at a low valuation in the Bible, is where, either in themselves they are devoid of tree moral excellence, or serve not in their tendencies to refine and to strengthen the principles of our moral nature. But let a good work be delivered of both these ingredients--let there be neither an arrogated merit nor an inherent meanness in it--free of all pettiness and abject timidity--And we say of works like unto this, that, so far from the gospel lifting a voice of hostility or casting a look of discountenance towards them, the very aim of the gospel is to raise and to multiply them over the face of a new moral creation. Now, in the text there is a certain scrupulous observation referred to by the apostle, which his converts adhered to as a duty, but which he charges them with as if it were a delinquency. They observed days and months and times and years, annexing a religious importance to the stated acts and exercises of stated periods; and we have no doubt, labouring under distress of conscience, at any misgiving from the prescribed and wonted regularity. It is likely enough, that both of those ingredients which go to vilify a work, and to render it null and worthless, entered into this outward formality of the Galatians--that it gave them a feeling of security as to their meritorious acceptance with God, which nought but the Redeemer’s merits ought to inspire; and that it further degraded the character of man, by reducing morality to the level of mechanism, and substituting for the obedience of a rightly strung and rightly actuated heart, an obedience like that of a galley-slave who plies at his unvaried oar, and moves in the one and unvaried circuit that is assigned to him. But there is another side to this question, which must not be left out of sight; for, though it be true that man was not made for the Sabbath, yet let it never be forgotten that the Sabbath was made for man. Man was not made to move in a precise orbit of times and seasons; yet times and seasons may be arranged, so as to subserve his use, and be the ministers of good both to his natural and moral economy. Were the keeping of the Sabbath a mere servitude of the body, which left the heart no better than before, it would be a frivolous ceremonial and ought to be exploded. But if it be true that he who sanctifies the Sabbath sanctifies his own soul, then does the Sabbath assume a spiritual importance, because an expedient of spiritual cultivation° It is not that the virtue of man consists in these things, but that these things are devices of best and surest efficacy for upholding the virtue of man. If it be true of man, that he can attain a loftier communion with his God, at those hours when the din and urgency of the world are away from him; and that a season of reading, and contemplation, and prayer acts as a restorative to the embers of his decaying sacredness; and that the voice of a minister, when prompted by the Spirit from on high, and aided by the sympathies of all who are around him, can often send the elevation of heaven into his soul; and that it is on those evenings of deep and lengthened tranquility which the footstep of intruding companion-ship does not violate, when the nurture and admonition of the Lord can descend more abundantly on the hearts of His children, and when the calm and the unction of a holy influence may be most felt in His dwelling-place--then Sabbath, which, from one end to the other of it, teems with these very opportunities, instead of ranking with the holidays of idle superstition, will be dear as piety itself to every enlightened Christian; and to it, in the most emphatic sense of the term, will he award the obeisance of a Divine and spiritual festival. And on this principle, too, may the Sabbath be rescued from that contempt which the text, in denouncing the observation of days and of times, would appear to cast on it. It is true, that it is a periodic festival, and that man was not made for periods. But this does not hinder that periods may be made for man. Does sacredness so keep at all times its undisturbed place and pre-eminence, amid the turmoil of those many secularities by which you are surrounded, that any one set and specific time is not needed, on which, at a distance from the besetting world, you might relume that lamp of heaven in the soul which was ready to expire? Or if the time were left to your own discretion, are such your longings after a spiritual atmosphere, that you would be ever sure to make your escape to it, when like to be lulled or overborne in an atmosphere of earthliness? It is true you may lift up your hearts to God when you please--and even amid the thickening occupations of the market and the counting-house, is it possible that many a secret aspiration may arise to Him. But how often is it that you would so please; and tell us, on your experience of the past what, if all days were alike, would be the fervour or the frequency of such aspirations? To whom much is given, of them much will be required; and on this principle your Sabbaths, these precious gifts of God to man, will have to be accounted for. And oh, forget not, that if these have been nauseated in time, heaven, if you e’er were admitted there, would be nauseated through all eternity. Sabbath is that station on the territory of human life, from which we can descry with most advantage and delight the beauties of the promised land; and it is there, as if at the gate of the upper sanctuary, where we can command one of the nearest approaches whereof our nature is capable, to the contemplations and the doings of the saints in blessedness. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
I am afraid of you.
A minister’s fears
I. What are those fears?
1. Lest his word should not issue in conversions.
2. Lest the converted members of his flock should not adorn their profession.
3. Lest his converts should apostatise.
II. What is his duty in the presence of these fears?
1. To labour on in spite of them.
(1) They may be groundless,
(2) or if only too well grounded, he is not responsible.
2. Not to allow them to generate despair. The worst sinner may yet be converted and the worst backslider reclaimed.
3. To do all he can, with God’s help, to prevent failure.
III. What are his encouragements in the face of these fears?
1. That he has been working for God’s glory.
2. That God is responsible for results.
3. That in spite of appearances to the contrary God’s word will not return unto Him void.
Conclusion: How sad to be the subject of these fears.
At one point in Dr. Bang’s ministry he became greatly discouraged, and attempted to leave his work. A significant dream relieved him. He thought he was working with a pickaxe, on the top of a basaltic rock. His muscular arm brought down stroke after stroke for hours, but the rock was hardly indented. He said to himself at last, “It is useless; I will pick no more.” Suddenly a stranger of dignified mien stood by his side, and said, “You will pick no more?” “No.” “Were you not set to do this task?” “Yes.” “Why then abandon it?” “My work is in vain; I make no impression.” Solemnly the stranger replied, “What is that to you? Your duty is to pick, whether the rock yields or not. Your work is in your own hands; the result is not. “Work on.” He resumed his task. The first blow was given with almost superhuman force, and the rock flew into a thousand pieces. He awoke, returned to his work, and a great revival followed. (A. Stevens, LL. D.)
Pain of fruitless labour
Dr. Talmage says, “I remember visiting a military prison where they punish men by making them carry cannon-balls from one end of the yard to the other, and the sergeant who accompanied me said: ‘When we made the men carry the balls from this end of the yard to the other to make a pyramid at the other end there was a kind of amusement in it, because they were building up this pyramid; and so we made an alteration, and the man has to carry the ball from this end of the yard to the other and back again, and his toil seems to be so altogether fruitless, that it becomes a double punishment to him.’“ Even so it is a source of bitter pain to an earnest minister to feel that his laborious efforts for the good of his hearers are after all in vain.
Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am.
The call to Christian liberty
I. The call is based on personal example. “I am.” Paul, an exemplification of Christian liberty. He could afford to contrast himself with the Judaisers in point of piety, labour, and Divine blessing on his work. Christian liberty stood approved of God in his person and ministry. There was no risk to run, he himself being witness, in this glorious liberty. A grand thing when a teacher can make such an appeal on the ground of his own character.
II. The call is founded on self-abnegation. Paul renounced all his Jewish rights and privileges, and became “as without law to them that were without law,” that he might liberate the Gentiles and keep them free. “Will you abandon me, when I have abandoned all for you?” The teacher must stoop to conquer, and place himself in the position of the taught.
III. The call is based on the past relationship of the two. “Ye have not injured me at all; you never disobeyed me; don’t do so now.” Happy the teacher who has such a ground of appeal.
IV. The call is based on its own merits. There was no personal ground of complaint. Any grief the apostle might have had for the wreck of his own work was altogether subordinate to the thought of spiritual disaster. In the last resort every appeal must rest here. Other grounds are helpful, but gospel freedom must win its way on its own merits. The spirit of liberty is not merely a jealousy of our own particular rights, but a respect for the rights of others, and an unwillingness that any man, whether high or low, should be trampled under foot. (Channing.)
is the soul’s right to breathe, and when it cannot take a long breath, laws are girded too tight. Without liberty man is in a syncope. (H. W. Beecher.)
A minister’s appeal to his people
What motives, what insinuations, what reasons, what wise pre-oecupations and preventions, what art, what humility, what love is here! “Brethren, I beseech you,” etc. We have
1. a loving compellation--“Brethren.”
2. A submissive address by way of comprecation--“I beseech you.”
3. A request most reasonable--“Be you as I am; for I am as ye are.”
4. A wise and prudent preoccupation or prevention, which removes all obstructions, and forestalls those jealousies, those surmises and groundless suspicions, which are the bane of charity, and the greatest enemies to peace--“Ye have not injured me at all.” Of these the request is the main. We shall at this time speak only of the first part, that adducing, persuading, powerful name of “brethren.”
I. Nature herself hath made all men brethren. “Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10). There is great difference indeed in other respects. Some are high, others low; some fair, others foul; some learned, others unlearned; some rich, others poor. But in respect of original and extraction there is no difference at all: we are all branches of the same root, all hewn out of one rock, all digged out of one pit.
1. And therefore, to make some use of that which we have learnt concerning our brotherhood by nature, this may serve, in the first place, to condemn all those who look upon men under other consideration than as men, or view them in any other shape than that of brethren. And the very name of “man” and of “brother” should be an amulet for all mankind against the venom of iniquity and injustice.
2. Therefore, in the second place, by this light of nature we may condemn ourselves when any bitterness towards our brother riseth in our hearts and allay or rather root it out with this consideration, that it is inhuman and most unnatural; that we cannot nourish it in our breasts, and not fall from our creation, and leave off to be men.
II. And further we carry not this consideration, but pass now to view the Galatians as brethren in that other capacity, as they were Christians, professing the same faith: which our apostle in this place might more particularly and especially mean. There is such a relation, such a brotherhood, betwixt all those who profess the same faith, that neither error, nor sin, nor injury can break and dissolve it. For if any or all of these had been of force enough to do it, then certainly our apostle would never have been so free as to have called the Galatians “brethren.”
1. And, first, to error: though it have a foul aspect, and bear a distasteful and loathed name, yet it carrieth no such monstrosity, no such terror with it, as to fright brethren so far asunder as not to behold one another in that relation, not “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
2. But, in the next place, if error cannot break and dissolve this relation of brotherhood which is amongst Christians, being of itself venial and easy to be pardoned, especially of those who are subject to error themselves; yet sin hath a foul aspect, and is of the most ugly and deformed appearance of anything in the world. We should never ask this question, if we would distinguish (which is easy to be done) between the nature of our brother and his fault; between that which he received from God, and that evil affection [which] he hath from himself; between that which is from heaven, heavenly, and that which is from the earth, nay, from the lowest pit of hell; if we would consider him in his rational nature, the image of God; and in that other capacity, as he is one for whom Christ died, and so capable of eternal life; and that though he seemed dead, yet his life may nevertheless be “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). For why judgest thou thy brother? (Matthew 7:1-3). “Judgment is the Lord’s” (Deuteronomy 1:17), who seeth “things that are not as if they were” (Romans 4:17). Look not upon thy brethren as grasshoppers, and upon thyself as a strong and perfect man in Christ; as if thou weft spiritual, heavenly, impeccable, and as far removed from sin as God Himself. But rather, as St. Paul was made a Jew to the Jew (1 Corinthians 9:20), so be thou as a sick man ministering to the sick, handling another with the same compassion thou wouldst have extended to thyself, if thou thyself shouldst be in his case. If thou despise and reproach him, I am sure thou art in a far worse.
3. So, then, neither error nor sin can untie this knot, can dissolve and break this relation of brethren. I named a third, but I am well-near ashamed to name it again, or bring it in competition with error or sin; because an offence against God should more provoke us than any injury done to ourselves: which our apostle here sets so light by, that although the Galatians had even questioned his apostleship, and preferred Peter and James and John before him, yet he passeth it by as not worth the taking notice of; like Socrates, who, being overcome in judgment, professed he had no reason to be angry with his enemies, unless it were for this, that they conceived and believed they had hurt him. And here St. Paul saith, “Ye have not hurt me at all.” And indeed no injury can be done by a brother to a brother. For the injury is properly done to God, who made them brethren and fellow-servants, and who reserves all power of revenge unto Himself, who is their common Master and the God of revenge. Bat we shall no further prosecute this, because it will fall in with our last part. We will rather, having, as ye have read, secured and fortified the brethren, walk about yet a while longer, and tell the towers and bulwarks which the God of love hath raised and set up to uphold them. And they are--
1. Pleasure, excessive pleasure.
2. Profit, great profit.
3. Necessity, extreme necessity. All these serve to maintain and uphold this brotherhood.
For brotherly love is--
1. Pleasant and delightful.
2. Profitable and advantageous.
3. So necessary, that it had been better for us never to have been than not to love the brethren. (A. Farindon, D. D.)
Live above injuries
When an inconsiderate fellow had stricken Cato in the path, and afterwards cried him mercy, he replied, “I remember not that thou didst strike me.” One having made a long and idle discourse before Aristotle concluded it thus: “I doubt I have been too tedious to you, sir, with my many words.” “Indeed,” said Aristotle, “you have not been tedious to me, for I gave no heed to anything you said.” Momus in Lucian tells Jupiter, “It is in thy power whether any one shall vex or wrong thee.” St. Paul here shakes all the affronts offered to him with as much ease as he did the viper. (Trapp.)
It was a noble testimony borne to Henry
VI. that “he never forgot anything but injuries;” and even still nobler to Cranmer, “To get a favour, do him wrong.”
The noblest worship of the Power above
Is to extol and imitate His love;
Not to forgive our enemies alone,
But use our bounty that they may be won.
Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh.
Preaching in the infirmity of the flesh
I. That we might not exalt our teachers unduly, who are only instruments of grace (Acts 14:15).
II. That we might ascribe the whole work of our conversion to God alone (2 Corinthians 4:7).
III. That God might by this means confound the wisdom of the world, and cause men that would be wise to become fools that they might be wise (1 Corinthians 3:18).
IV. That we might be assured that the doctrine is of God because it prevails without the strength and policy of man. (W. Perkins.)
I have been delighted, on a calm summer’s evening, to hear the tones of a sweet human voice borne to my ears from the other side of the valley. The shadows of the evening were around me, the birds had gone to their rest, a sadness was over the land; not a sound was heard save that voice, singing some tender Welsh air. The voice wandered among the hills, or seemed to linger in the eaves; then it trembled among the branches; by and by it became more powerful as it passed over the clear plain below. There was in it an indescribable pathos--it was a sigh swelling into a song--and it created in me unutterable longings for the perfect good, for that state in which life is musical, harmonious, and not filled with wild, discordant notes, as our present life is. The gospel resembles that voice, it comes to us trembling with Divine love; a tender, melting, pathetic voice, speaking of God and His love and His heaven, and the blessedness that shall be revealed. (Thomas Jones.)
Why no record of Paul s preaching
While we have more or less acquaintance with all the other important Churches of Paul’s founding, not a single name of a person or place, and scarcely a single incident connected with the apostle’s preaching in Galatia is preserved in either the Acts or the Epistle. This may partly be accounted for by the circumstances of the Church. The same delicacy which has concealed from us the name of the Corinthian offender may have led the apostle to avoid all special allusions in addressing a community to which he wrote in a strain of severest censure. And the historian would seem to have purposely drawn a veil over the infancy of a Church which swerved so soon and so widely from the purity of the gospel. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
The indisposition of St. Paul
Nothing is more natural than that the traversing of vast distances over the burning plains and freezing mountain passes of Asia Minor--the constant changes of climate, the severe bodily fatigue, the storms of fine and blinding sand, the bites and stings of insects, the coarseness and scantiness of daily fare--should have brought on a return of his malady to one whose health was so shattered as that of St. Paul. (Farrar.)
The climate and the prevailing maladies of Asia Minor may have been modified by lapse of centuries; and we are without the guidance of St. Luke’s medical language which sometimes throws a light on diseases alluded to in Scripture; but two Christian sufferers, in widely different ages of the Church, occur to the memory as we look on the map of Galatia. We could hardly mention any two men more thoroughly imbued with the spirit of St. Paul than John Chrysostom and Henry Martyn. And when we remember how these two saints suffered in their last hours from fatigue, pain, rudeness, and cruelty, among the mountains of Asia Minor which surround the place where they rest, we can well enter into the meaning of St. Paul’s expression of gratitude to those who received him kindly in the hour of his weakness. (Conybeare and Howson.)
Personal suffering a means of the world’s progress
The hopes of humanity do not lie in the fulness with which science discovers and employs the forces of nature. On the contrary, there is no danger which is more imminent than the appropriation of those powers by the coarsest despotism which can enslave and corrupt its subjects. It does not consist in what is called culture, because art and poetry are easily made slaves of that wealth which is willing to have its existence certified and its power acknowledge by the homage of cultivated parasites. It is not learning that can save man; for at best learning only influences a few, and is apt, in those who possess it, to degenerate into self-sufficiency and ease. Least of all do the hopes of man lie in the aggregation of wealth; for experience tells us that wealth is not only apt to be arrogant and domineering, but to form a coarse and harsh oligarchy, degraded by low tastes and prone to ferocious fears. Nor, finally, do the hopes of humanity reside in any form of polity. It may be that one form of administration is better than another, because it offers least resistance to the influence which ought to leaven society, gives a freer course to those forces which can chasten and exalt mankind. Despotism degrades us, but it does not follow that liberty purifies us. The atmosphere is cleared of its accumulated poisons by some furious storm, which does in the end bring health to the many, but bestows its benefits amidst the waste and the rain of those whom it smites. And so the moral purification of society is affected by the suffering of those whom the cleansing storm catches in its course; the victory of the most righteous cause demands the suffering and death of some among those who enter into the battle. When the stronghold of truth and virtue is to be built, the foundations are laid in the firstborn, and the youngest perishes before the walls are finished. (Paul of Tarsus.)
Affliction a means of moral influence
The sunlight falls upon a clod, and the clod drinks it in, is itself warmed by it, but lies as black as ever, and sheds out no light. But the sun touches a diamond, and the diamond almost chills itself as it sends out in radiance on every side the light that has fallen upon it. So God helps one man to bear his pain, and nobody but that one man is a whir the richer. God comes to another sufferer--reverent, unselfish, and humble--and the lame leap, and the dumb speak, and the wretched are comforted all around by the radiated comfort of that happy soul. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not.
Ministers and people
Here we see--
I. The goodness of God, who does not speak in His awful majesty, but sends ambassadors to beseech us to be reconciled to Him.
II. The responsibility of pastors, because they stand in the stead of Christ Jesus, and must, therefore,
(1) only declare what they know to be His will; and
(2) have a special care to maintain that holiness of life which befits their position.
III. The duty and privilege of the Church
1. Not to despise their minister’s weakness.
2. To treat him with reverence and love, because a messenger of God and of Christ.
IV. The comfort of believers. Sure and certain, as though administered by an angel or by Christ Himself. (W. Perkins.)
The superficiality of Galatian religious life
If we picture to ourselves the apostle as he appeared before the Galatians, a friendless outcast, writhing under the tortures of a painful malady, yet instant in season and out of season, by turns denouncing and entreating, appealing to the agonies of a crucified Saviour, perhaps, also, as at Lystra, enforcing this appeal by some striking miracle, we shall be at no loss to conceive how the fervid temperament of the Gaul might have been aroused, while yet only the surface of his spirit and consciousness was ruffled. For the time, indeed, all seemed to be going on well. “Ye were running bravely;” but the very eagerness with which they had embraced the gospel was in itself a dangerous symptom, A material so easily moulded soon loses the impression it has taken. The passionate current of their Celtic blood, which flowed in this direction now, might only too easily be diverted into a fresh channel by some new religious impulse. Their reception of the gospel was not built on a deeply-rooted conviction of its truth, or a genuine appreciation of its spiritual power. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
St. Paul’s infirmity
The right reading and rendering is: “But ye know that by reason of an infirmity of my flesh I preached the gospel to you on the former visit; and your temptation in my flesh ye did not utterly despise (set at nought) nor loathe.” The drift of the first of these clauses is that on the former of two visits, he had not purposed preaching in Galatia, but did so because he was detained there by his peculiar affliction. The drift of the second clause, which is rather irregularly expressed, is that the Galatians did not scorn his infirmity nor regard it with abhorrence, although it constituted a temptation to them to repudiate the gospel, when preached by one so afflicted. This passage and 2 Corinthians 12:7 taken together point to the following results:
1. The affliction was bodily. “In my flesh.” The effect of shocking and revolting those who witnessed it, which is pointed to in the word “loathe,” could only be produced by visible symptoms. “Infirmity of my flesh” also suggests most naturally, although not necessarily, that the infirmity attached to the body. From its tendency to bring him into contempt, the apostle looked upon it as a grievous impediment to his ministry. The words “smite with the fist” (2 Corinthians 12:7) indicate the violence and the suddenness of its approaches; and his detention in Galatia, where he had not meant to stay, shows that he could not forecast its coming on, and apparently also that its after-effects were of some duration. The current impression that it was attended by agonizing pain is not positively justified by anything that is stated. It was probably humiliating rather than painful.
2. It was an adjunct of his visions and special revelations in two ways.
(1) It served a disciplinary purpose in connection with them.
(2) Its particular visits were the immediate antecedent, if not the conditional, accompaniments of the visions and revelations themselves.
This last relation is not only indicated by the apostle’s general statement, but appears more distinctly from the fact that the answer, “My grace is sufficient for thee” is exactly one of the special revelations in question, and it is reasonable to suppose that it was given in direct reply to the third prayer for deliverance, uttered at a moment when he was painfully sensible of the pressure of his bodily trial. It is to be borne in mind that he is speaking in 2 Corinthians 12:1-21. of visions and revelations experienced by him while in an ecstatic condition, i.e., when the connection between the inner spiritual man and the body was either in complete abeyance or actually for a while severed, and this strongly commends the supposition that the abnormal state of body was a transition-stage to the ecstasy. The three petitions would, in this case, be made when the apostle, under some painfully humbling physical conditions, felt his conscious union with his material organism dissolving, and the Lord’s answer to the third petition would be heard by him when one of the ecstatic states had set in. The ecstasy, the visions and revelations, and the peculiar affection of the body, would thus be coincident in time, possibly of the same duration, and, in a certain sense, the complements of each other His conversion (Acts 26:11-18) furnishes a most striking illustration of the manner in which he may have received his supernatural communications at the precise time when he was under the actual application of the “stake for the flesh.” Its close conjunction with the visions and revelations does not justify the conclusion that the suffering which it brought and the Divine communications alternated with one another during the ecstasy, so that the ecstatic, like the waking life of the apostle was a copy of the life of his Master in its contrary aspects of humiliation and suffering and of exaltation and glory. If the stake for the flesh was felt during the ecstasy, he could not have said that he did not know whether he was in the body or out of the body, for a sense of bodily suffering must imply the presence of the body One clear result of the intimate union of the stake with the visions and revelations is that the occasions of his suffering from it cannot be regarded and spoken of as if they came on like the attacks of a malady. They coincided with the times at which he stood in need of special disclosures of the Divine will. The date, “fourteen years ago” (2 Corinthians 12:2), points to directions given-him previously to quitting Arabia for a new province of ministerial work.
3. When St. Paul ascribes to the stake a twofold relation to the invisible world, and sees in it a concurrence of Divine and of Satanic agency, the latter controlled by the former, he is neither speaking figuratively, nor merely stating his own personal impressions in accordance with popular views, but affirming what he knew to be a truth, and his statement is amply supported by other representations in Scripture. This admixture of Satanic action makes the attempt precarious to identify the stake with any known malady or ailment, such as acute headache, earache, a complaint in the eyes, or epilepsy. The view which chiefly claims consideration under this head, although there is an ancient and sustained tradition in favour of headache, is that it was epilepsy. Both Jews and pagans deemed epilepsy a supernatural visitation, and hence its name morbus divinus, or sacer. Another designation of it, morbus comitialis, rested upon the same idea, for if any one was seized with it in the Roman Forum during an election it was supposed to be the intervention of a god, and business was suspended. The original for “loathe” in this verse means literally to “spit out,” and it is curious that epilepsy was also called morbus que sputalur, because those present were “accustomed to spit upon the epileptic or into their own bosoms, either to express their abomination, or to avert the evil omen for themselves.” Persons may become subject to epilepsy at middle age by a great shock, physical or moral, or both, such as St. Paul’s conversion was. Almost all medical writers on epilepsy mention a patient who before a seizure imagined that he saw a figure approach and smite him a blow on the head, after which he lost consciousness. This has a resemblance to the expression “smite with the fist,” which might well represent the suddenness of epileptic attacks. Those who happen to have seen a person seized with epilepsy while officiating in Divine service, will comprehend how natural it would be for St. Paul to regard any bodily liability at all resembling it as a terrible hindrance to his ministry. After epileptic convulsions have ended there often ensues an insensibility, and patients sometimes fall into a profound stupor or coma, which has been known to last as long as a week. This symptom would harmonize with the apostle’s forced stay in Galatia. Still it is doubtful whether any of these points are more than superficial agreements. An epileptic remembers nothing of what passed during the fit, whereas St. Paul had the most vivid recollection of everything. Epilepsy, frequently suffered, generally impairs the intellect, and the cases of Julius Caesar, Mahomet, and Buonaparte, who are quoted as instances of high intellectual power remaining in spite of epilepsy, are not deemed by medical authorities to be of much value.
4. An attempt has been made to find an analogy of nature for the apostle’s cross from a different point of view, viz., by taking his visions and revelations for the starting-point. A large number of instances are upon record of religious visionaries, as they are called, and ecstatical persons, who have seemed to themselves to be translated into the invisible world, and to have seen and heard its inhabitants and transactions as sensibly as they could have seen and heard anything with their bodily organs. They have for the most part a strong conviction that they are under the immediate guidance and influence of spiritual beings during the disclosures made to them. The body is in many cases in a state resembling that of catalepsy, in which the will exercises no power over it; the expression of the eyes, though open, is extinguished; the limbs are like those of an automaton, and remain unaffected by the law of gravitation in any attitude in which they may be placed; and the face is like that of a dead person.
5. It may be questioned whether such inquiries and speculations as these, although interesting, can lead to any solid results, on account of the perfectly exceptional character of the apostle’s case. There is reason to think that no malady or bodily disorder brought about by demoniacal agency is ever identical with ordinary disease. If similarities are traceable, they are rather symptomatic than essential affinities. There are not sufficient data for determining what peculiar ingredient characteristic of Satanic malignity there was in the apostle’s affliction, but it would seem to have been something calculated to overwhelm him with ignominy rather than to excruciate him with pain. It is consolatory to know that, however hard it was to bear, the grace of Christ enabled him ultimately to rejoice and glory in it as a means whereby the power of the Lord more fully tabernacled upon him and invested him with the true strength for doing his Master’s work. (Canon Waite.)
Where is then the blessedness ye spake of?
I. Their past religious experience was one of blessedness.
1. Blessedness is one of the earliest notes of religious life. Christ’s first miracle was at Cana: amongst His first words were the beatitudes. The earliest religious experience is that known as “first love.”
2. There is a danger of this being lost through the truth on which it is based losing its freshness. The vision of Christ crucified had faded, and the Galatians were now seeking perfection in another way than that by which they had attained blessedness.
3. Blessedness can only be maintained by the constant realization of Christ as Saviour.
II. Their present example is one of religious instability.
1. They were of a fickle and changeable temperament.
2. Religion had entered them chiefly through the emotions. They had not fairly grasped the doctrines of Christianity. Hence they became an easy prey to false teachers.
3. They regarded the teacher rather than the truth he taught.
4. Influences were at work calculated to draw them away from their faith.
(1) Learned teachers whom it was hard to refute.
(2) Gorgeous ceremonial for which they had a predilection.
(3) Old worldliness and heathenism so recently renounced.
III. The remedy.
1. Recognize the evil.
2. Return to Christ. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
A missing treasure
1. Nothing is easier than to show that blessedness is the privilege of every Christian.
2. But where is it in many an average Christian life?
3. If it be amissing, something must be wrong.
4. Its sole source is God, but it is dispensed at sundry places and by sundry channels.
I. The Cross of Christ. By this
(1) a curse is removed;
(2) a blessing conferred.
II. The throne of grace.
1. A reconciled God
2. A sympathetic High Priest.
III. The wells of salvation.
1. The Bible.
2. The Lord’s Supper.
IV. The ways of Christian good-doing (Acts 20:35).
V. Mount Pisgah, with its views of the promised land. When all is gloomy elsewhere, all is bright there (John 14:1-3; Romans 8:18-21; Hebrews 12:22-24; Revelation 22:1-5). In conclusion, where is this blessedness?
1. How strange not to have it!
2. Stranger still to have had it and lost it. (Norman Macleod, D. D.)
Happiness and duty
I. To make happiness the chief end of life is a mistake as well as a sin, for it must meet with failure.
II. The end of our being is holiness: and when this is attained, happiness is the certain result.
III. The blessedness of religion is the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace, just as good health is a token that our physical employments are conducive to our well being,
1. Those forms of religion which induce melancholy bear no stamp of Divine origin.
2. Man’s greatest miseries have been produced by such a religion.
3. Happiness shows the worth of true religion, for “the fruit of the Spirit is joy.” (S. Pearson, M. A.)
is not the foundation or warrant of Christian life, but its crown and glory, like the tuft of green that adorns the palm tree: like the rich capital that wreathes the Corinthian column; like the crown that sparkles on the brow of a king. Without it the Christian is like a king without a crown, a column without a capital, a palm tree with a headless stem, (N. Macleod, D. D.)
Mere feeling: its worthlessness
Feeling, even when directed to heavenly objects, may be in its substance partly physical; and there is no necessary connection between feeling so originating and moral earnestness or right morality. Nay, it is very possible for those who feel warmly to imagine, mistakenly enough, that warm feeling is the same thing as, or an adequate substitute for, acting rightly. He who said, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments,” implied that there are forms of religious passion which may co-exist with disobedience, and may even appear to compensate for it. The Galatians had not been less willing to “pluck out their own eyes” out of devotion to St. Paul, at the time of their conversion, because they afterwards looked on him as a personal enemy for telling them the truth about the Judaizers. The apostle was not insincere who protested, “Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee;” albeit a few hours later, at the crisis of danger, he could exclaim, “I know not the man.” Feeling is not necessarily moral purpose; and its possible deficiencies show that we cannot regard it as alone forming the material of Christian life. (Canon Liddon.)
Feeling: its place and power in religion
Feeling is of as much use in religion as steam is in an engine--if it drives the engine it is good; but if it does not it is no good for anything but to fizz and hiss and buzz. (J. Parker, D. D.)
At the Governor’s banquet in California State, where wine was flowing freely, one of the speakers, while making an excited speech, said: “If there is any one present who was ever happier in his life than he is here to-night, I call upon him at once to arise and say so.” A young man sprang to his feet and said: “I was very much happier in one of Mr. Hammond’s meetings than I am here.” it produced a profound impression upon that gay audience.
The backslider’s misery
A number of persons were once relating their misfortunes to each other. One told of his whole substance entrusted to one vessel, having perished in the ocean; another of an only and beloved daughter recently ]aid in the grave; another of a son breaking loose from restraint, and plunging like the prodigal into the wickedness of a great city. It was agreed that these were sore afflictions, and it was wondered whether any could produce sorer. One who had hitherto been silent now spoke. “Yes,” said he, “I can tell of something sadder than all these, a believing heart has gone from me.” There followed deep silence at thess words, and when the little group spoke again it was agreed that the last was the heaviest sorrow; that there was no calamity like it. (British Messenger.)
They zealously affect you, but not well.
I. That things which are good in their kind may be done for wrong ends.
1. In preaching,
(1) some do it for envy and strife;
(2) some to gain personal or pecuniary ends.
2. In embracing the gospel, some do it, not for its own sake, but for
3. This must teach us not only to do good, but to do it well. For which end--
(1) We must set before us the will of God as our main motive.
(2) The outward action must be conformable to the inward motion.
II. That nature can counterfeit grace. Thus men feign--
1. The experiences and life of religion.
2. The activities of religion. How hard to detect the hypocrite, and yet how easy to become one.
III. The envy and ambition of the deceivers. Paul must be excluded from the love of the Galatians that they alone may be loved. Thus Joshua (Numbers 11:29); John’s disciples (John 3:30); our Lord’s disciples (Luke 9:49).
IV. The divisions between pastors and people created by the false teachers. (W. Perkins.)
The spirit of religious faction
I. Its prominent characteristic. Clever imitation of religious zeal.
1. In its apparent motives What other end could they have in making the sacrifices their work involved.
2. In the deep interest it seems to take in its objects.
3. In the undoubted earnestness with which its work is done.
II. Its method of operation.
1. To create a schism between pastor and people. Paul’s apostleship was denied; his character traduced; his motives impugned.
2. To create a schism between one Church and another. The Judaizers sought to divorce the Galatians from the fellowship of Gentile Churches which were based on liberty.
2. To create a schism between the believer and his Lord. How often is this effected, not precisely in this way, but by the passions engendered by religious strife.
III. Its object.
1. To gain personal ascendancy.
2. To secure the deference and zeal of the Galatians.
To separate from the Church in some one or few essential articles while you pretend to hold Christ the Head is heresy; to separate from it in spirit, by refusing holiness and not loving such as are holy, is ungodliness; to differ from it by any error of judgment or life is sin; to magnify any one church or party, so as to deny due love and communion to the rest, is schism. To limit all the Church to your party, and deny all or any of the rest to be Christians, and parts of the Universal Church, is schism by a dangerous breach of charity, and the principal schism that you should avoid. It is schism also to condemn unjustly any particular Church as no Church, and it is schism to withdraw your bodily communion from a Church that you were bound to hold that communion with; and it is schism to make divisions or parties in a Church, though you divide not from that Church. (R. Baxter.)
I. Consider the nature of zeal in general. Zeal is a strong and ardent affection of the heart towards some distant and desirable object. It is not a simple, but complicated, emotion, which admits of different degrees of ardour and sensibility, accordingly as its object appears more or less agreeable, more or less distant, or more or less important. Zeal always supposes a fixed and steady attention to the object upon which it terminates. A slight and cursory view of any agreeable objects never excites in our breast the least degree of zeal to make them our own. But it is a law of our nature that a close and continued attention to any desirable object should draw all the affections of the heart towards it, and, of consequence, should produce the emotion of zeal Whatever agreeable subject seizes and absorbs the mind will naturally enkindle the fire of zeal. Zeal is one of the first and strongest emotions which we discover in children. The reason is, the smallest trifles are sufficient to fill their minds and engross their whole attention. And when greater trifles fill greater minds they produce the same effect. Even philosophers and politicians often suffer the most vain and imaginary schemes to take the entire possession of their thoughts, and to fill their minds with a flame of zeal, which is astonishing to all who have never paid the same attention to the same ideal or trifling subjects. But whatever be the object of zeal, it always appears to the person who feels this lively emotion to be a matter highly interesting, either on its own account, or on account of its supposed connection with some valuable end.
II. Distinguish false zeal from true. There is a zeal which forms a beautiful moral character. A strong and ardent desire to promote the public good justly commands universal approbation and esteem. This the apostle observes in the verse immediately succeeding the text. “But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing.” It is the goodness of its ultimate object which renders zeal virtuous and amiable. When it ultimately seeks the promotion of a good cause, it is according to knowledge, it is agreeable to the dictates of reason and conscience, it is of a godly sort, and it resembles the zeal of the Lord of Hosts. But false zeal has a diametrically opposite object, and ultimately seeks a selfish end.
III. How false zeal will dispose men to act. It is a powerful stimulus to action, and will dispose all men to act in the same manner, unless restrained by soma different passion, or by some insurmountable obstacle.
1. It will dispose them to combine together in carrying on their destructive designs. This false fervour, like electrical fire, will easily and instantaneously spread from breast to breast among those who are ardently engaged in the same cause.
2. False zeal will hurry men on to act without regarding or even consulting the sober dictates of their own reason. It will not suffer them to make a proper use of that noble faculty which God has implanted in their breasts to direct them in all their private and public conduct. Zealots who do not give a reason to themselves for their own opinions and conduct are still more averse to giving a reason to others.
3. While men are under the influence of false zeal they are prone to act, not only without consulting their own reason but without hearkening to the reason of others. They are inclined to shut their ears against the most plain and conclusive arguments which can be offered to their cool and candid consideration.
4. Those whom a false zeal has united together in a bad cause are extremely fond of increasing their strength by bringing over as many as possible to their views and feelings. A false zeal is no less a proselyting than an infatuating spirit. Those who are deceived, as are all who are actuated by a blind zeal, have a strong inclination to deceive others. The Scribes and Pharisees, whom our Saviour calls “blind leaders of the blind,” would compass sea and land to make proselytes to their own errors and delusions. But zealots are no less artful than indefatigable in their efforts to attach others to their persons and pursuits.
6. It is the nature of false zeal to embolden and stimulate men to acts of violence and cruelty in effecting their sinister and selfish purposes. A bear robbed of her whelps is not more fierce and cruel than those who are zealously engaged to accomplish a base and cruel design Their fiery zeal sears their consciences and hardens their hearts, which prepares them to sacrifice without remorse either friends or foes, who stand in their way and oppose their views.
It only remains to make a proper application of-this subject.
1. What has been said upon the nature and effects of false zeal may help us to determine who are under its governing influence at the present day.
2. It appears from the description which has been given of false zeal that these who feel it and act under its influence are altogether criminal.
3. False zeal is the most dangerous, as well as the most criminal, passion that can possibly reign in the human heart. It has been the primary source of innumerable murders, massacres, persecutions, conspiracies, revolutions, wars, and desolations among the nations of the earth. A single spark of false zeal may spread from the breast of one popular influential character through a whole nation, and involve them in the heaviest calamities. Of this we have a late and memorable instance. About a half-a-century ago the malignant heart of Voltaire swelled with impetuous zeal to crush Christianity and all its votaries. From him the flame spread among his learned friends; from these it spread among the French philosophers and nobility; and from these it spread among a vast number of secret societies in France, in Germany, and in several other parts of Europe. In this rapid progress it employed a thousand pens and ten thousand tongues to plead its cause and proselytize millions to atheistical and sceptical infidelity. Strengthened and encouraged by their numbers, these zealots pointed their virulence against the throne as well as the altar, which spread anarchy and destruction through France, and involved a great part of Europe, Egypt, and Syria in all the terrors and miseries of a long and cruel war. Such have been the genuine fruits of false zeal in our own day; and such we have reason to believe it will continue to produce wherever it rages without restraint. Let us therefore endeavour to undeceive those who are deceived, and in this way effectually check the further spread of false zeal.
4. In the next place, it is our immediate duty to cherish in ourselves and others the spirit of true zeal in opposition to false. Our cause is the best in which we can possibly be engaged. The defence of our religion and government calls for our most zealous exertions. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
A false zeal in religion is always, in some respect or other, a misdirected zeal, or a zeal not according to knowledge; a zeal seeking some false end, or, while proposing to itself a good end, seeking its promotion in some unauthorized way. Jehu had a good zeal, which he called zeal for the Lord of Hosts. His fault was not that he was too zealous, but that his zeal was really directed to his own advancement. The Jews, in the days of Christ, had zeal for God, but it was so misdirected as to fire them with a frenzy to destroy the Son of God, and extinguish the Light of the world. There are countless forms of false zeal now at work, but, in all cases, they sin, not by excess, but by misdirection. Some are flaming with a zeal to spread some of the corruptions of Christianity, and to carry men away from its great and cardinal truths. Some are equally zealous to build up a sect or a party on other foundations than those which God has laid in Zion; and that which taints their zeal is the purpose to which they employ it, and not any excessive fervour of their zeal itself. (Bonar.)
True and false zeal
Let us take heed we do not sometimes call that zeal for God and His gospel which is nothing else but our own tempestuous and stormy passion. True zeal is a sweet, heavenly, and gentle flame, which makes us active for God, but always within the sphere of love it never calls for fire from heaven to consume those that differ a little from us in their apprehensions. It is like that kind of lightning (which philosophers speak of) that melts the sword within, but singeth not the scabbard; it strives to save the soul, but hurteth not the body. (Cudworth.)
Zealously affected always in a good thing.
Value and importance of Christian zeal
I. Examine the Christian quality spoken of.
1. Its foundation. Supreme love to Jesus Christ, the fruit of spiritual regeneration, is the only solid basis of true zeal.
2. Its nature. Sincere and warm regard for God’s glory. A compound of strong faith and disinterested regard, manifesting itself by patient endurance and constant exertion.
3. Its objects.
(1) Plain acknowledged truths, such as man’s ruin by nature, his redemption by Christ, his renewal by the Holy Spirit.
(2) Matters of real importance. Not the shell or garment of religion, but the life and heart of it.
(3) The advancement of the Divine glory is the object nearest every true believer’s heart, and he will use all his influence to uphold and support the means calculated to promote it. The instruction of the young, the distribution of the Scriptures, the propagation of the gospel at home and abroad, etc.
4. Its properties.
(1) Enlightened and prudent.
(2) Mild and gentle.
(3) Modest and humble.
(4) Warm and active.
II. Its value and importance in the Christian cause.
1. It facilitates the progress of those who possess it in their Christian course.
2. It makes the practical part of religion easy and delightful.
3. It promotes a Christian’s usefulness. He feels a desire to do something for the interest and benefit of his fellows.
1. Let those who possess this Christian quality cultivate it.
2. Let strangers to Christian zeal seek to become partakers in it. (T. Lewis.)
Definition of zeal
Zeal may be defined as the heat or fervour of the mind, prompting its vehemence of indignation against anything which it conceives to be evil--prompting its vehemence of desire towards anything which it imagines to be good, In itself, it has no moral character at all. It is the simple instinct of energetic nature, never wholly divested of a sort of rude nobility, and never destitute of influence upon the lives and characters of others. The word “zeal” is used indiscriminately in Scripture in order to denote a strong feeling of the mind, whether bent upon evil design or on cultivating the things which are of good report and lovely. (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
True zeal is like the vital heat in us that we live upon, which we never feel to be angry or troublesome. (Cudworth.)
Our zeal, if it be heavenly, if it be true vestal fire kindled from above, will not delight to tarry here below, burning up straw and stubble and such combustible things, and sending up nothing but gross earthly flames to heaven; but it will rise up and return back pure as it came down, and will be ever striving to carry up men’s hearts to God along with it. (Cudworth.)
Constancy of zeal
We do not value an intermitting spring so much as the clear brooklet which our childhood knew, and which has laughed on its course unheeding, and which could never be persuaded to dry up, though it has had to battle against the scorchings of a jubilee of summer’s suns. We do not guide ourselves by the glow-worm’s bead of light, or with the marsh-lamp’s fitful flame. No, we look to the ancient sun, which in our infancy struggled through the window, and danced upon the wall of the nursery, as if he knew how much we delighted to see him light up the flower-cup and peep through the shivering leaf. And, for ourselves, we do not value the affection of a stranger awakened by some casual congeniality, and displayed in kindly greeting or in occasional courtesy. Our wealth is in the patient bearing, and the unnoticed deed, and the anticipated wish, and the ready sympathies, which make a summer and a paradise wherever there is a home. And not only in the natural and the social relations, but in the enterprise of the world, in the busy activities of men, the necessity for uniformity in earnestness is readily acknowledged. Society very soon brands a man if he has not got a perseverance as well as an earnestness about him. The world has got so matter-of fact now, that it jostles the genius off the footpath, while the plodder, whose eye sparkles less brilliantly but more evenly, steadily proceeds on his way to success. (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
Interest in holy work to be maintained
It is of the utmost importance to keep up our interest in the holy work in which we are engaged, for the moment our interest flags the work will become wearisome. Humboldt says that the copper-coloured native of Central America, far more accustomed than the European traveller to the burning heat of the climate, yet complains more when upon a journey, because he is stimulated by no interest. The same Indian, who would complain when in botanizing he was loaded with a box full of plants, would row his canoe fourteen or fifteen hours together against the current without a murmur, because he wished to return to his family. Labours of love are light. Love much, and you can do much. Impossibilities disappear when zeal is fervent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Quality of action
The Hebrews have a saying that God is more delighted in adverbs than in nouns; ‘tis not so much the matter that’s done, but the matter how ‘tis done, that God minds. Not how much, but how well! ‘Tis the well-doing that meets with a “Well done!” Let us therefore serve God, not nominally or verbally, but adverbially. (Venning.)
Zeal and prudence
Two ships were aground at London Bridge. The proprietors of one sent for a hundred horses, and pulled it to pieces; the proprietors of the other waited for the tide, and with sails and rudder directed it as they pleased. (C Simeon.)
Zeal and discretion
Zeal and discretion united together are like the two lions which supported the throne of Solomon; and he who has them both is like Moses for mildness and like Phineas for his service; therefore, as wine is tempered with water, so let discretion temper zeal. (H. Smith.)
It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing
I. What is the nature of true Christian zeal?
1. The original word means heat. When the passions are strongly moved to good and against evil there is religious zeal.
2. Love is the chief ingredient in its composition. But it is love in the highest degree--“fervent love.”
II. It follows, therefore, that the properties of love are the properties of zeal (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.).
5. Proportioned to that which is good.
(1) For the Church.
(2) More for Church ordinances.
(3) More still for works of mercy.
(4) Most for love itself.
III. Practical inferences. If this be true, then--
1. Christian zeal is inimical to--
(1) Hatred, bitterness, prejudice, bigotry, persecution.
(4) Murmuring and impatience. And,
2. Is not fervour for
(1) Any evil thing.
(2) Indifferent things.
(3) Opinions. (J. Wesley.)
I. Its objects--“Good things.”
1. Acts of worship.
2. Acts of our secular calling.
3. Acts of righteousness.
4. Acts of charity and mercy.
II. Its nature.
1. Forward and cheerful.
2. Resolute in spite of discouragements.
3. Diligent and earnest.
III. Its place in religion.
1. It is a note of God’s people.
2. It is the fruit of Christ’s death.
(1) By way of obligation.
(2) Because Christ has purchased for us the Spirit of power.
1. How earnest men are in sin--shall Satan be served better than God?
2. Consider how zealous you once were.
3. We cannot afford to be lukewarm.
(1) Time is short.
(2) The enemy is earnest.
4. The object deserves the warmest zeal.
5. Coldness is dangerous to ourselves and others.
6. Christian comfort depends on zeal.
7. The want of zeal is odious to God and dishonourable. (Manton.)
I. Its nature.
1. In general the heat or fervour of the mind prompting its vehemence of indignation against evil, of desire for good; the simple instinct of energetic nature, never wholly divested of a sort of rude nobility, and never destitute of influence upon the lives and character of others.
2. Christian zeal--
(1) Springs from a Christian motive. If it does not spring from love it will be a blind distempered emotion.
(2) Is displayed in a Christian manner--merciful and tolerant.
(3) Is used for Christian ends--peace and good-will.
II. Its permanence--On which rests its main value.
1. We see this in nature, social relationships, business.
2. The temptations to make it fitful.
(1) Religious lukewarmness.
(2) The race for wealth.
(3) Ministerial preferences. But if religion is a “good thing,” it is always so.
III. Its profitablness. It is good--
1. In itself.
2. In its influences.
3. In its effects. (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
The reasonableness of Christian zeal
The world applauds the zealous in everything but religion. The warrior whose breast shall shine with stars, the scholar who makes a hush as he appears--they are those who set an object before them and strive for it through the hazard of years, and would deem it a shame if they did not put heart into their work. And shall not the Christian be in earnest with a cause that ennobles, with a responsibility which he may not transfer, with the destinies of his fellows for ever trembling in the balance, and in some sort committed to his fidelity as a witness for God? With the solemn concerns of the soul shall there be trifling? When a moment’s opportunity welcomed or slighted may decide the fortunes of an eternity, shall languid counsels prosper or faint desires prevail? When a real strife is waged, fiercer far than the fabled battle between the giants and the gods, and heaven and hell are in earnest for the possession of the man, shall those who have been won for God be craven or traitorous in the fight? (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
The causes of declining zeal
Commercial prosperity and business cares, the eagerness after pleasure and the exigencies of political life, diffused doubt and wide-spread artistic and literary culture, eat the very life out of thousands in our Churches, and lower their fervour till, like the molten iron cooling in the air, what was once all glowing with ruddy heat is crusted over with foul black scoriae, ever encroaching on the tiny central warmth. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
During the battle of Gettysburg, Chaplain Eastman was so badly injured by a fall of his horse as to be compelled to lie down on the field for the night. As he lay in the darkness, he heard a voice say, “Oh, my God!” and thought, “How can I get at him?” Unable to walk, he started to roll to the sufferer, and rolled through blood, among the dead bodies, till he came to the dying man, to whom he preached Christ. This service done, he was sent for to attend a dying officer, to whom he had to be carried by two soldiers. Thus he passed the long night; the soldiers carrying him from one dying man to another, to whom he preached Christ, and with whom he prayed, while he was compelled to lie upon his back beside them. (Foster.)
At a missionary meeting in Edinburgh, the Rev. W. C. Bunning related that a friend of his was once riding between Glasgow and Greenock, when the train began to flag, and at length stood still. The gentleman got out, and going up to the engine, said to the driver, “What’s the matter? Have you run out of water?” “No,” was the reply, “we’ve plenty of water, but it’s not boiling.” (R. Brewin.)
Zeal the need of the Church
A fearful storm was raging, when the cry was heard, “Man overboard!” A human form was seen manfully breasting the furious elements, in the direction of the shore; but the dominant waves bore the struggler rapidly outward, and, ere boats could be lowered, a fearful space sundered the victim from help. Above the shriek of the storm and roar of the waters rose his rending cry. It was an agonizing moment. With bated breath and blanched cheek, every eye was strained to the struggling man. Manfully did the brave rowers strain every nerve in that race of mercy, but all their efforts were in vain. One wild shriek of despair, and the victim went down.
A piercing cry, “Save him, save him!” rang through the hushed crowd; and into their midst darted an agitated man, throwing his arms wildly into the air, shouting, “A thousand pounds for the man who saves his life!” but his starting eye rested only on the spot where the waves rolled remorselessly over the perished. He whose strong cry broke the stillness of the crowd was captain of the ship from whence the drowned man fell, and was his brother. This is just the feeling now wanted in the various ranks of those bearing commission under the great Captain of our salvation. “Save him! he is my brother.” (Biblical Treasury.)
Zeal in religion
Reasons why we should be zealous in Christ’s service.
1. Manliness requires it.
2. The character and services of the Master render anything short of this a crime and a betrayal of an infinite trust.
3. The reward promised may well tax every power of our being to its utmost capacity. (American Homiletic Review.)
Work aids zeal
When Dr. Kane was in the Arctic regions he one day wanted to light a fire, and being away from camp where he could not get matches, he took a piece of ice, clear as crystal, and cutting it into the shape of a convex lens, he held it up to the sun, and in a few moments kindled a pile of dry leaves and sticks into a blaze. I presume the ice in its turn was melted in the fire it had kindled. If any one of us are in a cold state religiously; if in the place of a heart glowing with the love of Christ which we once had, we have only a frozen lump of religious respectability in our bosom, I wish we could go among the lost and sinning and impenitent, and just tell them as best we can how Christ died to save them, and I believe it would open their hearts as the sunlight opens the frozen bulbs. And in Him our own hearts would be thawed and melted. (A. J. Gordon.)
The military value of enthusiasm
“It is good to be zealously.., with you.” A good general, a well-organized system, good instruction, and severe discipline, aided by effective establishments, will always make good troops, independently of the cause for which they fight. At the same time a love of country, a spirit of enthusiasm, and a sense of national honour, will operate Upon young soldiers with advantage. (Maxim Leviticus 1:1-17.)
An object unworthy of zeal
An eccentric writer tells this story about a man who was more eccentric than himself:--“Being still ignorant, he took a vow upon him not to wear a hat, because he had heard that Sir Isaac Newton took off his hat when he thought upon God. Thomas B--thought he would outdo Sir Isaac, for he would not wear a hat at all, and kept his vow faithfully for eight years under the bitterest persecution, In his own strength he took his legal bondage upon him; and, self-will being his ruling passion, he would go through fire and water for the Lord and his own way, more under law than gospel.” What a useful man he might have been if his zeal had been well directed! If he had suffered persecution on account of his devotion to religious duties, and in obedience to authority ordained by God! (From “The Gospeller.”)
I. The nature of christian zeal.
1. A spiritual principle, and therefore Divine in its origin. A man may be zealous in sin; he may be a zealous bigot or sectarian; but no man can be spiritually zealous, until he is a spiritual man.
2. Christian zeal is an intellectual principle, and therefore the result of knowledge. It not only warms, but it illumines.
3. Christian zeal is a modest and humble principle.
4. Christian zeal is a constant, enduring principle. Not the feverish heat of a diseased body, but regular, constitutional warmth.
5. Christian zeal is an active, vigorous principle. It loosens the tongue, opens the hand, swiftens the feet. It prays, as well as believes; it labours as well as hopes.
6. Christian zeal is an affectionate principle, and is always connected with fervent love. No anathemas; no shibboleths. It is not suspicious, but open; not narrow, but broad, liberal, generous.
II. The object of Christian zeal. A twofold sphere for the exercise of Christian zeal.
1. In securing the greatest possible amount of good to ourselves. Zealous in seeking extensive knowledge. Zealously labouring after more of the spirit of Christ. In communicating all the good in our power to those around us. What aa enlarged sphere! The world itself is our field. But especially those in our immediate neighbourhood.
III. The excellency of Christian zeal
1. It is good to the soul which is under its influence. The same as exercise to the body. It produces energy, buoyancy, safety, happiness.
2. It is good for the Church.
3. It is good for the world at large.
4. It is good, as it associates us with the highest intelligences of the heavenly world. The angels are distinguished especially for zeal. And how zealous was our blessed Saviour!
IV. The importance of Christian zeal.
1. It is pre-eminently important when the object contemplated is great and glorious.
2. It is pre-eminently important when difficulties are numerous.
3. It is pre-eminently important when the time of action is limited.
4. When the responsibilities are momentous. It is not a secondary concern. Not optional. It is imperative that we be zealously affected in every good work. Our destiny awaits us according to the spirit and practice we have pursued on earth.
1. Let Christians cherish this holy principle.
2. Let unpardoned sinners zealously seek the salvation of their souls.
3. Let the Church be zealous for the instruction of the rising age. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Zeal about religion may be very far from religious zeal; and as the abuse of the best thing is proverbially the worst, there are few passions that have proved more truly Satanic in their operations and consequences, than a blind and misguided zeal about God and divine things.
I. We must be sure that its object is the true one. Personal religion. There may be a great deal of profession, with little life or spirit. It must have the heart, as well as the mind in it.
II. It must always be in a good thing.
1. A truth.
2. A duty.
III. The principle or motive of zeal must be good. God’s glory, not our own advantage or comfort.
IV. It must be properly proportioned. Every truth and every duty is good, and ought to be attended to in its proper place; but truths and duties have various degrees of importance, and we must not prosecute the lower to the neglect of the higher.
V. It must be consistent, uniform, and persevering. It does not burn and shiver alternately, nor pass with uncertain and capricious mutability from the torrid to the frigid, and from the frigid to the torrid zone of feeling. It is not the sudden and flickering flame, however brilliant; and lively, that fuses the hard ore, but the glowing heat of the well-regulated furnace.
VI. The means, as well as the object, of christian zeal must be good. Nothing may be used that is at variance with any of the great principles of moral rectitude. We cannot advance the Divine honour by first doing dishonour to the Divine law. No fighting or persecuting zeal, no indulgence of passion, can be tolerated in this hallowed cause. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
This is a human feeling, which exists in many, even pious souls. They are zealous in good, when faithful teachers are present, but when they are absent, or it may be dead, they slacken in their zeal. (Starke.)
Many things must be attended to, in order that our zeal may be as efficient as possible; that it may not be injurious, but acquire a proper tone, and be made useful to ourselves and others.
I. It should be real and conscientious.
1. There are many kinds of zeal which do not stand this test.
(1) Zeal of sympathy, which is only that of a soldier, who, though himself a coward, is urged on to battle by the example of the general.
(2) Constitutional zeal, mere animal warmth, no more allied to our spirit than are our arms or feet.
(3) Zeal of sentimentality, requiring some powerful excitement, and dying away when that is gone.
(4) Zeal of affectation, which is in fact hypocrisy, only put on for the sake of appearances.
2. The zeal that is proper is a fair demonstration of what is felt within us. It seeks not the eye of man, but acts under the keen, all-searching eye of God. It is influenced by what is real and true; it is fed by the real and great blessings which Christianity has to bestow; and then it becomes a constituent part of the character, and maintains its dominion in the soul.
II. It should be intelligent, accompanied with knowledge. That it be sincere alone, is not enough. It may be that, and yet mistaken. So we must take care to be fully instructed in that on behalf of which we put forth zeal.
III. Prudence in the exercise and manifestation of our religious zeal. Prudence does not clamp our zeal, but enables us better to accomplish our object. You cannot be too zealous in obtaining personal religion, but you cannot be too prudent in the means you adopt to promote it.
IV. Its exercise must always consist with moral integrity.
V. It must be under the influence of charity. (Dr. Thomson.)
The duty of Christian zeal
The word zeal refers to fire; to be zealously affected is to be warm, to glow, to burn. It implies an ardour which agitates our whole being, rouses every dormant faculty, touches every spring of sensibility, and calls forth-all our energy in vigorous exertion towards the object to which our efforts are directed. The heart of the true Christian is the altar where this holy flame glows and burns, and to fan this pure flame of love into a brighter blaze was St. Paul’s design when he wrote this passage.
I. Let us adduce a few considerations illustrative of the truth of the proposition in the text.
1. An object really and pre-eminently good, deserves and demands aa ardent continuous zeal in its promotion. And is not Christianity such?
2. An object really and pre-eminently good, is not ordinarily to be attained without an ardent persevering zeal How readily is this recognized with respect to worldly affairs. And shall those in pursuit of a soul’s salvation fold their hands in idle self-complacency? Are not the angels zealous? Was not our Lord consumed with zeal? What but this brought Him down to earth--from a throne of glory to an ignominious Cross?
3. Zeal, in promotion of an object really and pre-eminently good, is sure, sooner or later, to be crowned with success. Truth is indestructible, cannot die, must prevail. There are no difficulties that cannot be conquered by ardent, persevering zeal; there is no work which it cannot achieve.
II. Let us learn some of those lessons of practical instruction which the maxim of the text is well calculated to teach.
1. Let us always see to it that the object of our zeal is really good.
2. How can any persons professing religion justify their claim to the Christian character while destitute of zeal?
3. Let us see that our zeal be constant and stable.
4. Those who are thus zealous are not the fools, but the wise men. (R. Newton.)
Excellency of Christian zeal
To be zealously affected as to spiritual things will be found to be “good”--
1. As an evidence of the liveliness of grace in our own souls.
2. Because it is a most suitable means of preserving and increasing Divine grace.
3. Because of its beneficial tendency to arouse the zeal of others.
4. Because of the usefulness accomplished by this excellent quality in the welfare of mankind at large.
5. Because of the especial glory which is thereby brought unto God. (John Garwood, M. A.)
Holy and unholy zeal contrasted
Fire may be employed for good or evil. Heat is essential to life, yet may prove the forerunner of widespread consumption. If on the one hand it is genial, restorative, purifying; on the other it is devastating and destructive. So we speak of the warmth of love, the heat of passion, the fire of persecution, etc., to describe various affections and emotions of the mind. Zeal is a word invented by the Greeks to express the glowing intensity of any mental affection, whether usefully or perniciously directed. Observe--
I. The zeal that is reprehensible.
1. A zeal for rites and forms and ceremonies, as if they were of any value in themselves.
2. A zeal for tradition.
3. An ignorant zeal.
4. A persecuting zeal. This always defeats its own end.
II. The zeal that is commendable.
1. That which proceeds from true love to God.
2. A zeal for God’s spiritual worship.
3. A zeal for good works.
4. Zeal for the edification of the Church. (J. D. Sirr, D. D.)
Motives of Christian zeal
1. The command of Christ.
2. The example of Christ.
3. The love of Christ in the heart.
4. The examples of holy men.
5. The personal advantages derived from it.
6. The good which it may accomplish.
7. The commendation which is given of it, and its examples in the Scriptures. (John Bate.)
The profitableness of Christian zeal
“It is good”; no higher praise than that can be given to it. “ It is good”--the very thing that was said of the fairly finished earth, on the morning of Jehovah’s rest and pleasure. “It is good”--the very thing that is spoken of God Himself: “Thou art good, and doest good.”
1. To be always zealously affected in a good thing is good in itself. Where the heart preserves the ardour of devotion, it will preserve the ardour of enterprise. It will be always at work for the best interests of men. There will be no time for dalliance with temptation, or for the misgiving of unbelief. The active love and the loyal heart will be mutually helpful to each other, and the man will grow like a cedar--his roots wedging themselves close and firm into the Rock of Ages, his branches flinging themselves upward with such graceful aim that no tree in the garden of God shall be like unto him in his beauty.
2. Good in its influences. Who shall estimate the effect upon the progress of the Redeemer’s Kingdom, when the Church is filled with the spirit of Christian zeal? Oh! a prospect of ineffable spiritual beauty rises up before the prophetic eye, informed by the spirit of the Master. Each member of the Church becomes a missionary of the truth, and there is neither silence nor faltering in the testimony; the cords of love, which are the bands of a Man, enclose thousands in the gospel fellowship; the Church itself, in growing purity and strength, becomes the dominion of ever-ripening authority; the world, charged by the Word as the living epistles speak it, bows its rank, and its intellect, and its pride, before the feet of Jesus; He reigns whose right it is, over a regenerate people, made willing in the day of His power.; and then cometh the end--the finished mystery of the Cross, the consummated glories of redemption. (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
Objects of Christian zeal
1. The salvation of the soul of him who is the subject of it.
2. The House of God in its worship, its word, its attendance.
3. Promotion of family religion.
4. The conversion of sinners.
5. The general welfare of all the means, ordinances, and institutions of the Church.
6. Whatever concerns the real welfare of mankind. (John Bate.)
Obligation to Christian zeal
1. The value of personal salvation.
2. The difficulties in the way of its exercise.
3. The duties and privileges of religion.
4. The claims of the Church.
5. The condition of the world.
6. The glory of Christ. (John Bate.)
Regulation of Christian zeal
1. It should be guided by charity.
2. By the wisdom which cometh from above.
3. By a due regard to times, circumstances, places, and persons.
4. By the relative claims of each object.
5. By an aim to the glory of God. (John Bate.)
A false zeal in religion is always, in some respect or other, a misdirected zeal, or a zeal not according to knowledge--a zeal seeking some false end, seeking its promotion in some unauthorized way. Jehu had a good zeal, which he called zeal for the Lord of Hosts. His fault was, not that he was too zealous, but that his zeal was really directed to his own advancement. The Jews in the days of Christ had a zeal for God, but it was so misdirected as to fire them with a frenzy to destroy the Son of God and extinguish the Light of the world. There are countless forms of false zeal now at work; but in all eases they sin, not by excess, but by misdirection. Some are flaming with a zeal to spread some of the corruptions of Christianity, and to carry men away from its great and cardinal truths. Some are equally zealous to build up a sect or party on other foundations than those which God has laid in Zion; and that which taints their zeal is the purpose to which they employ it, and not any excessive fervour of their zeal itself. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
I. As to the true nature of Godly zeal, in the general it is a great vehemency and ardency in religion. It is a fire of the sanctuary, not a profane flame. It is the warmth and vigour of holy persons in their prosecution of what is good and virtuous. More particularly, this zeal is either internal or external. I will speak first of that which is internal, and hath its seat in the mind and soul. This is no other than the vehemency and fervour of the affections, or it is the affections inflamed with religion. It is a burning of all the passions, namely, a fervent desire of God and goodness; it is a holy anger for sin stirred up to a great height; it is an exalted love of whatever is good; it is a perfect hatred and detestation of vice; it is vehemency of grief, because God is offended and religion despised; it is a seraphic joy and gladness springing from the delight which is taken in holiness. But though zeal be the utmost intention and fervent acting of all the affections, yet it is chiefly the heat and earnestness of these two, namely, love and anger. First, it is an ecstasy of love: and that love respects both God and man. He that doth not love God dearly can’t be zealous: for zeal is an inflamed love of the beauties and excellences of the Divine nature, and (as the consequence of this) it is a passionate longing to exalt God’s glory in the world. Again, he that ardently loves God, will love those who bear His image. Wherefore an earnest love of the brethren must needs be an inseparable attendant of godly zeal, according to that of St. Peter, “Love one another with a pure heart fervently.” Thus zeal is the flame of love. And from this love flows anger and indignation against sin, and the doers of it; for he that loves God will show his wrath against that which offends and displeaseth Him. We find ourselves incensed and exasperated to a very high degree when we see affronts and injuries offered to our parents, and those whom we love most; much more, when our heavenly Father is affronted and injured, our hearts must needs rise within us, and we cannot but feel them stirred with anger and a holy revenge; for zeal is an indignation conceived for the wrong done to those whom we dearly love. Thus zeal is no other than love angered. Secondly, this godly zeal is not only inward, but outward. First, the Christian zeal manifests itself by words, as it is said of Apollos, that “being fervent in spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord” (Acts 18:25); and, “he spake boldly in the synagogue” (verse 26). So the apostles, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Zeal gives utterance, and will not suffer the truth to be stifled and concealed; for truth is of absolute necessity, and error is damnable as well as vice. Secondly, zeal displays itself in all religious actions and performances. But to let you see that zeal manifests itself in outward actions, and never wants ways of expressing and openly displaying itself, I will mention some of the chiefest duties required in Christianity. The first I will name, is repentance. This and zeal must go hand in hand, according to that advice given to the Church of Laodicea, “Be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). And St. Paul, speaking to the Corinthians of the several effects and concomitants of repentance, demands of them “what zeal it wrought in them” (2 Corinthians 7:11). Again, true evangelical charity is never void of this; wherefore you hear St. Peter exhorting the Christians thus, “Have fervent charity among yourselves” (1 Peter 4:8). And hence the Corinthians’ forwardness in alms-deeds, in distributing and ministering to the saints, is called “zeal” (2 Corinthians 9:2). Moreover, the zeal of Christians must be discovered in prayer, that most necessary duty of our religion. This is called by St. Paul “labouring” (or striving) “fervently in prayer” (Colossians 4:12). In the next place, hearing the Word ought to be with zealous attention and vigour, because it is for our lives, or eternal welfare is concerned. Farther, I might show you that an extraordinary fervour and zeal must accompany the partaking of the holy communion. Here, if ever, our life and heat must display themselves. There must be fire on this altar: our hearts must be a burnt-offering. Zeal is when our graces are in their zenith or vertical point. Zeal is heroic virtue in the Christian philosophy: it is the highest pitch and most exalted degree of every endowment, grace, and duty. I will now (according to what I proposed) annex the properties of it, which are these: First, this zeal which I have described, is real and sincere, in opposition to counterfeit zeal. And we may know the sincerity of it--
1. By this, namely, if we are most offended and incensed because God is dishonoured and injured; for zeal shows itself in the things that belong to God’s glory. Thus Christ showed the truth of His zeal for His Father’s house (John 2:17). This is one way to try the sincerity of your zeal, viz., if you signally show it against God’s enemies, whilst in the meantime you discover a great deal of clemency to those who are your own, and have particularly injured yourselves.
2. The right genuine zeal may be known by this; that it spends not itself about lesser matters, and things that are wholly indifferent. Some men’s zeal runs out into this one main thing, viz., to uphold some doubtful opinion, and to defy and detest all that are not of their persuasion as to that particular. But a wise, good man proportions his zeal according to the worth dud importance of the matters he is conversant about. And because indifferent things are not important and weighty, he knows that they deserve not his zeal. All was not massy gold that Solomon’s merchants brought over in their ships: apes and peacocks were part of their cargo. Thus in our merchandising for truth, we meet with some slight and trifling things, nice points, notions for embellishment only. And next to these, are external ceremonies and rites, particular modes and circumstances in religious worship But we ought to lay out our zeal on those things which are in their own nature worthy, necessary, and indispensible.
3. This is another trial: if your zeal be accompanied with love and charity, you may infer it is sincere; but if it be so fierce and greedy as to devour these, and to stir you up to be cruel and implacable, then conclude that your zeal is not the evangelical zeal.
4. Sometimes gain and profit are the only spring of men’s zeal, and then you may conclude it to be false and counterfeit, and not the true religious zeal. Those who make gain their godliness are no true zealots.
5. When zeal proceeds from pride and ambition, there is reason to believe that it is not sincere. Secondly, this is another property of zeal, that it be accompanied with, and guided by knowledge, in opposition to blind zeal. St. Paul bears record of the Jews, that “they had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). And of himself he saith, that he had formerly been “exceedingly zealous of the traditions of his fathers” (Galatians 1:14), which were a medley of ignorance and superstition. But he tells us in another place how pernicious that zeal proved to him, and what vile enormities it excited him to. But true zeal is built on knowledge. This heat doth not want light, but is conducted by judgment and wisdom. Thirdly, there ought to be this property of our zeal, that it be according to a rule, and that it keep within its due limits, in opposition to irregular and lawless zeal. Zeal must have its certain limits and boundaries. This fire must be kept on the hearth, in its due place. We ought to act in religion by certain rules and measures, for it is a regular and well-guided zeal that God accepts. Fourthly, I will add this as another property, it must be peaceable and well-tempered, sedate and discreet, in opposition to turbulent and rash zeal. This carnal zeal is an immoderate heat, an exorbitant commotion of the mind, an excess and transport, whereby men disorder both themselves and others. Between this zeal and the other, there is as much difference as between the quick and fierce lightnings which are observed sometimes in the skies, and the sun’s mild, yet active flame. False zeal is full of noise and clamour, and violent motion. They who are acted by it think that it is of the nature of some rivers, which are never so useful as when they overflow. Christian zeal is a natural and kindly heat, not a burning fever or calenture. The mind or soul of man with all its functions and faculties, is in Scripture often called the heart, that being thought, of old, to be the chief place of its residence. But we may learn, by the by, from this denomination, that the mind of man ought to resemble his heart, from whence it borrows its name. Now the motion of this in healthful persons is even and placid, propagates the like pulse into all the several arteries which overspread the body. All its stops and intervals are equal and harmonious, as if nature kept time in these organs of the body. This high pulse argues no less than an inflamation of the mind, than a feverish distemper of the soul. Lastly, the text affords another character of this zeal: it must be constant and persevering. We are to be zealously affected always. This holy fire must ever be burning on the altar. This is, according to the apostle’s expression, “instantly” (or intensely) “serving God day and night” (Acts 26:7). As no adverse accidents and calamitous circumstances, so no allurements and smiles of the world are able to make the truly zealous person alter the tenour of his life. He hath set himself to a just pitch, and there he continues. False zeal spends itself too fast, and like some meteor is seen to blaze only a short time, and then to vanish. But that zeal which is true and genuine, like the sun shineth more and more unto a perfect day, and is a never-failing source of light and heat.
II. Having finished the first general part of my discourse, wherein I have displayed the true nature of Christian zeal, I am now in the next place (but more briefly) to show you how reasonable it is to put in practice this grace, Or rather this complication of graces and virtues. The reasonableness of this is contained in those words in the front of the text.
1. I say it is good in respect of God, and that if you consider Him, either as He is in His own nature, or as He is to us. First, in Himself, and in His own nature, He is a spirit, and therefore our service to Him must be spiritual, lively, and zealous. But will you offer dead services to the living God? Will you offer a body without a soul? For such is our service and worship, if it be devoid of zeal and fervency. Secondly, if you consider God as He is to us, every ways good and gracious, continually loading us with His benefits, and laying obligations on us by all ways imaginable, we are engaged on this account to be zealous. We must do our homage and service to God, as to our great King and Lord in the highest strain, and with the greatest intention.
2. Zeal is most reasonable in respect of ourselves, and that, first, because it is necessary, in order to our happiness, Neither grace nor glory are attained otherwise, as our Saviour assures us, telling us that “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). And secondly, zeal is not only necessary but advantageous. The benefits of it are very numerous; it shall suffice to mention some of them only. Zeal takes up our thoughts, and employs our minds wholly, and therefore is beneficial on this account, that it frees us from worldly cares and solicitudes. It suffers us not to be anxious about earthly things, because it fixes our hearts on heavenly ones: it causes us to set our affections on things above, and consequently we are not troubled with those below. Again, zeal makes us contented and cheerful. When we are spirited with this excellent quality, we are able to serve God with ineffable joy and gladness. This likewise produceth fortitude and courage. If we be zealous, we shall be valiant for the truth, we shall not fear the greatest opposition, but undauntedly make our way through all difficulties and disasters. Zeal will enable us to suffer anything for a good cause. Let me add, that zeal renders all things in religion easy. There are some things so sublime in every virtue, that it is hard to attain to them. But zeal facilitates all; this makes the way of religion plain and smooth, and helps us to run, and not faint. This is as wind to the sails, as bellows to the fire, and as an edge to the sword. Lastly, steadiness is begot by zeal, this crowns us with constancy and perseverance.
3. Not only in respect of God and ourselves, but in regard of our brethren also, this is our duty and concern. For zeal is the best promoter of religion in others, according to that of the apostle, “Your zeal hath provoked many” (2 Corinthians 9:2). No wonder that there are so few converts, that religion gains no more ground in the world, since there is so little zeal.
III. And last task must be to apply the foregoing doctrine, which I will do in these two particulars, namely, by way of reproof and of exhortation. First, this reproves all lukewarmness, carelessness, and indifferency in religion. What a frigid zone do we live in now? How perfunctory are we in all our religious duties and services? O thou Christian zeal, whither art thou banished? Now to back my exhortation, I will offer these serious considerations to you.
1. It will not be improper for some, yea, most of you, to reflect on your former indifferency and coldness: and let that consideration move you to be very zealous for the future. It is high time to mend our pace.
2. It may be some of you have been zealots in the worst sense, that is, exceeding eager and hot against religion and the ways of holiness. The thoughts of this should make you for the future zealously affected in that which is good.
3. All of us ought to consider the end and design of Christ’s meritorious undertakings for us. “He gave Himself for us,” saith the apostle, “that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
4. Let us weigh well the important nature of those things which we are bid to concern ourselves for.
5. There is this consideration to urge you to this duty, that the neglect of it will prove very dangerous to you, as appears from what was said to the Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:16).
6. Set before you the examples of the best and chiefest servants of God. As we see in nature’s fabric the most excellent bodies, as the sun and stars, are the most restless and active, so it is in the economy of grace, the most eminent saints of God have been always most earnest and zealous, continually moving and acting in the way of godliness. How zealous were Moses, Phineas, Elias, David, John the Baptist, Paul, and other saints recorded in holy Scripture?
7. Would yon be zealous, then seriously study the last things. Think often of death, and that will inspire you with zeal. (John Edwards, D. D.)
Until Christ be formed in you.
The growth of Christ in us
Now, although the apostle nowhere carries out this into a full allegory, yet it may be clearly seen that this thought dwelt in his mind, viz., that as Christ came into this world, and was first a babe, and then a youth, and finally a man, so there was an order in the stages of our personal experience; and that Christ in us was born, first as a babe, and went on through all the stages of youth up to maturity, so that we have in the spiritual experience of our nature the parallel, the analogue, of that which Christ Himself went through. This great truth, therefore, is to be borne in mind, that Christian life begins at the point of weakness, and goes on by regular normal stages to maturity. It is first a spark, and then a flame, hidden in much smoke, and at last a pure and glowing coal. With this unfolding of the primal idea, I proceed, now, to make some applications.
1. Children and youth may become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and may be safely gathered into the Christian fold, if only their parents and their pastors will be content to receive the babe--Christ in the young convert, or the young Christian. Persons, we all know, are more susceptible at an early age that at any other. Children are not superior to men in knowledge, nor in strength, nor in discrimination. There are a thousand of the acquirements by which a man battles with the world that they are not superior in. But there is one all-important principle which belongs to childhood, and not to any other time, viz.: that peculiar development of the soul by which it knows how to take hold of another, and to borrow its light from that other. To borrow an orchard illustration, there is but one period of the year in which you can graft well. It may be possible to graft successfully at other times; but there is one period when you must make the transfer if you would take a bud from one tree, and graft it into another, and have it produce its kind, and do the best that it is capable of doing. There is but just one season when the bark lifts easy, and the staff is in the right condition. There is a time, also, when the little natures bud- easily, and graft easily. It is possible to graft them at other times, by extra elaboration; but more than half of the grafts will blow out, as the saying is. There is a period, however, in which ninety-nine out of a hundred will stick and grow. For all the adaptations of the child at the time are such as to incline it to borrow its life from another. It feeds upon another instinctively. It is a little parasite. It is but the transfer of that which is its need and instinct to the blessed Saviour. And then it becomes a Christian child. But many people, in bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, look with great suspicion on early Christian experiences. They are afraid of abnormal growths.
2. One may be a Christian who is yet very far from the beauty and symmetry and manhood of piety. We are not to suppose that they only are Christians who are beautiful Christians, or who are embellished with all Christian graces. A man may be a Christian, and his Christ may be a babe. A man may be a Christian, and the Christian nature in him may yet be, as it were, in its boyhood. A man may be a Christian, and yet the Christ in him may have reached only that stage in which it enters upon young manhood. A man may be a Christian, and the Christ in him may have entered upon His ministry, as it were, in the full ripeness of His manhood. We are not, therefore, to suppose that persons are not Christians because they are very imperfect. If a man’s heart is in the cause, and he enlists in the army, he is a soldier, not when he is a veteran, but when he enlists. He is a soldier just as really when his name goes down on the roll, and he goes out with the awkward squad to the first drill, as after he has been in the army five years--although he is not a soldier with the same degree and amplitude of experience. He is a soldier, provided his heart is right, and he loves the cause, and he joins in earnest. The degree of imperfection and ignorance that is in him has nothing to do with the fact of his being a soldier. It is that silent other thing, viz, the principle at the core of your life which undertakes to organize your whole being on the law of love. And that may be established in a man without any outward experience. A person may come to a state in which he means to be like Christ, and means to cut off everything that hinders his being like Christ, and to enforce outward and inward compliance to this law of love in Jesus Christ; and yet, he may not have light nor joy. But it is the raising up of that standard, the vindicating of that sovereign law in the soul, which constitutes the beginning of the Christian life. If it comes with joy so much the better. If it does not come with joy it is none the less true conversion.
3. In a Christian life, as in the ordinary life, there are two principles at work--first, the force of nature in the steady growth and unfolding of our normal powers; and secondly, the voluntary drill which, working in harmony with nature, we call education. Christian graces, if I might so say without being misapprehended, are like so many trades. They are not to be learned theoretically; and certainly they are not created in us by the mere operation of the Spirit, nor by the forces of sanctified nature. We learn them just as we learn anything in outward life. It is supposed that the Spirit of God makes men humble; that it, as it were, sends humility into them. Just as dew falls, and orbs itself on the bearded grass, gemmed and jewelled on a summer’s morning; so men think that the Christian graces fall down oat of the great heavenly concave above them; and that all one knows is, that he went to sleep violet dry, and woke up a violet wet and beautiful! Many persons think that meekness, and gentleness, and humility, and faith, and patience, and hope, and joy in the Holy Ghost, are Divine gifts. They are Divine gifts, to be sure. So is corn a Divine gift; so is wine a Divine gift; and so are cattle on a thousand hills Divine gifts; but men have to work for them. God gives them to man’s industry, and not to his laziness. All gifts are Divine gifts in such a sense as that. If the connection between the soul and God were to stop, these things would never take place; but He works together with us to will and to do these things. No man ever came to a state of Christian eminence by waiting and praying alone.
4. The experiences of Christian life are not promiscuous. They stand in a certain order of nature. Just as in summer all flowers do not blossom in spring, nor wait till autumn; as there is a regular succession, according to the temperament of the year, following a line of increasing heat; as there is an order of development in the tree; as there is first the leaf, and afterwards the green fruit, and then the ripe fruit, so is it in Christian life. Christ begins with us at the infant point, and develops in us steadily; and the later developments cannot be had until the intermediate ones are passed. We are steadily to grow; but at each point of growth we are, as it were, to seize the experiences of that point. When first people think they are delivered from the power of sin and Satan and death; when they first have a triumphant feeling that Christ loves them, and they know they love Christ, there is something wonderful and beautiful in it, and they should remember it as long as they live; but, after all, is that the best? And do you look back and say, “I never again had such experiences of love; I never again was so happy; I never again was so near to Christ?” Oh I what a life you have been living! Why, how far have you been? Is your Christ a babe yet? Born into your soul, did you turn the key of the chamber where He was? And did you send no schoolmaster and no nurse there? Did you starve the infant child? And has there never been any growth in that child? Is it but a phantom or vision in you? That child Jesus, born into your soul, should have grown, and should little by little have expelled the natural man, and swollen to all the proportions of your being, until he became Christ formed truly and perfectly in you. How is it with you, dear Christian brethren? Have you grown in that part of your being which is represented by Christ’s love, and humility, and disinterestedness? Have you imitated Him in going about doing good? Have these elements of the Divine nature in you severally grown and cohered symmetrically, and swollen to the proportions of full manhood? On earth there is no sight more beautiful, and there never will be a sight more beautiful till He comes to reign a thousand years, than a character which has been steadfastly growing in every direction, and has come to old age rich and ripe. I am sorry to say that such characters are rare. (H. W. Beecher.)
I travail in birth again
I. The apostle’s ministry. He takes the condition of a mother to express his most tender affection. If this be the case with Paul, how great is the compassion of God (Isaiah 49:15).
2. He signifies the measure of his ministerial pains (2 Corinthians 11:23). Those who take most pains are most successful.
3. He signifies the dignity of his ministry that it is the instrument of the new birth.
II. Its end. “Till Christ,” etc. This conformity to Christ is two-fold.
1. In quality.
(1) To the death of Christ.
(2) To the resurrection life of Christ.
2. In practice.
(1) As prophets; confessing Christ; teaching and admonishing one another.
(2) As priests; to offer spiritual sacrifices.
(3) As kings; to have sway over the corruptions of our own hearts. (W. Perkins.)
Christians as children
They are weak, humble, teachable, obedient, hopeful, and progressive; and hence are called children. (Thomas Jones.)
Superiority of speech to writing
It is a common saying that a letter is a dead messenger, for it can give no more than it hath. And no epistle or letter is written so exactly that it is not lacking in some respect. For the circumstances are divers; there is diversity of times, places, persons, manners, and affections, all which no epistle can express; therefore it moveth the reader diversely, making him now sad, now merry, as he himself is disposed. But if anything be spoken sharply, or out of time, the living voice of a man may expound, mitigate, or correct the same. Therefore the apostle wisheth that he were with them, to the end he might temper and change his voice, as he should see it needful, by the qualities of their affections. As, if he should see any of them very much troubled, he might so temper his words that they should not be oppressed thereby with more heaviness; contrariwise, if he should see others high-minded, he might sharply reprehend them, lest they should be too secure and careless, and so at length become despisers of God. “Wherefore he could not devise how he, being absent, should deal with them by letters. As if he should say: If my epistle be too sharp, I fear I shall more offend than amend some of you. Again: If it be too gentle, it will not profit those who are perverse and obstinate; for dead letters and words give no more than they have. Contrariwise, the living voice of a man, compared to an epistle, is a queen; for it can add and diminish, it can change itself into all manner of affections, times, places, and persons. (Luther.)
I desire to be present with you
I. Paul’s desire. This presence of pastors among their people is most necessary.
1. To prevent spiritual dangers; whence they are called watchmen and overseers.
2. To redress wrongs.
3. To recover backsliders.
II. The end of this desire--“That I may change my voice.”
1. From that of seeming rebuke to that of tender entreaty.
2. From that of the hard controversialist to that of the loving teacher and friend. Learn that frequent conference between pastor and people is most desirable--
(1) That pastors may know better how to teach.
(2) That people may know better what is taught.
(3) That both may live in peace and goodwill.
III. The occasion of the desire.
1. The apostle’s perplexity was real.
2. He took steps to relieve his doubts by this Epistle.
3. He left events to God. (W. Perkins.)
Fellowship of souls does not consist in the proximity of persons. There are millions who live in close personal contact--dwell under the same roof, board at the same table, and work at the same shop--between whose minds there is scarcely a point of contact, whose souls are far asunder as the poles; while contrariwise there are those Who are separated by oceans and continents, ay, by the mysterious gulf which divides time and eternity, between whom there is constant; intercourse, a delightful fellowship. In truth, we have often more communion with the distant than with the near. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The tender anxieties of ministers for their people
I stand in doubt of some of you. I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. And if there be no ground for it, you will forgive me; for if it be an error, it is the error of love. Even the apostles, the most select society that ever was formed, had a Judas among them. Even a judicious Christian may suspect that your whole hearts are not engaged, that the vigour of your spirits is not exerted, and that there is no spiritual life in your devotions. This man may suspect; and he who searches the heart may see it is so in fact. I also stand in doubt of some of you, that you have worn off your religious impressions before they ripened to a right issue. This is a very common case in the world, and therefore it may be yours. The temper of a Christian has such a resemblance to Christ’s, that it was called Christ in embryo, spiritually formed within us. It is indeed infinitely short of the all-perfect original, but yet it is a prevailing temper, and habitually the governing principle of the soul. That filial temper towards God, that humble veneration and submission, that ardent devotion, that strict regard to all the duties of religion, that self-denial, humility, meekness and patience, that heavenly-mindedness and noble superiority to the world, that generous charity, benevolence and mercy to mankind, that ardent zeal and diligence to do good, that temperance and sobriety which shone in the blessed Jesus with a Divine incomparable splendour: these and the like graces and virtues shine, though with feebler rays, in all His followers. They have their infirmities indeed, many and great infirmities--but not such as are inconsistent with the habitual prevalency of this Christ-like disposition. You may make what excuses you please, but this is an eternal truth, that unless you have a real resemblance to the holy Jesus, you are not His genuine disciples. Pray examine critically into this point. Have you a right to take your name Christian from Christ, by reason of your conformity to Him? Again, if Christ be formed in your hearts, he lives there. The heavenly embryo is not yet complete, not yet ripe for birth into the heavenly world, but it is quickened. I mean, those virtues and graces above-mentioned are not dead, inactive principles within you, but they operate, they show themselves alive by action, they are the governing principles of your practice. Before I dismiss this head, I must observe that the production of this Divine infant, if I may so call it, in the heart, is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit. Ii; is not the growth of nature, but a creation by Divine power. But you would inquire farther, “In what manner does this Divine agent work; or how is Christ formed in the hearts of His people?” I answer, the heart of man has a quick sensation. Nothing can be done there without its perceiving it, much less can Christ be formed there, while it is wholly insensible of the operation. There is indeed a great variety in the circumstances, but the substance of the work is the same in all adults. Therefore, if ever you have been the subjects of it, you have been sensible of the following particulars.
1. You have been made deeply sensible of your being entirely destitute of this Divine image. Your hearts have appeared to you as a huge, shapeless mass of corruption, without one ingredient of true goodness, amidst all the flattering appearances of it.
2. You have hereupon set yourselves in earnest to the use of the means appointed for the renovation of your nature.
3. You have been made sensible of your own weakness, and the inefficacy of all the means you could use to produce the Divine image upon your hearts; and that nothing but the Divine hand could draw it there.
4. Hereupon the Holy Spirit enlightened your mind to view the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and the method of salvation revealed in the gospel. You were enabled to cast your guilty corrupt, helpless soul upon Jesus Christ, whom you saw to be a glorious all-sufficient Saviour; and with all your hearts you embraced the way of salvation through His mediation. The view of His glory proved transformative: while you were contemplating the object, you received its likeness; the rays of glory beaming upon you, as it were, rendered your hearts transparent, and the beauties of holiness were stamped upon them.
5. If Christ has ever been formed in you, it is your persevering endeavour to improve and perfect this Divine image. You long and labour to be fully conformed to Him, and, as it were, to catch His air, His manner and spirit, in every thought, in every word, and in every action. As far as you are unlike to Him, so far you appear deformed and loathsome to yourselves. While you feel an unchristian spirit prevail within you, you seem as if you were possessed with the devil. And it is the labour of your life to subdue such a spirit, and to brighten and finish the features of the Divine image within you, by repeated touches and retouches. (President Davies, M. A.)
There are minerals which exhibit different colours on different faces. Thus dichroite, or iolite, is often deep blue along its vertical axis; but, on a side perpendicular to this axis, it is brownish yellow. The phenomenon results from the manner in which the particles are arranged for’ reflecting and transmitting light. The whole internal structure must be changed before the same colour shall be presented on all the faces. There is a moral dichroism. It consists in a man’s being Janus-faced--that is, double-faced--both in his principles and his practice, in order to secure popular favour and avoid odium. The chameleon is said to have the power of assuming the colour of the object on which it fastens; so this man means to conform his creed and his practice to those which are most popular in the community where he happens to abide or sojourn. In one place he is orthodox; in another, heterodox; in one, an advocate for temperance; in another, loose in this matter, both in theory and practice: in one place, proslavery; in another, antislavery. His moral and religious principles are not settled, or, rather, he makes them bend to his worldly interest, and you have no way of determining where to find him in any circumstance, except to inquire what aspect self-interest will require him to put on. Nor will it ever be essentially better until Divine grace shall have transformed and re-arranged the elements of his character. (Hitchcock.)
Halfhearted religion vain
Mr. Camden reports of one Redwald, king of the East Saxons, the first prince of this nation that was baptized, yet in the same church he had one altar for Christian religion, another for that of the heathens. And many such false worshippers of God there are to be found amongst us--such as divide the rooms of their souls betwixt God and the devil, that swear by God and Malcham, that sometimes pray and sometimes curse, that halt betwixt God and Baal--mere heteroclites in religion. But God cannot endure this division: He will not have thy threshold to stand by His threshold; He will have all thy heart; He cares not for half, if it and the devil have the other. (Spencer.)
The value of a pointed question
The question that prompts us to tell what we know sharpens our knowledge; and, similarly, the question that makes us tell what we are doing may greatly influence our conduct. For many a man drifting on in a course of evil that he has never stopped to define, it would be a good thing if some one by a pointed question could get him to say out, in plain words, just what he is doing. If he would only honestly state it to himself he would shrink from it with horror. But not only for clearing away the haze that obscures an unworthy purpose, but also for removing the fog in which good purposes are sometimes involved, a pointed question may serve us. There are those whose intention to do right and live the highest life is rather nebulous. If some question could be put to them that would lead them to objectify their purpose in language so that they could look at it and understand it, it would be of great service to them. (Washington Gladden.)
That Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman.
St. Paul’s outlook and vision
The principle from which he views the Old Testament history may be compared to those lines of light which, on a misty day, open up glimpses among the mountains, in which that which is definitely seen is as nothing to the crowded and mysterious shapes suggested to the imagination. First his mind turns to the tents of the patriarchs, to that simple and pathetic tale--Sarah and Hagar--Isaac and Ishmael. Concentrated in them he sees the spirit of the two covenants. First the Egyptian slave, “which gendereth unto bondage,” “which is Mount Sinai.” But this covenant reminds him of Jerusalem which now is in miserable bondage. But then, high above all, the apostle’s spirit rises to another Jerusalem, where the fetters fall from the soul of every slave that sets foot upon that soil. “Jerusalem which is above is free.” (Bishop Alexander.)
Points of parallelism
The bondwoman, Hagar.
Son of the bondwoman, Ishmael.
Natural birth (the flesh).
The earthly Jerusalem.
The Jewish Church is enslaved.
The freewoman, Sarah.
Son of the freewoman, Isaac.
Supernatural birth (the promise).
The heavenly Jerusalem.
The Christian Church is free.
(W. Sanday, D. D.)
Bond and free
Look at the two covenants as represented by Hagar and Sarah.
I. Their points of connection.
1. They have the same origin. Those who are outside the covenant of promise are still children of the Heavenly Father.
2. They have to a great extent the same elements. Promise on God’s part and conditions on man’s. Ishmael got promises, and Isaac was subjected to conditions. Sinai had its promises; the gospel has its conditions.
3. For a time they largely influence each other. Ishmael and Isaac live together. The law was permeated by the gospel; the gospel by the law.
II. The points of difference.
1. The degrees of prominence in those elements which they possess in common. The covenant becomes under the new dispensation also a testament with large bequests.
2. In the absence or presence of one great vital element--grace, forgiveness.
3. In their effects on men’s natures. The law, like Hagar, bringeth forth children of bondage; the gospel, like Sarah, children of freedom. (Clerical World, 3, 441.)
Which things are an allegory: for they are the two covenants.
Which things are an allegory
I. The two women.
1. Sarah, the type of the covenant of grace, was the original wife of Abraham. This covenant is the original one.
2. Though Sarah was the elder wife, Hagar bore the first son.
3. Hagar was not intended to be a wife, and ought never to have been anything but a handmaid to Sarah. The law was meant to be a handmaid to grace.
4. Hagar wished to be mistress, so was driven out. The law is a good servant, but when it usurps the mastership it must be expelled.
5. Hagar never was a freewoman, Sarah never a slave. So with the law and grace.
6. Hagar was cast out as well as her son, but Sarah never was. So the law has ceased to be a covenant, and it and all who trust in it are now driven out by Christ.
II. The two sons.
1. Ishmael was the elder--so the legalist is older than the Christian.
2. Where was the difference between them?
(1) None as to ordinances; both were circumcised.
(2) Nor, probably, as to character.
(3) It was that one was of the flesh, the other of’ the Spirit.
III. Israel’s conduct to Isaac. He mocked him--so the legalist is irritated by the doctrine of free grace, and mocks at it.
IV. What became of the two sons.
1. Isaac had all the inheritance and Ishmael none. Not that he had nothing, but no spiritual inheritance. The legalist gets respect and honour, and has his reward.
2. Ishmael was sent away; Isaac was kept at home. (Spurgeon.)
The two covenants
I. The covenant of works propounds the bare justice of God without mercy; the covenant of grace reveals both the justice and the mercy of God.
II. The law requires of us perfect righteousness both for nature and action; the gospel propounds to us an imputed righteousness in the person of the Mediator.
III. The law promises life on the condition of works; the gospel, remission of sins and life everlasting on the condition of faith.
IV. The law was written on tables of stone; the gospel on the fleshy tables of the heart (Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:3).
V. The law was in nature by creation; the gospel is above nature, was revealed after the full.
VI. The law had Moses for a mediator (Deuteronomy 5:27); but Christ is the Mediator of the New Testament (Hebrews 8:5).
VII. The law was dedicated by the blood of beasts (Exodus 24:5); the New Testament was confirmed by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:12). (W. Perkins.)
The lessons of the allegory
I. It teaches us what to expect in God’s word.
1. That Word is full of God, but--
2. It is full of man.
3. While, therefore, it is the medium of Divine thought, that thought is not expressed as by a flash of lightning, but through various minds and characters.
II. This makes our study of revelation the more difficult and responsible.
1. “The wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err” in its general import; but a man will grievously err if he thinks he may read it like a fool--superficially, carelessly.
2. Each writer and book has its own peculiarities, which demand discrimination for profitable study.
III. The main principle of the bible is “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” The Old Testament must be studied in the light of the New.
1. In its predictions of Christ.
2. In its analogies of spiritual life. (Dean Vaughan.)
The interpretation of the Old Testament
I. In the interpretation of Scripture our first duty is to hold fast the literal historical sense. Christianity is distinguished from other religions by the fact that it rests on a firm historical basis. Whatever else we are to learn from the story, we are to understand first of all that the persons really lived, the places existed, the events transpired.
II. From the intent for which Scripture was written we gather that it must contain deeper titan the merely historical lessons. It was written with reference--
1. To Christ. And hence apostles found in the Old Testament yearning and hopes and types which were fulfilled in Him.
2. To Christ’s people. So they found analogies of spiritual life in its historical events.
III. The general principle which should guide us in interpreting these types and analogies is their exposition in the New Testament. (Bishop Lynch-Cotton.)
The profitableness of Scripture
How fruitful are the seeming barren places of Scripture. Bad ploughmen they who make balks of such ground. Wheresoever the surface of God’s Word doth not laugh and sing with corn, then the heart thereof within is merry with wines, affording, where not plain matter, hidden mysteries. (T. Fuller.)
St. Paul allegorizing
Though the apostle does not disdain either Amoraic or Alexandrian methods of dealing with Scripture, he never falls into the follies or extravagances Of either. Treating the letter of Scripture with intense respect, he yet made the literal sense of it bend at will to the service of the spiritual consciousness. On the dead letter of Urim, which recorded the names of the lost tribes, he flashed a mystic ray, with made them gleam forth into Divine and hitherto un-dreamed-of oracles. The actual words of the sacred writers became but as the wheels and wings of the cherubim, and whithersoever the Spirit went they went. (Archdeacon Farrar)
The force of the allegory
There was a terrible severity in it meant to shock and exasperate his opponents; a withering contempt which we, with our feelings, can hardly comprehend. To make Hagar and Ishmael--the bondwoman and her slave child--a type of the Jew, and Sarah and Isaac of the Christian Gentiles, would seem to those pointed at by the parable as if a sacrilegious hand had torn down the vail of the temple, and exposed the holiest of all to the common gaze; or, rather, as if the unclean and uncircumcised had been introduced within the sacred precincts as their proper place, and the very priest of God thrust out. Consistently with this daring defiance of the national opinion, this contemptuous mocking of Jewish pretensions, put in the form of that allegorical logic in which St. Paul was so thorough a proficient, and the force of which on the Hebrew mind he knew so well,--in consistency with this, he even represents the believing Gentiles as the seed of Abraham; tells them that the blessing of Abraham comes on them; that theirs is the promise and the inheritance through faith; that circumcision is nothing, and may be worse than nothing; that “the Israel of God” is not now “the concision,” but those who walk according to the rule that “neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Philippians 3:2-3). (T. Binney.)
Legitimate use of allegory
1. It is by no means affirmed that the history of Hagar and Sarah in Genesis had any original reference to the gospel. The account there is a plain historical narrative, not designed to have any such reference.
2. The narrative contains important principles that may be used as illustrating truth, and is so used by St. Paul. There are parallel points between the history and the truths of religion, where the one may be illustrated by the other.
3. The apostle does not use it at all in the way of argument, or as if that proved that the Galatians were not to submit to the Jewish rites and customs. It is an illustration of the comparative nature of servitude and freedom, and would therefore illustrate the difference between a servile compliance with Jewish rites and the freedom of the gospel.
4. This use of an historical fact by the apostle does not make it proper for us to turn the Old Testament into allegory, or even to make a very free use of this mode of illustrating truth. That an allegory may be used sometimes with advantage no one can doubt while the “Pilgrim’s Progress” shall exist. Nor can any one doubt that St. Paul has here derived, in this manner, an important and striking illustration of truth from the Old Testament. But no one acquainted with the history of interpretation can doubt that vast injury has been done by a fanciful mode of explaining the Old Testament, by making every fact in its history an allegory, and every pin and pillar of the tabernacle and the temple a type. Nothing is better fitted to bring the whole science of interpretation into contempt, nothing more dishonours the Bible than to make it a book of enigmas, and religion to consist in puerile conceits. The Bible is a book of sense, and all the doctrines essential to salvation are plainly revealed. (Albert Barnes, D. D.)
The children of promise
The hidden truth here spoken of--“which things are an allegory”--the apostle tells us, is that of “the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” By “the two covenants” I do not think we are to understand what are generally described as the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. It would take us a long time to enter into that argument; but, in the first place, the covenant of works was certainly not made with Moses--if made at all, it was made with Adam; and, therefore, we cannot suppose that it is here referred to. There appears rather to be an allusion to the national covenant that was made with Israel, which is contrasted with the new and better covenant made with all God’s believing people. The first covenant here spoken of is one “which gendereth to bondage,” and if we go back to the Israelitish covenant we find it beginning with the painful rite of circumcision, and connected with a multitude, I might almost say an innumerable multitude, of sacrifices, burdensome to the mind and conscience of the people of God, and with the killing letter of the law. But the other covenant refers to the state of the gospel Church--that gospel Church state in which all believers have a part. If you look again at the context, you find that one of these children was born to the bondmaid and the other to the freewoman; and the character of the birth of these two children exactly answers to the difference which exists between Israelites according to the flesh and the spiritual Israel, who are really God’s children by promise. The child that was born to Hagar, Ishmael, was born in the common course of nature; the child that was born to Sarah, Isaac, was born “by promise,” and was therefore eminently distinguished from the other. In the one case, we see that the child that was born of the bondmaid was not, so to speak, a free child; and so it is with all who are born by nature; they are all naturally born under bondage to the law. But the child that was born “by promise,” when it was contrary to all expectation that Abraham and Sarah should have a child, was born by the direct interference of God, and became the heir of special privileges, of which Ishmael was not allowed to be a partaker. The one, therefore, may be spoken of in plain terms, as having been born--the other may be more correctly spoken of, or at least compared with those who are new born. I have, therefore, in opening up the subject further, first to draw your attention to the persons who are partakers of the promised privileges; because we read at the twenty-eighth verse--“Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” In other words, the apostle intends to teach us that what was figured under Ishmael and Isaac has a direct bearing upon ourselves. The Galatians were a Gentile Church; we then, as Gentiles, have an interest in the promise, and, like Isaac, who was the child of promise, are partakers of special blessings. It is very clear from this passage, first, that these blessings do not belong to those who are only nominally the people of God. We know that the Israelites were in a peculiar manner God’s people; but they were not, nationally, to be the inheritors of all the promised blessings which come down to us under the new covenant. Our Lord, in His parable of the husbandmen and the vineyard, illustrates this, when, after having spoken of those wicked husbandmen putting to death the son of the proprietor of the land, He draws the conclusion that the vineyard shall be taken away from them and given to others--in other words, that those who were first God’s chosen people were not to continue His chosen people for ever, in a spiritual sense, and that others were to be admitted to the privileges which they had abused. Then, if we have ascertained that the promises do not refer to those who are merely nominally belonging to God, we may say that they do belong to those who are partakers of God’s sovereign grace. They are, therefore, the persons who are brought to the Lord Jesus Christ; they are those who through faith in Christ, simply trusting to His merit, are introduced into “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” They are those, therefore, who not only belong to God as an outward and visible Church, but as the true invisible Church, which shall be made manifest unto all men, not in our day, but in the great day of the Lord. These, then, are the parties described. They are born not of “a bondmaid,” but of “a freewoman; “ or, as we read here--“We, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise;” and in the concluding verse--“So, then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” Now, if this be the case, the moment that we are thus under grace, and partakers of the promised blessings, we are free from ceremonial bondage; we are not looking to any mere outward act or ceremony, but we are made free by the Son of God, and those whom He makes free “are free indeed.” But we are not only free from the ceremonial law, but we are free from the terrorism connected with the judgment to come. We are taught, indeed, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, that “we have access by one Spirit unto the Father” through Jesus Christ; for He “came and preached peace to us who were afar off, and to them that were nigh.” See, therefore, what our privileges are if we are real believers under the new covenant; see what freedom we enjoy. But though we may all take this joyful view of a believer’s privileges, yet we are not to think that the believer has no crosses or trials. Let us turn again to the context, for that which happened to Ishmael and to Isaac is again an illustration of what will happen to believers when brought into contact with the world. The twenty-ninth verse says--“As then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” We are not to expect that if a man desires to walk blameless, or to carry out such an exhortation as that in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians, to “be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the Word of life”--we are not to expect that he will be left alone. The very fact of his being a light in the midst of a dark world, one who desires constantly to carry out into practice the doctrines he professes to believe, will draw attention to him, be he where he may. And what will be the result? He will be exposed to those very things against which we are taught to pray in our Litany--“the envy, hatred, and malice” which abound in the world. You will see this happening over and over again in every-clay life; and when they cannot catch believers halting, they will” try to “entangle them in their talk. And why should we expect all this? Because our Lord has told us that we must expect it--that “the disciple is not above his Master”--and in that striking chapter, the fifteenth of St. John’s Gospel, our Lord has said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” Persecution, misrepresentation, therefore, must be expected by the Lord’s people. As Ishmael mocked and ridiculed Isaac, so we must expect the Ishmaelites of this day to attack and ridicule and persecute you and me, if we are really on the Lord’s side. Let us never, then, be surprised for a moment to find that we must experience that which the Word of God has laid down in unmistakable terms--“Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom.” The Jews have always shown their hatred to the gospel. We have seen, then, who are to be partakers of the privilege; we have not blinded our eyes--I trust I have not, and you have not--to the treatment we may expect in the world; and now let us see the encouragement which is held out in this portion. “We are the children of promise;” “we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” The persecuted, then, shall be known, and the persecutors shall be known. There is no overlooking any one, high or low, rich or poor, in the eye of the Lord; His eye “is in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” My brethren, if you look at the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, you will find the apostle saying, “We ourselves glory in you in the Churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.” God’s eye, therefore, is in every place. The first covenant that was looked to was a national covenant--the covenant that is now looked to is an individual covenant; it is with each one of us personally. The whole passage, therefore, upon which we have been speaking is intended to make every single soul, high or low, rich or poor, cut off all idea of salvation by works, and cultivate a hope of salvation by grace--this is the whole purport of the passage--to lead us to see our own individual interest in the covenant of grace. What a blessing it would be, brethren, if one inspired by God’s Holy Spirit could indeed make use of the language of this passage, and standing here address you and me, and say to each person in this congregation--“Ye are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free!” And why should it not be said of us? (H. M. Villiers, M. A.)
But Jerusalem, which is above, is free.
Notes of the Church
The Church is--
6. Careful of her children.
Jerusalem a type of the Church
Cf. Hebrews 12:22-23; Revelation 21:2.
I. God chose Jerusalem above all places to dwell in; the catholic Church is composed of those in the midst of whom He dwells (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20).
II. Jerusalem is a city compact in itself by reason of the bond of love and order among the citizens (Psalms 122:3); so the members of the Church are linked together by the bond of one Spirit.
III. In Jerusalem was the sanctuary, a place of God’s presence and worship and truth; the Church is now in the room of that sanctuary; in it we must seek the presence of God and the word of life (1 Timothy 3:15).
IV. In Jerusalem was the throne of David (Psalms 122:5); the Church, is the throne and sceptre of Christ (Revelation 3:7).
V. The commendation of a city, as Jerusalem, is the subjection and obedience of its citizens; in the Church all believers are citizens (Ephesians 2:19), and yield voluntary obedience and subjection to Christ the King (Psalms 110:2; Isaiah 2:5)
VI. As in Jerusalem the names of the citizens were enrolled in a register, so the names of Christians are recorded in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:15; Hebrews 12:23). (W. Perkins.)
The heavenly Jerusalem
The Church in the creed has three properties: holy; catholic; knit in a communion. The word “above” intimateth that she is holy; “mother,” that she is knit in a communion; “of all,” that she is catholic.
I. Jerusalem a type of the church.
1. In election (Psalms 132:13; cf. 1 Peter 2:9).
2. In collection (Isaiah 5:2; cf. Ephesians 4:3).
3. In nobility (Psalms 122:5; cf. Revelation 3:7).
II. This new jerusalem is heavenly.
1. In respect of her birth and heavenly beginning (James 1:18).
2. In respect of growth and continuance (Philippians 3:20).
3. In respect of the end (John 17:24). (T. Adams.)
The heavenly origin and nature of the Church
The Church is said to be above--
I. In respect of her beginning, which is from the grace of God.
II. Because she dwells by faith in heaven with Christ. Wherefore we are admonished--
1. To live in this world as pilgrims and strangers (1 Peter 2:21).
2. To carry ourselves as burgesses of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
(1) By seeking heavenly things;
(2) by leading a heavenly life. (W. Perkins.)
Characteristics of the Church
In that it is said she is above it signifies her heavenly origin; that she is Jerusalem, her peaceful multitude; that she is free, her great liberty; that she is mother, her abundant fecundity; that she is mother of us all, her wide charity. (Cardinal Hugo.)
Jerusalem our mother
The holy Church is our mother, and the most holy God our Father. She feeds us with sincere milk (1 Timothy 3:15) from her two breasts, the Scriptures of both Testaments, which God hath committed to her keeping. God doth beget us of immortal seed by the Word (1 Peter 1:23), but by the instrumentality of the Church. (T. Adams.)
The comprehensiveness of the Church
The city of God, of which the Stoics doubtfully and feebly spoke, was now set up before the eyes of men. It was no unsubstantial city, such as we fancy in the clouds; no invisible pattern, such as Plato thought might be laid up in heaven; but a visible corporation, whose members met together to eat bread and drink wine, and into which they were publicly initiated. Here the Gentile met the Jew whom he had been accustomed to regard as an enemy of the human race; the Roman met the lying Greek sophist; the Syrian slave the gladiator born beside the Danube. In brotherhood they met, the natural birth and kindred of each forgotten, the baptism alone remembered to which they had been born again to God and to each other. The edict of comprehension conferred citizenship upon every class. Under it, whatever law of mutual help and consideration had obtained between citizen and citizen obtained also between the citizen and his slaves. The words “foreign” and “barbarous” lost their meaning. All nations and tribes were gathered within the pomoerium of the City of God; and on the baptized earth the Rhine and the Thames became as Jordan, and ever sullen desert-girded settlement of German savages as sacred as Jerusalem. (Ecce Homo.)
The Judaizers would have made the Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and which is the mother of us all, a mere cramped and narrow faubourg in the metropolis of Jerusalem. (Paul of Tarsus.)
Jesus Christ not only called Lazarus into life, but he commanded the grave-clothes to be taken off him, that he might have liberty in life. Life, without liberty from the grave-clothes, would scarcely have been a blessing. So Jesus Christ not only gives life to the soul which believes in Him; He also commands the Spirit to descend upon him, to set him free from all enslaving habits. “If the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed,” (J. Bate.)
“Who then is free? the wise who well maintains
An empire o’er himself; whom neither chains
Nor want nor death with slavish fear inspire,
Who boldly answers to his warm desire;
Who can ambition’s vainest gifts despise,
Firm in himself who on himself relies;
Polished and round who runs his proper course,
And breaks misfortune with superior force.
St. Paul’s allegory
And because similitudes and figures will hold faster in the memory of the unlearned, who are the greater number, than powerful arguments; after weighty reasons premised, the apostle concludes with an allegory at the end of his disputation, as a banquet after a meal of solid meat. And thus it runs, that they who sought righteousness by the law were no better than Ishmael, the son of Hagar; they that sought righteousness by faith were as Isaac, the heir of his father. That the law came from Sinai, which was seated in Arabia, a mountain quite out of the confines of the Land of Promise; the gospel began at Sion, or Jerusalem, which was the heart of the Holy Land. In this little abstract of the excellency of the Church, six portions of its glory are contained in six words.
1. She is a Jerusalem, a visible fair city, that’s her external communion.
2. A Jerusalem above, that’s her internal sanctity.
3. A Jerusalem that is free, which is her supernal redemption.
4. A mother, that’s her fruitfulness.
5. The mother of us, which comprehends her unity.
6. The mother of us all, which expresseth the universality.
1. Jerusalem is the substantive or fundamental word that bears up the whole text, and it is as musical a word as most that run upon syllables; but it offers more pleasantness to the understanding than to the ear; full of happy signification; a name given, as the philosopher Plato was wont to say, so accommodate to the Church apostolical, that unless God had foreseen that His saving truth should first grow up within the walls thereof, it had never been called Jerusalem. And I refer myself to two things especially, how the name descended upon the Church.
(1) While the old tabernacle stood, Jerusalem was the chief place wherein men called upon the name of the Lord.
(2) Out of the same Sion went forth the new law, and Jerusalem was the mother of the first-born in Christ.
2. It was not enough in St. Paul’s judgment to denominate the spouse of Christ from the best habitation (for earth is but earth be it never so much a selected portion); therefore he carries her aloft in his praise, and adds, that it is Jerusalem which is above, an heavenly city (Hebrews 12:22), as if it had not its original here, but fell down from the starry firmament.
(1) Because Christ our head is ascended into heaven, and governs all things beneath from thence, sitting at the right hand of His Father. As a king, upon whose safety the weal of the kingdom depends, is said to carry the lives of his people with him, when he adventures his person into danger; so our souls do hang upon Christ our Redeemer in Him we live and move, wheresoever He goes He draws us after Him; if He be lifted up on high, so are we also by virtue of concommitancy; it is His will, and we have His word for it, that where He is, there should we be also. When we pray unto Him, if our spirit do not issue out from us, and prostrate itself before Him in heaven, that petition solicits faintly, and is not like to speed, because it comes not nearer to Him who is our advocate with the Father. When we come to His Holy Supper, unless we carry up our heart unto Him by strong devotion, and presume that we see that very Body which was crucified for us before our eyes, we pollute the Sacrament for want of faith. There are such joints and bands which knit the body unto the head, as mortal reason cannot express; but through faith and love we are often with Him by invisible ascensions; but most assured be we that there He intercedes for us, from thence He assists His sacraments, sanctifieth His ministry, gives grace unto His Word. And if they did not escape who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn from Him that speaketh from heaven.
(2) Our Jerusalem is above, not only in the head, but in the members. I do not say in all the members; for the Church is that great house in which are vessels of honour and dishonour. Terms of excellency, though indistinctly attributed to the whole, are agreeing oftentimes only to the chiefer or more refined part. Some there are in this body, whom though we salute not by the proud word of their sublimity, yet in true possession, which shall never be taken from them, they are those that are above. Witness that the angels make up one Church with us, being the chief citizens that are reckoned in the triumphant part; fellow servants with us under one Lord; adopted sons under one Father; elect under one Christ. This is the language of the Scripture, and surely members of one mystical body, for the same Jesus is the head of all principality and power (Colossians 2:10). Of this family also are the saints departed, even all those holy spirits that obey God in heavenly places, and do not imitate the devil and his angels.
(3) We have obtained this dignity, to be ranked as them that are above, because our calling is very holy: “He hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9); called to doctrine which is above, which flesh and blood did not reveal, but the Father that giveth wisdom plentifully.
(4) This holy city of God is above, because it pursues not the things beneath, but it seeks those things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God; it is above in its affections. The delights of the synagogue were victory over their enemies, length of days, a land of wine and olives, and flowing with milk and honey, poor accessories of a transitory happiness. This was tolerated unto them, when the first rudiments of the fear of God were taught; but these are too childish for us to look after, inasmuch as long continuance of time hath taught us to choose the better part.
(5) The Church evangelical is Jerusalem above in respect of the Jewish Hagar, propter sublime pactum, the covenant that is made with us is sublime and magnificent; not the dreadful law of works, but the mild and gentle covenant of faith in the blood of Christ.
3. Jerusalem, which is above, is free. The precedent praise of the Church adheres unto this word for the consummation thereof. If there be any that take upon them to belong to the New Jerusalem, and to the city which is above, let them show the copy of their freedom, that they are not led by the spirit of bondage, but by the spirit of adoption.
(1) What this freedom is. Our freedom consists in a manumission from a fourfold servitude.
(a) We are delivered from the yoke of ceremonies, called the bondage of the elements of this world, in this chapter, verse 4.
(b) We are most free for the new covenant’s sake, which is made with us. For salvation is not offered us through the works of the law, but through the promise of grace. We brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise (verse 28).
(c) We have not received the spirit of bondage to fear, but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:25). Says Theophylact upon my text, The gospel exhorts us gently, it doth not affright us tyrannously.
(d) The rewards of the New Testament are not momentary things, such as the law propounded, but heavenly. Says the same author, We are not servants that do our duty for visible wages. And all these together make the copy of a perfect freedom.
(2) How we got this freedom. We all know the procurer, and what He did to gain it for us; it is a flower that grew out of the blood of Christ. We were not protected, as Joshua’s spies were, by a common woman; nor set at large, as Samaria was, by the tidings of lepers; our Deliverer is more honourable to us than our freedom. The Son of God was made a servant, that we servants might become sons. As God made nothing in nature but by His Son, by Him He made the worlds, so He did nothing for the restoration of the world without Him. He is all in all. He bath freed us from the bondage of shadows by taking a body; from the covenant of works by satisfying His Father’s justice; from the dread of fear by the sweetness of His mercy; from the sordid desire of earthly things by the operation of His holy Spirit.
(3) How we should use this freedom. No blessing hath been more abused than this. Under colour hereof the Galileans would be free from tribute, the Nicolaitans from the bond of marriage, the Gnostics from all justice and temperance, the clerks of the Roman Church from the courts of the civil magistrate, and the Anabaptists from all moral duties. No, says St. Peter to all these, “As free, but not using your liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” It was St. Austin’s by word, You are free, therefore love God, and do what you will. If ye love Him keep His commandments. We are not so soon loosed but we are tied again, both freed and bound at once. We must recompense His goodness with our imperfect obedience. It is the law of gratitude; it is the bond of nature. As we commonly say, that nothing is more dearly bought than that which comes by gift; so we owe the greater service to Him of whom we got our freedom. Nay, we are bound to endure all for His sake. We feel the pain as much as they that curse and rage in their sufferings, but our love unto Christ doth overcome it. A free man, that will thrive, follows his trade as close as any apprentice, though not by austere compulsion. So our freedom will not make our hands slack from working, if we mean to lay up a treasure in heaven.
4. And as the Church hath taken upon it the proper name of Jerusalem, yet without any contract to the local and material building of Jerusalem, so she hath taken up the appellation of a mother, yet without any respect to nature, no way bending to natural causes, or natural affections. For not only our parents in the flesh, ,but the whole world, hath quite lost us in this word. As Moses remembered the great devotion of Levi, that he said of his father and mother, I have not seen them, or I respect them not, and of his brethren, I do not acknowledge them (Deuteronomy 33:9); so by deriving ourselves from this mother, we east our fleshly parentage aside, and we say to her, who did give us to suck from her breasts, as oar Saviour did to the blessed Virgin; “What have I to do with thee?” Jerusalem is ours, and we are hers, First, to know our mother, that we may not be ignorant either of her fruitfulness or our own obedience. He is a wise son, says Telemachus, in Homer, that knows his father; but he is a foolish son that doth not know his mother. Secondly, note the unity and indivision of the children of this mother. They are a cluster of grapes hanging upon one stalk, a brood of chickens clockt under the wings of one hen; there is but one stem and one progeny; one in relation to this parent, the mother of us. The third and last part puts us to observe, that the note of universality was large in Paul’s days, but now much more amplified than in those times--the mother of us all. (Bishop Hacker.)
The new Jerusalem
Liberty is the element of a Christian. The fall placed nature under the bondage of sin; but then the law placed sin under the bondage of fear; but Christ first delivers sin from fear, and then delivers nature from sin. That the “Jerusalem above” means the present Church militant, as well as the Church triumphant the kingdom of heaven within you, as well as the kingdom of heaven above you--both grace and glory--is evident from the manner in which the expression “Jerusalem,” or “Zion,” is used in its connection of thought in many other parts of Scripture; as, for example, in the Psalms; or Isaiah 62:1-2; or Hebrews 12:22; or Revelation 3:12; or Revelation 21:2. Of all this Jerusalem, then, or Church-state, the character, the determining character, is liberty. If I wanted a proof of this, I might see it in the fact that everything which is not free is from beneath. Every machination of Satan against God’s people--every dark heresy that comes to confine the Church--every spiritual temptation which ensnares a man’s conscience--every distress which cramps a believer’s mind--is from beneath; therefore, because it is from beneath, it is bondage. Bondage is from below. “Jerusalem above,”--that which your citizenship is--“is free.” Endeavour now to catch, for a moment or two, a feature, one or two features, in the liberty of the Church in heaven, that we may, by God’s grace, copy it into our liberty of the Church below. I observe that in heaven everything is very large, to us infinite. The room is boundless; the inhabitants are beyond computation--even as those stars in the heavens, which no man can reckon. But yet, as God does with those stars, so God does with everything in heaven. The gates, the fruits, the seats, the elders, the crowns, are all numbered--so that I see in heaven at once vastness and accuracy; the freest scope with the minutest observation. So be out freedom here. Our mercies are infinite. Still, every one of my mercies is known, and written down in God’s book, as a separate item. It is written; it is catalogued, and responsible. The multitude is vast; but, for each one that goes to make that multitude, I have to give a separate account how I have used it in this world. That is my liberty. Again, look at the cervices of heaven. I note that they use forms in heaven. We are told the very words, which they cease not day and night to say (never weary, though)--“Worthy is the Lamb!--Amen!--Alleluia!--For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!” But oh! what a freshness, what spirit there is in those celestial formularies! Let us take our liberty. Free thoughts and full affections, in prescribed currents of regulated words, go to send up our separate feelings in all the individualities of unpremeditated prayer; and now we blend in social worship, as in the beautiful prayer and language of the holy services in which we have been this night engaged; and, in all, with the equal liberty of Zion’s children. That is heaven’s free worship, and that is the liberty of the Church around. There must be law to have freedom. The greater the law, the greater liberty; but the deeper that law is engraven in the heart’s fine feelings, and the more a man is the spring of his own obedience, the more of habit, the more of anticipation’s boundings, the less of misapprehensions without a man, and the more felt presence of the love of Christ in a man, the nearer are we to the “Jerusalem which is above,” which is free, and which is the mother of us all. “The mother of us all.” There is no confidence which the world ever shows, so intimate and so tender, as that which a son feels for his mother. There are feelings which a man will deposit nowhere but with his mother. “The mother of us all!” Children of “the New Jerusalem”--children of the Church--set much by your Church. She is to you no other than a parent. Children of “the new Jerusalem”--children of heaven--remember into what a registry your name is now, by your second birth, enrolled. Demean it not; sully it not; sit loose to this world in the spirit of your minds; for, behold! she, which is your “mother,” will come presently, in her perfect beauty; and where should your eye be, and where should your anticipation daily be, but to that “new Jerusalem,” which shall come from heaven. Children of “the new Jerusalem”--children of liberty--take the image of your parent’s features. “Be free” in the spirit of your minds. Have freer prayer--freer hope--freely take the freedom so freely given you. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The liberties of the Church
We must understand St. Paul here to speak of the Church; and not of the Church triumphant in heaven, as some of the schoolmen have asserted, but the Church militant here on earth, that glorious edifice of the faithful, whose names are written in the book of life, and who are united with Christ above in a fellowship of His sufferings. But the word “above” is not to mislead you, as Luther has well observed; for all the processes of spiritual generation and adoption are from above; all intercourse between God and His faithful worshippers is from above; and “our conversation is in heaven.” All, then, that are allowed to see the kingdom of God, are to be born from above: this is the decree of the Head of the Church. As Christ, therefore, is in heaven, and as He is Head of the Church, so is the Church spiritually in heaven, even whilst she is militant here below; for the Church is an unmeasured edifice, and never can be measured till some one by searching can find out the limits of the Almighty: “It is as high as heaven, what canst thou do? deeper than hell, what canst thou know?” The Head of the Church is at the right hand of God; the feet are walking here on earth; and yet one mighty eternal Spirit animates the whole, one will and principle of action pervades the immense body; one thought and intention directs and disciplines all the mass;--for in Him “we live, and move, and have our being;” and the whole company of true and faithful believers, from the day that Christ was crucified, down to the hour when the last trumpet shall sound from heaven, do form but one mystical body, with one soul and One spirit, entire in union and perfect in co-operation. But the beauty of this city is her freedom: the real Church of Christ has ample privileges; and all her laws are comprehensive and liberal. There is no spirit of bigotry, no local attachments, no exclusive jealousy, no straining on the conscience, no turning of the fancies of man into the decrees of God. St. Paul, the illustrious scribe of that holy city, lays no heavier burthen on the chartered inhabitants than this--“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free; and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1.) How easy, one would think it must be, to love the freedom which God has given us I But, alas! that which has been given us as our freedom by God, has been, by the world in general, considered irksome and intolerable. The world cannot endure a spiritual Church; it loves neither a spiritual worship nor a spiritual faith; and to worship God in spirit is what it can neither understand nor tolerate. (R. M. Beverley.)
Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not.
Rejoice, thou barren
I. The Church in her sadness.
1. The figure is drawn from the closest tie that nature knows, that of marriage relationship, and teaches that as both male and female are incomplete without each other, so the happiness of God is incomplete without the love of the creature He has made to love Him.
2. The picture, however, is that of a wife whose husband has forsaken her. She is
(1) barren, desolate, and therefore
3. This applies to the Hebrew Church.
II. The Church in her gladness.
1. Restrictions between Jew and Gentile broken down.
2. Arbitrary barriers of race and rank and law are removed.
3. All nations are redeemed and gathered into a common salvation. (C. Clemance, D. D.)
Songs for desolate hearts
Take the text to refer--
I. To the Church of God.
1. For a long season before the Advent the Church was desolate.
2. During Christ’s temporal stay with her her condition was not much better.
3. Suddenly after His departure, on the Day of Pentecost, she became fruitful.
4. And continued fruitful (luring the whole apostolic age.
1. That at all seasons when the Church has been desolate and barren God has appeared to her.
(1) In the dark ages the Church was barren, but the Lord appeared through Luther, and she became fruitful.
(2) In the last century the Church was barren, but God appeared and made her fruitful through the Wesleys and Whitefield.
2. That in the present age of comparative barrenness we may expect revival.
II. To any one church.
1. There are some separate Churches that are in a sad condition, with a lifeless ministry, worldly officers, and declining membership.
2. What is the present duty of members of such Churches?
(1) Labour to be conscious of your state, of its evil and danger.
(2) Pray earnestly for revival.
(3) Do all you can personally to bring it about.
III. To the poor, helpless sinner.
1. His fruitlessness.
3. Help in Christ.
4. Trust in Him, and He will make thee fruitful.
IV. To the depressed believer.
1. Barrenness is the platform of Divine power.
2. Desolation the setting for God’s everlasting love.
V. To those Christians who have not been successful in doing good.
1. It is good for you while you are barren to feel desolate.
2. But you may be barren only in your own esteem.
3. Wait, and toil on, for in due season you will reap if you faint not.
4. If your barrenness is real let it humble you, but repair to the source of fruitfulness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christianity not a failure
While Christianity is speaking in languages more numerous, by tongues more eloquent, in nations more populous than ever before: marshalling better troops with richer harmony; shrinking from no foe, rising triumphant from every conflict; shaking down the towers of old philosophies that exalt themselves against God; making the steam press rush under the demand for her Scriptures, and the steam horse groan under the weight of her charities; emancipating the enslaved, civilizing the lawless, refining literature, inspiring poetry; sending forth art and science no longer clad in soft raiment to linger in king’s palaces, but as hardy prophets of God to make earth bud and blossom as the rose; giving God-like breadth and freedom and energy to the civilization that bears its name, elevating savage islands into civilized states, leading forth Christian martyrs from the mountains of Madagascar, turning the clubs of cannibals into the railings of the altars before which Fiji savages call upon Jesus; repeating the Pentecost “by many an ancient river and many a palmy plain”; thundering at the seats of ancient Paganism; sailing all waters, cabling all oceans, scaling all mountains in the march of its might, and ever enlarging the diameter of those circles of light which it has kindled on earth, and which will soon meet in a universal illumination--you call it a failure! A little more such failure and we shall have, over all the globe, the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. (E. Thompson.)
The enlargement of the Church
I. Depends on the promise--made to Abraham and secured in Christ--is effected by the Spirit--realized in the children of promise (Galatians 4:28).
II. Is certain--because the revealed purpose of God--which must surmount all the difficulties of barrenness and apparent desolation.
III. Will be glorious--surpassing all experience--hope--faith.
IV. Will be a source of unspeakable joy- to all believers- to the world at large. (J. Lyth.)
The children of promise
I. The resemblance of the Gentile Christians to Isaac.
1. They had been promised.
2. They had been begotten (spiritually) by a supernatural and extraordinary operation.
II. The spiritual character of the promise.
1. It appealed to faith.
2. Its fulfilment was by Divine grace.
III. The dignity and privilege of the relation it creates. The relation is--
3. Spiritual. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)
He that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit.
Enmity between the natural and the spiritual man
I must profess that since I observed the course of the world, and the concord of the Word and providences of God, I took it for a notable proof of man’s fall, and of the verity of the Scripture, and the supernatural origin of true sanctification, to find such a universal enmity between the holy and the serpentine seed, and to find Cain and Abel’s case so ordinarily exemplified, and him that is born after the flesh to persecute him that is born after the Spirit. And methinks to this day it is a great and visible help for the confirmation of our Christian faith. But that which is much remarkable in it is, that nothing else in the world, except the crossing of men’s carnal interest, doth meet with any such universal enmity. A man may be as learned as he can, and no man hate him for it. If he excel all others, all men will praise him, and proclaim his excellency; he may be an excellent linguist, an excellent philosopher, an excellent physician, an excellent logician, an excellent orator, and all commend him. Among musicians, architects, soldiers, seamen, and all arts and sciences, men value, prefer, and praise the best; yea, even speculative theology, such wits as the schoolmen and those who are called great divines are honoured by all, and meet, as such, with but little enmity, persecution, or obloquy in the world. Though I know that even a Galilaeus, a Campanella, and man such have suffered by the Roman Inquisitors, that was not so much in enmity to their speculations or opinions, as through a fear lest new philosophical notions should unsettle men’s minds and open the way to new opinions in theology, and so prove injurious to the kingdom and interest of Rome. I know also that Demosthenes, Cicero, Seneca, Lucan, and many other learned men have died by the hands or power of tyrants. But this was not for their learning, but for their opposition to those tyrants’ wills and interests. And I know that some religious men have suffered for their sins and follies, and some for their meddling too much with secular affairs, as the counsellors of princes, as Funetius, Justus Jonas, and many others. But yet no parts, no excellency, no skill or learning, is hated commonly, but honoured in the world; no, not theological learning, save only this practical godliness and religion, and the principles of it, which only renders men amiable to God, through Christ, and saves men’s souls. (R. Baxter.)
Honour of persecution
One who was persecuted in Queen Mary’s time wrote thus: “A prisoner for Christ! What is this for a poor worm? Such honour have not all His saints. Both the degrees which I took in the university have not set me so high as the honour of becoming a prisoner of the Lord.”
Glorifying in persecution
Paul and Silas had their prison songs in their prison sufferings. Those caged birds sing with as much melody as any that have sky liberty. Thus Ignatius, in his epistle, glorified, saying: “The wild beasts may grind me as corn between their teeth: but I shall by that become as choice bread in the hand of my God.” (Archbishop Secker.)
Faithfulness under persecution
A young Christian soldier in the army was often assaulted by his tent-mates while at prayer at night. He sought advice of the chaplain, and, by his counsels, omitted his usual habit. But his ardent soul could not endure this. He chose rather to have prayer with persecution than peace without it, and resumed his old way. The result was, that after a time all his tent-companions knelt in prayer with him. In reporting to the chaplain he said, “Isn’t it better to keep the colours flying?”
Riches of persecution
A certain person, on seeing a Christian woman go cheerfully to prison, said to her, “O, you have not yet tasted of the bitterness of death.” She as cheerfully replied, “No, nor never shall; for Christ has promised, that those who keep His sayings shall never see death.”
In these words the apostle doth present to our eye the true face of the Church in an allegory of Sarah and Hagar, of Ishmael and Isaac, of Mount Sinai and Mount Sion. Take the full scheme and delineation in brief.
1. Here is Sarah and Hagar; that is, servitude and freedom.
2. Here are two cities: “Jerusalem that now is,” the synagogue of the Jews; and that “Jerusalem which is above,” “the vision of peace,” and “mother of all” the faithful. For by the new covenant we are made children unto God.
3. Here is the law promulgated and thundered out on Mount Sinai; and the gospel, the covenant of grace, which God published, not from the mount, but from heaven itself, by the voice of His Son. In all, you see a fair correspondence and agreement between the type and the thing, but so that “Jerusalem our mother” is still the highest; the gospel glorious with the liberty it brought, and the law putting OH a yoke, breathing nothing but servitude and fear; Isaac an “heir,” and Ishmael “thrust out”; the Christian more honourable than the Jew.
The veil is drawn, and you may behold presented to your view and consideration a double parallel.
1. Of the times; “But as then, so now.”
2. Of the occurrences, the acts and monuments, of these times, divided between two, the agent and the patient, “those that are born after the flesh” persecuting, and “those that are born after the Spirit” suffering persecution.
I. Though the privileges and prerogatives of the Church be many, yet was she never exempted from persecution, but rather had it entailed on her as an inheritance.
1. In the persons themselves.
2. This will yet more plainly appear from the very nature and constitution of the Church, which is best seen in her blood, when she is militant; which is more full and expressive than any other representation of the title that she hath.
3. “As it was then, so it is now.” St. Paul doth not say, “It may be so,” or “It is by chance,” but “So it is,” by “the providence of God, which is seen in the well-ordering and bringing of every motion and action of man to a right end,” which commonly runneth in a contrary course to that which flesh and blood, human infirmity, would find out. Eternity and mortality, majesty and dust and ashes, wisdom and ignorance, steer not the same course, nor are they bound to the same point, “My ways are not your ways, nor My thoughts yours,” saith God, by His prophet, to a foolish nation who in extremity of folly would be wiser than God. We must first be made more spiritual by the contradiction of “those who are born after the flesh”; more Isaacs than before, for the many Ishmaels. So perfection is not only agreeable to the wisdom of God, but convenient to the weakness of man. And it is a beatitude: Blessed poverty, blessed mourning, blessed persecution (Matthew 5:3-4; Matthew 5:10-12). Blessedness is set upon these as a crown, or as rich embroidery upon sackcloth, or some coarser stuff. Thus you see the Church is not, cannot be, exempt from persecution, if either we consider the quality of the persons themselves, or the nature and constitution of the Church, or the providence and wisdom and mercy of God.
II. Let us now look back upon this dreadful but blessed sight, and see what advantage we can work, what light we can strike, out of this cloud of blood to direct and strengthen us in this our warfare, that we may “be faithful unto death, and so receive the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
1. Let us not be dismayed when we see that befall the Church which befalleth all the kingdoms and commonwealths in the world, when we see the face of the Church gather blackness, and not shine in that beauty in which formerly we beheld her. For what strange thing is it that Ishmael should mock Isaac? that a serpent should bite, or a lion roar? that the world should be the world, or the Church the Church? The Church, so far as she is visible, in respect of her visibility and outward form, is as subject to change as any other thing that is seen, as those things which we use to say are but the balls of fortune to play with.
2. And that we may not marvel, let us, in the next place, have a right judgment in all things, and not set up the Church in our fancy, and shape her out by the state and pomp of this world, but “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). We must not make the world the idea and platform of a Church.
3. Therefore let us cast down these imaginations, these bubbles of air blown up by the flesh the worse part which doth soonest bring on a persecution, and doth soonest fear it; and let us, in the place of these, build up a royal fort, build ourselves up in our holy faith, and so fit and prepare ourselves against the fiery trial.
4. “Be ye therefore ready; for, in an hour when you think not, the Son of man,” the Captain of your salvation, may come (Matthew 24:44), and put you into the lists. Though the trumpet sound not to battle, yet is it not peace. And now, to conclude, “What saith the Scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not inherit with the son of the freewoman.”
To cast out is an act of violence; and the true Church evermore hath the suffering part; but yet she may cast them out, and that with violence; but then it is with the same “violence we take the kingdom of heaven,” a violence upon ourselves (Matthew 11:12).
1. By laying ourselves prostrate, by the vehemency of our devotion, by our frequent prayers that God would either melt their hearts, or shorten their hands; either bring them into the right way, or strike off their chariot wheels. 2 By our patience and long-suffering. Patience worketh more miracles than power.
3. We cast them out by our innocency of life, and sincerity of conversation.
4. Lastly: We may cast them out by “casting our burden on the Lord” (Psalms 55:22); by putting our cause into His hands who best can plead it, by citing our persecutors before His tribunal who is the righteous Judge. If we thus cast it upon Him, we need no other umpire, no other revenger. If it be a loss, He can restore it; if an injury, He can return it; if grief, He can heal it; if disgrace, He can wipe it off: and He will certainly do it, if we so cast it upon Him as to trust in Him alone; the full persuasion of God’s power being that which “awaketh Him as one out of sleep,” putteth Him to clothe Himself with His majesty, setteth His power a working, to bring mighty things to pass, and make Himself glorious by the delivery of His people. (A. Farindon, D. D.)
He that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit
When the powers of the world give any rest, yet the carnal seed will be mocking and scoffing, and bringing God’s holy ways into contempt, branding them with censures and calumnies. The reasons of this are partly because men are drunk with the delusions of the flesh, and so cannot judge of spiritual things; and partly to excuse themselves. Men will be quarrelling at religion when they have no mind to practise it, and dispute away duties when they are unwilling to perform them; partly they take occasion from the failings of God’s people, though there is no reason why they should do so. An art should not be condemned for the workman’s want of skill; but they do so. If Christians be serious then religion is counted an uncomfortable thing. If there be any differences among God’s people, because of their several degrees of light, oh, then there are so many sects and factions and controversies about religion, they suspect all. If any creep into the holy profession, and pollute it with their scandals, then all strictness in religion is but a pretence and imposture. If men be strict and would avoid every ordinary failing incident to mankind, then they are more nice than wise, and this is preciseness and indiscretion. (T. Manton, D. D.)
We must expect persecution
A soldier in the East Indies--a stout, lion-hearted man--had been a noted prizefighter, and a terror to those who knew him. That man sauntered into the mission chapel, heard the gospel, and was converted. The change in his character was most marked and decided. The lion was changed into a lamb. Two months afterwards, in the mess-room, some of those who had been afraid of him before began to ridicule him. One of them said, “I’ll put it to the test whether he is a Christian or not;” and, taking a basin of hot soup, he threw it into his bosom. The whole company gazed in breathless silence, expecting that the lion would start up, and murder him on the spot. But after he had torn open his waistcoat, and wiped his scalded breast, he calmly turned round, and said, “This is what I must expect if I become a Christian. I must suffer persecution.” His comrades were filled with astonishment. (Biblical Treasury.)
Persecution is harmless
Do they cast us out of the city? They cannot cast us out of that which is in the heavens. If they who hate us could do this, they would be doing something real against us. So long, however, as they cannot do this, they are but pelting us with drops of water or striking us with the wind. (Gregory Nazianzen.)
Cast out the bondwoman and her son.
Freedom the blessing of the gospel
I. Freedom is the characteristic privilege of the gospel.
1. Christ proclaimed freedom from sin (John 8:33-36).
2. Paul proclaimed freedom from the law, both ceremonial and moral
3. But does not the latter
(1) contradict the former? is not lawlessness sinfulness?
(2) contradict the moral sense which asserts the obligation of the moral law?
II. This freedom is the provision of the covenant of grace.
1. This covenant is no longer restricted to an observance of the law, but is fulfilled by us when we believe in Christ.
2. The purpose of this covenant is the same as that of the covenant of the law, but that purpose is effected
(1) by a different method, viz., faith in One who has fulfilled the law, which we could not do.
(2) By a higher method by introducing us into a state in which we keep the law by the effective motive of sonship; into which state we enter by faith in God’s Son.
3. This faith works by love, which is henceforth our ruling impulse (Romans 13:10), and we become followers of God, not as servants, but as “dear children,” having received the spirit of adoption.
III. This covenant answers the yearnings of the human soul, which are--
1. To be reconciled to God and at peace with Him. This is accomplished through Him who fulfilled the law for us.
2. To serve Him truly. This is done by Him who conquers evil in us, and who gives us through faith a power to work the works of God (John 6:28-29).
IV. This covenant brings us therefore under the law to Christ. Hence the moral precepts of the gospel; which are given--
1. Because of the imperfection of our faith and lest liberty should become licence.
2. To supply us with the means of self-examination whether we are keeping the royal law of liberty. (Canon Vernon Hutton.)
The simplicity of the gospel covenant
Our attention, perhaps, may not be unprofitably directed to a consideration of--first, the principles of the old and new covenant, and, secondly, the declaration of the text concerning them.
1. It is important for us to have constantly before us clear views concerning the law and the gospel, or the dispensation of works and the dispensation of grace. The law given on Sinai was a system of precepts and commands, which required man’s perfect obedience. These were to be constantly in the people’s minds and in their hearts. They were to teach them diligently unto their children, and to talk of them when they sat down in the house, or journeyed in the way; they were even to write them upon the outside of their houses and gates, that they might be in every place a memorial, that they should “observe and do them.” And they had two motives presented to urge them to obedience: first, the fear of punishment, and secondly, the hope of reward--“This do, and thou shalt live;” but “this neglect to do,” and thou shalt die. It shall be our righteousness if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He hath commanded us, and yet, “cursed be He that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the Law to do them.” The effect of the law, then, upon the individual soul was this, that with some it led to a constant fear, lest there should be a violation or omission of any command. But then, with others it had an opposite effect. It was not the fear of punishment, and this leading sometimes to despair, but it was the hope of reward, and this often lifting up the heart with pride, so that many were led to suppose themselves perfect--to say, “What lack I yet?”--“I thank Thee that I am not as other men are.” But we pass on to notice the principles of the new, or gospel covenant. The Old Testament, as we said, was a system of commands and precepts, rewards and punishments--“This do, and thou shalt live”--this neglect to do and thou shalt die. The gospel is an offer of eternal happiness and life, as a free gift, secured to us by the work of One who fulfilled the law, and kept the covenant of works for us; who bore the curse and the punishment due to a broken law, and thus became Himself, in His own living Person, the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. The gospel, indeed, summons us to a work, but it is the work of faith; the act of casting our soul’s affections and hopes upon a living Saviour. Scripture has beautifully set forth the condition of u true believer under the new covenant as that of one married to Christ. In other words, are we delivered from doing any good works, having ceased from the economy of works? Are we to live carelessly, and without diligent activity for God’s glory? By no means. We are not delivered from doing our Heavenly Father’s will; it is the motives only that are changed. Under the law we are servants, and the servant or hireling obeys from duty; he labours for recompense, or to keep his situation; but the wife and child feel that the husband or father’s interests are identical with their own; his will is their will; his honour and welfare theirs. The mercenary soldier fights for pay or promotion, in a cause, perhaps, with which he has no sympathy, but the Christian soldier fights the fight of faith, because Christ’s enemies are his enemies, Christ’s cause His cause. “I delight in the law of God after the inward man,” says St. Paul; my heart’s affections are now given to my Saviour.
II. Now notice the declaration of the text concerning these principles of the two covenants.
1. Here is a distinct statement, that it is impossible for the soul to be saved and for heaven to be gained, if we are actuated by the principles of the law and the principles of the gospel at the same time--“The son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman.” And yet there is constantly an attempt made to gain heaven in this way. It is a very common condition in the religious history of man. The principles of the law and the gospel combined form the motives actuating and influencing many a Christian’s life: his deeds of charity, his benevolence, even his very prayers are offered partly as a matter of duty, and partly as an act of faith.
2. The text, consequently, points out to us our duty, if we are being drawn away from the simplicity of the faith. God will not allow Christ to be robbed of His own glory. If the soul is to receive heaven at all, it must be as a beggar would receive an alms; it must be with a consciousness that in itself it is poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked; that Christ bestows the purchase-money, and the holy garments, and the anointing as a gift. In fine, yield your heart to Him, entirely and constantly, and then will His love be shed abroad in your heart, and become the motive for your every act, and the magnet of constant attraction. Then will there arise up in your soul the spirit of love and not of fear; the spirit of a child, and not of a servant;. Then will the fruits and graces of God’s own Spirit develop and grow in you, and then shall you have assurance as well as reliance, heaven yours because Christ is yours. In conclusion, let us notice how inconsistent we are, not to say how sinful, when any double motives actuate us in anything. In the common concerns of life, if I display an act of kindness to a poor person, partly from benevolence, but partly in order that he may think well of me, or my neighbour may think well of me; if I subscribe to a missionary society, partly because it is a duty, and partly to be thought religious; then, if such a double motive were known, how I should be held up to the just scorn and contempt of others! But do we not act like this when we are expecting to gain heaven itself, partly by our knowledge of Christ, and partly by our prayers, almsdeeds, or refined sanctities, when, as a fact, we are half-worldly and only half-religious, and will not go as helpless, bankrupt sinners, and in brokenheartedness, and faith, and love to Christ? We have all need, brethren, to keep constantly before us the principles of the new covenant of grace, as distinguished from the old covenant of works. (Louis Stanham, M. A.)
We are not children of the bondwomn, but of the free.
Nature and the supernatural
The whole force of this application of the allegory lies in the truth of the facts. It is because the birth of Isaac was supernatural that St. Paul was able to find in it what he here bids us see. What Isaac was in the miracle of his origin that is the Christian in the miracle of his regeneration. What Hagar and Ishmael hated in Isaac was the interference of God with the laws of nature. This spirit caused the strife and the ejection. So it is now.
I. The Jew has his covenant from Sinai. Call that Hagar. Set it in the same row with Jerusalem that now is. See her gendering to bondage, bearing her offspring into a condition of spiritual servitude, the condition of all who trust in the flesh.
II. The Christian has his covenant, and its home is above. He is a child not of the flesh but of the Spirit. He is born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, but of supernatural graces.
III. Nature cries out against grace, and regards it as an interference with creature rights and dignity, and “mocks” and “persecutes,” and must be ejected, at last, from the family and the home of the free.
IV. Apply this to scepticism. It is the boast of anti-supernaturalism that it is free. It has cast off the shackles of tradition, authority, priestcraft. Freethought is its watchword. Paul here brings a charge against it under the figure of Hagar and Ishmael, whose characteristic was dislike of the supernatural.
1. Unbelief in rejecting the supernatural rejects pardon and Christ, grace and the Holy Spirit.
2. This is a state of bondage. For what hope is there for man in nature?
(1) None as he turns remorsefully towards the past. Nature crushes the sinner.
(2) None as he looks wistfully towards the future. Mark the poor tentative, vacillating peradventures in reconstructing himself in holiness. Mark the self-vexing “O Baal, hear us” of the man who will not grasp the Divine Sanctifier.
3. If we would be free from the slavery of sin and despair, we must seek forgiveness through Christ and sanctification through-the Holy Spirit. (Dean Vaughan.)
Christianity the home and the hope of the free
I. The nature of true freedom.
1. The absence of all restraint.
2. The worldling is not free.
3. Man naturally desires freedom.
II. The Church of Christ as the home of the truly free.
1. It is a voluntary association.
2. It is well adapted to promote human happiness.
3. It is a state of preparation and training for higher scenes.
III. The province of the church in diffusing the true freedom of the race.
1. What it has done.
2. Would do.
3. Can do, as the hope of the free.
Learn: gospel freedom is necessary, for it alone can--
(1) make other freedom possible;
(3) permanent. (W. R. Williams.)
Abraham’s two sons
We must keep this faith pure; “For it is written that Abraham had two sons.” This fact of history, the Holy Ghost shows us, is an allegory, exposing the fatal bondage into which the Galatians were gliding. In the two sons of Abraham we see--
I. The bondage of the law.
1. Hagar’s son was born after the flesh, in the common course of nature. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6).. We inherit an evil nature, inclined to sin, yet miserable in it. No natural man is really happy (Isa 57:21-22); he is always sinful (Jeremiah 17:9).
2. Hagar’s son was born in bondage. She a bondwoman; her child, though Abraham’s son, a bondslave, under the law of the house. Here is the old covenant: “For this Agar denotes Mount Sinai.” There Israel consented to a covenant of works (Exodus 24:1-18.; Deuteronomy 5:2-3), which results in failure and bondage. Hagar brings forth only bondmen: this is all the law can do. “The strength of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:5-6).
3. Hagar’s son was a persecutor. He derides, mocks, persecutes the promised seed. The world, Israel, hated Christ. The law cannot endure grace (Luke 15:2). The natural cannot tolerate the spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 John 3:1). Here is the mind of Cain. Hagar’s son was Abraham’s son. This increased the hostility. Religion is often religion’s greatest enemy. Our claim to be perfectly justified by faith, without the law, arouses animosity (John 8:33).
4. Hagar’s son was cast out: he had no title; he could inherit nothing. His continuance in the house depended on his obedience. Obedience to law avails not for justification (Psalms 143:2); it only brings curse (Galatians 3:10), and wrath (Romans 4:15), rejection (Galatians 5:2; John 8:35); it confers no claim to inheritance. Christ the only way to God, to heaven (John 14:6). If not “in Christ,” “of the faith of Abraham” (Romans 4:16), we are yet “in our sins” (John 8:24). But think of Christ’s--“by no means” cast out (John 6:37).
II. The liberty of the gospel.
1. The freewoman’s son was the child of promise. Abraham and Sarah being as good as dead (Hebrews 11:12), their child was born, not in the course of nature, but by God’s gracious power (Romans 4:17-21). “We, brethren, as Isaac was, i.e., after the manner of Isaac, are the children of promise” (Romans 9:8; 2 Timothy 1:1). Our sonship is not the result of legal obedience, or “culture,” or of man in any way (John 1:12). We are counted dead, and have been quickened by the Holy Ghost, by the grace of God (Romans 9:11).
2. The freewoman’s son was born free, free from the conditions of the bondslave’s law. For us, who by faith are justified, the law is, in that respect, dead (Romans 7:4; Galatians 2:19). Its condemning hold is broken. In Christ its claims are satisfied. It is no longer an outer law, restraining, convicting; but an inner law, in which we delight (Romans 7:22 : Psalms 1:2), and which, by love, we fulfil (Romans 8:4), through the Spirit. This is real liberty. “Whose service is perfect freedom.”
3. The freewoman’s son was persecuted. This we must expect if we are faithful, to be “mocked” (John 15:20), especially in “the last days” (2 Timothy 3:12). The offence of the cross has not ceased. “Blessed are the meek,” etc.
4. The freewoman’s son was the heir. The children of promise are counted for the seed, and are heirs according to the promise. Jerusalem above is a city of freemen (Galatians 3:19; Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 1:3-4).
1. Let us hold fast (Galatians 5:1) our liberty in Christ, and beware of legal bondage.
2. Let us use our liberty in active, loving service (Galatians 5:13).
3. Let us meekly suffer, in patient hope, for His sake. (J. E. Sampson, M. A.)
The ways of religion are not and cannot be pleasant to irreligious men
It is to renewed and holy persons that the assertion refers, and to them only; for our pleasures must be suitable to our prevailing dispositions and predominant tempers. Light itself affords no pleasure to the blind, nor can the most exquisite music yield any gratification to the deaf. An idle man has no enjoyment in labour, nor a glutton or a drunkard in temperance and sobriety. Those very things which the spiritual mind most relishes and desires are to the carnal mind distasteful and offensive. (Dr. Bruiting.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Galatians 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany