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Galatians 3

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-5

Chapter 11


Galatians 3:1-5.

AT the beginning of chap. 3 falls the most marked division of this Epistle. So far, since the exordium, its course has been strictly narrative. The Apostle has been "giving" his readers "to know" many things concerning himself and his relations to the Judean Church of which they had been ignorant or misinformed. Now this preliminary task is over. From explanation and defence he passes suddenly to the attack. He turns sharply round upon the Galatians, and begins to ply them with expostulation and argument. It is for their sake that Paul has been telling this story of his past career. In the light of the narration just concluded, they will be able to see their folly and to understand how much they have been deceived.

Here also the indignation so powerfully expressed in the Introduction, breaks forth again, directed this time, however, against the Galatians themselves and breathing grief more than auger. And just as after that former outburst the letter settled down into the sober flow of narrative, so from these words of reproach Paul passes on to the measured course of argument which he pursues through the next two chapters. In Galatians 4:8-20, and again in Galatians 5:1-12, doctrine gives way to appeal and warning. But these paragraphs still belong to the polemical division of the Epistle, extending from this point to the middle of chap. 5. This section forms the central and principal part of the letter, and is complete in itself. Its last words, in Galatians 5:6-12, will bring us round to the position from which we are now setting out.

This chapter stands, nevertheless, in close connection of thought with the foregoing. The Apostle’s doctrine is grounded in historical fact and personal experience. The theological argument has behind it the weight of his proved Apostleship. The Judaistic dispute at Antioch, in particular, bears immediately on the subject-matter of the third chapter. Peter’s vacillation had its counterpart in the defection of the Galatians. The reproof and refutation which the elder Apostle brought upon himself, Paul’s readers must have felt, touched them very nearly. In the crafty intriguers who made mischief at Antioch, they could see the, image of the Judaists who had come into their midst. Above all, it was the cross which Cephas had dishonoured, whose efficacy he had virtually denied. His act of dissimulation, pushed to its issue, nullified the death of Christ. This is the gravamen of Paul’s impeachment. And it is the foundation of all his complaints against the Galatians. Round this centre the conflict is waged. By its tendency to enhance or diminish the glory of the Saviour’s cross, Paul judges of the truth of every teaching, the worth of every policy. Angel or Apostle, it matters not-whoever disparages the cross of Jesus Christ finds in Paul an unflinching enemy. The thought of Christ "dying in vain" rouses in him the strong emotion under which he indites the first verses of this chapter. What greater folly, what stranger bewitchment can there be, than for one who has seen "Jesus Christ crucified" to turn away to some other spectacle, to seek elsewhere a more potent and diviner charm! "O senseless Galatians!"

1. Here then was the beginning of their folly. The Galatians forgot their Saviour’s cross.

This was the first step in their backsliding. Had their eyes continued to be fixed on Calvary, the Legalists would have argued and cajoled in vain. Let the cross of Christ once lose its spell for us, let its influence fail to hold and rule the soul, and we are at the mercy of every wind of doctrine. We are like sailors in a dark night on a perilous coast, who have lost sight of the lighthouse beacon. Our Christianity will go to pieces. If Christ crucified should cease to be its sovereign attraction, from that moment the Church is doomed.

This forgetfulness of the cross on the part of the Galatians is the more astonishing to Paul, because at first they had so vividly realised its power, and the scene of Calvary, as Paul depicted it, had taken hold of their nature with extraordinary force. He was conscious at the time-so his words seem to intimate-that it was given him, amongst this susceptible people, to draw the picture with unwonted effect. The gaze of his hearers was riveted upon the sight. It was as if the Lord Jesus hung there before their eyes. They beheld the Divine sufferer. They heard His cries of distress and of triumph. They felt the load which crushed Him. Nor was it their sympathies alone and their reverence, to which the spectacle appealed. It stirred their conscience to its depths. It awakened feelings of inward humiliation and contrition, of horror at the curse of sin, of anguish under the bitterness and blackness of its death. "It was you," Paul would say - "you" and I for whom He died. Our sins laid on Him. that ignominy, those agonies of body and of spirit. He died the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." They looked, they listened, till their hearts were broken, till all their sins cried out against them; and in a passion of repentance they cast themselves before the Crucified, and took Him for their Christ and King. From the foot of the cross they rose new men, with heaven’s light upon their brow, with the cry Abba, Father, rising from their lips, with the Spirit of God and of Jesus Christ, the consciousness of a Divine sonship, filling their breast. Has all this passed away? Have the Galatians forgotten the shame, the glory of that hour-the tears of penitence, the cries of joy and gratitude which the vision of the cross drew from their souls, the new creation it had wrought within them, the ardour of spirit and high resolve with which they pledged themselves to Christ’s service? Was the influence of that transforming experience to prove no more enduring than the morning cloud and early dew? Foolish Galatians! Had they not the wit to see that the teaching of the Legalists ran counter to all they had then experienced, that it "made the death of Christ of none effect," which had so mighty and saving an effect upon themselves? Were they "so senseless," so bereft of reason and recollection? The Apostle is amazed. He cannot understand how impressions so powerful should prove so transient, and that truths thus clearly perceived and realised should come to be forgotten. Some fatal spell has been cast over them. They are "bewitched" to act as they are doing. A deadly fascination, like that of the "evil eye," has paralysed their minds. The ancient word alluded to in the word the Apostle uses here is not altogether a superstition. The malignity that darts out in the glance of the "evil eye" is a presage of mischief. Not without reason does it cause a shudder. It is the sign of a demoniac jealousy and hate. "Satan has entered into" the soul which emits it, as once into Judas. Behind the spite of the Jewish false brethren Paul recognised a preternatural malice and cunning, like that with which "the Serpent beguiled Eve." To this darker source of the fascination his question, "Who hath bewitched you?" appears to point.

2. Losing sight of the cross of Christ, the Galatians were furthermore rejecting the Holy Spirit of God.

This heavy reproach the Apostle urges upon his readers through the rest of the paragraph, pausing only for a moment in Galatians 3:4 to recall their earlier sufferings for Christ’s sake in further witness against them. "I have but one question to put to you," he says-"You received the Spirit: how did that come about? Was it through what you did according to law? or what you heard in faith? You know well that this great blessing was given to your faith. Can you expect to retain this gift of God on other terms than those on which you received it? Have you begun with the Spirit to be brought to perfection by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3) Nay, God still bestows on you His Spirit, with gifts of miraculous energy; and I ask again, whether these displays attend on the practice of law works, or upon faith’s hearing?" (Galatians 3:5). The Apostle wished the Galatians to test the competing doctrines by their effects. The Spirit of God had put His seal on the Apostle’s teaching, and on the faith of his hearers. Did any such manifestation accompany the preaching of the Legalists? That is all he wants to know. His cause must stand or fall by "the demonstration of the Spirit." By "signs and wonders," and diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit, God was wont to "bear witness with" the ministers and witnesses of Jesus Christ: {Hebrews 2:3-4; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11} was this testimony on the side of Paul, or the Circumcisionists? Did it sustain the gospel of the grace of God, or the "other gospel" of Legalism?

"He, the Spirit of truth, shall testify of Me," Christ had said; and so John, at the end of the Apostolic age: "It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth." When the Galatians accepted the message of the cross proclaimed by Paul’s lips, "the Holy Spirit fell" on them, as on the Jewish Church at the Pentecost, and the Gentile believers in the house of Cornelius; {Acts 10:44} "the love of God was poured out in their hearts through the Holy Ghost that was given them". {Romans 5:5} As a mighty, rushing wind this supernatural influence swept through their souls. Like fire from heaven it kindled in their spirit, consuming their lusts and vanities, and fusing their nature into a new, holy passion of love to Christ and to God the Father. It broke from their lips in ecstatic cries, unknown to human speech; or moved them to unutterable groans and pangs of intercession. {Romans 8:26}

There were men in the Galatian Churches on whom the baptism of the Spirit conferred besides miraculous charismata, superhuman powers of insight and of healing. These gifts God continued to "minister amongst" them (God is unquestionably the agent in Galatians 3:5). Paul asks them to observe on what conditions, and to whom, these extraordinary gifts are distributed. For the "receiving of the Spirit" was an infallible sign of true Christian faith. This was the very proof which in the first instance had convinced Peter and the Judean Church that it was God’s will to save the Gentiles, independently of the Mosaic law. {Acts 11:15-18}

Receiving the Spirit, the Galatian believers knew that they were the sons of God. "God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father". {Galatians 4:6-7} When Paul speaks of "receiving the Spirit," it is this that he thinks of most of all. The miraculous phenomena attending His visitations were facts of vast importance; and their occurrence is one Of the historical certainties of the Apostolic age. They were "signs," conspicuous, impressive, indispensable at the time-monuments set up for all time. But they were in their nature variable and temporary. There are powers greater and more enduring than these. The things that "abide" are "faith, hope, love"; love chiefest of the three. Hence when the Apostle in a later chapter enumerates the qualities that go to make up "the fruit of the Spirit," he says nothing of tongues or prophecies, or gifts of healing; he begins with love. Wonder-working powers had their times and seasons, their peculiar organs; but every believer in Christ-whether Jew or Greek, primitive or mediaeval or modern Christian, the heir of sixty generations of faith or the latest converts from heathenism-joins in the testimony, "The love of God is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Ghost given unto us." This mark of God’s indwelling Spirit the Galatians had possessed. They were "sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus". {Galatians 3:26} And with the filial title they had received the filial nature. They were "taught of God to love one ‘another." Being sons of God in Christ, they were also "heirs". {Galatians 4:7; Romans 8:17} They possessed the earnest of the heavenly inheritance, {Ephesians 1:14} the pledge of their bodily redemption, {Romans 8:10-23} and of eternal life in the fellowship of Christ. In their initial experience of "the salvation which is in Jesus Christ" they had the foretaste of its "eternal glory," of the "grace" belonging to "them that love our Lord Jesus Christ," which is "in in-corruption."

No legal condition was laid down at this beginning of their Christian life; no "work" of any kind interposed between the belief of the heart and the conscious reception of the new life in Christ. Even their baptism, significant and memorable as it was, had not been required as in itself a precondition of salvation. Sometimes after baptism, but often-as in the case of Cornelius’ household-before the rite was administered, "the Holy Ghost fell" on believing souls. {Acts 10:44-48; Acts 11:15-16} They "confessed with their mouth the Lord Jesus"; they "believed in their hearts that God had raised Him from the dead,"-and they were saved. Baptism is, as Paul’s teaching elsewhere shows, {Galatians 3:24; Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:2; Colossians 2:11-13; Titus 3:5} the expression, not the medium - the symbol, and not the cause, of the new birth which it might precede or follow. The Catholic doctrine of the opus operatum in the sacraments is radically anti-Pauline; it is Judaism over again. The process by which the Galatians became Christians was essentially spiritual. They had begun in the Spirit.

And so they must continue. To begin in the Spirit, and then look for perfection to the flesh, to suppose that the work of faith and love was to be consummated by Pharisaic ordinances, that Moses could lead them higher than Christ, and circumcision effect for them what the power of the Holy Ghost failed to do-this was the height of unreason. "Are you so senseless?" the Apostle asks.

He dwells on this absurdity, pressing home his expostulation with an emphasis that shows he is touching the centre of the controversy between himself and the Judaisers. They admitted, as we have shown in chap. 9., that Gentiles might enter the kingdom of God through faith and by the baptism of the Spirit. This was settled at the Council of Jerusalem. Without a formal acceptance of this evangelical principle, we do not see how the legalists could again have found entrance into Gentile Christian Churches, much less have carried Peter and Barnabas and the liberal Jews of Antioch with them, as they did. They no longer attempted to deny salvation to the uncircumcised; but they claimed for the circumcised a more complete salvation, and a higher status in the Church. "Yes, Paul has laid the foundation," they would Say; "now we have come to perfect his work, to give you the more advanced instruction, derived from the fountain-head of Christian knowledge, from the first Apostles in Jerusalem. If you would be perfect, keep the commandments; be circumcised, like Christ and His disciples, and observe the law of Moses. If you be circumcised, Christ will profit you much more than hitherto; and you will inherit all the blessings promised in Him to the children of Abraham."

Such was the style of "persuasion" employed by the Judaisers. It was well calculated to deceive Jewish believers, even those best affected to their Gentile brethren. It appeared to maintain the prescriptive rights of Judaism and to satisfy legitimate national pride, without excluding the Gentiles from the fold of Christ. Nor is it difficult to understand the spell which the circumcisionist doctrine exerted over susceptible Gentile minds, after some years of Christian training, of familiarity with the Old Testament and the early history of Israel. Who is there that does not feel the charm of ancient memories and illustrious names? Many a noble mind is at this present time "bewitched," many a gifted and pious spirit is "carried away" by influences precisely similar. Apostolical succession, potristic usage, catholic tradition, the authority of the Church- what words of power are these!

How wilful and arbitrary it appears to rely upon any present experience of the grace of God, upon one’s own reading of the gospel of Christ, in contradiction to claims advanced under the patronage of so many revered and time-honoured names. The man, or the community, must be deeply conscious of having "received the Spirit," that can feel the force of attractions of this nature, and yet withstand them. It requires a clear view of the cross of Jesus Christ, an absolute faith in the supremacy of spiritual principles to enable one to resist the fascinations of ceremonialism and tradition. They offer us a more "ornate worship," a more "refined" type of piety, "consecrated by antiquity"; they invite us to enter a selecter circle, and to place ourselves on a higher level than that of the vulgar religionism of faith and feeling. It is the Galatian "persuasion" over again. Ceremony, antiquity, ecclesiastical authority are after all poor substitutes for faith and love. If they come between us and the living Christ, if they limit and dishonour the work of His Spirit, we have a right to say, and we will say with the Apostle Paul, Away with them!

The men of tradition are well content that we should "begin in the Spirit," provided they may have the finishing of our faith. To prey upon the Pauline Church is their ancient and natural habit. An evangelical beginning is too often followed by a ritualistic ending. And Paul is ever begetting spiritual children, to see himself robbed of them by these bewitching Judaisers. "O foolish Galatians," he seems still to be saying, What is it that charms you so much in all this ritual and externalism? Does it bring you nearer to the cross of Christ? Does it give you more of His Spirit? Is it a spiritual satisfaction that you find in these works of Church law, these priestly ordinances and performances? How can the sons of God return to such childish rudiments? Why should a religion which began so spiritually seek its perfection by means so formal and mechanical?

The conflict which this Epistle signalised is one that has never ceased. Its elements belong to human nature. It is the contest between the religion of the Spirit and that of the letter, between the spontaneity of personal faith and the rights of usage and prescription. The history of the Church is largely the record of this incessant struggle. In every Christian community, in every earnest and devout spirit, it is repeated in some new phase. When the Fathers of the Church in the second and third centuries began to write about "the new law" and to identify the Christian ministry with the Aaronic priesthood, it was evident that Legalism was regaining its ascendency. Already the foundations were laid of the Catholic Church-system, which culminated in the Papacy of Rome. What Paul’s opponents sought to do by means of circumcision and Jewish prerogatives, that the Catholic legalists have done, on a larger scale, through the claims of the priesthood and the sacramental offices. The spiritual functions of the private Christian, one after another, were usurped or carelessly abandoned. Step by step the hierarchy interposed itself between Christ and His people’s souls, till its mediation became the sole channel and organ of the Holy Spirit’s influence. So it has come to pass, by a strange irony of history, that under the forms of Pauline doctrine and in the same of the Apostle of the Gentiles joined to that of Peter, Catholic Christendom, delivered by him from the Jewish yoke, has been entangled in a bondage in some respects even heavier and more repressive. If tradition and prescription are to regulate our Christian belief, they lead us infallibly to Rome, as they would have led the Galatians to perishing Jerusalem.

3. Paul said he had but one question to ask his readers, that which we have already discussed. And yet he does put to them, by way of parenthesis, another (Galatians 3:4), suggested by what he has already called to mind, touching the beginning of their Christian course: "Have ye suffered so many things in vain?" Their folly was the greater in that it threatened to deprive them of the fruit of their past sufferings in the cause of Christ.

The Apostle does not say this without a touch of softened feeling. Remembering the trials these Galatians had formerly endured, the sacrifices they had made in accepting the gospel, he cannot bear to think of their apostasy. Hope breaks through his fear, grief passes into tenderness as he adds, "If it be indeed in vain." The link of reminiscence connecting Galatians 3:3-4 is the same as that we find in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 : "Ye received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.". {Comp. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-6; Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 1:8}

We need. not seek for any peculiar cause of these sufferings; nor wonder that the Apostle does not mention them elsewhere. Every infant Church had its baptism of persecution. No one could come out of heathen society and espouse the cause of Jesus, without making himself a mark for ridicule and violence, without the rupture of family and public ties, and many painful sacrifices. The hatred of Paul’s fellow-countrymen towards him was an additional cause of persecution to the Churches he had founded. They were followers of the crucified Nazarene, of the apostate Saul. And they had to suffer for it. With the joy of their new life in Christ there had come sharp pangs of loss and grief, heart-wounds deep and lasting. This slight allusion sufficiently reminds the Apostle’s readers of what they had passed through at the time of their conversion.

And now were they going to surrender the faith won by such a struggle? Would they let themselves be cheated of blessings which had cost them so dear? "So many things," he asks, "did you suffer in vain?" He will not believe it. He cannot think that this brave beginning will have so mean an ending. If "God counts them worthy of His kingdom for which they suffered," let them. not deem themselves unworthy. Surely they have not escaped from the tyranny of heathenism, in order to yield up their liberties to Jewish intrigue, to the cozenage of false brethren who seek to exalt themselves at their expense. {Galatians 2:4; Galatians 4:17; Galatians 6:12-13} Will flattery beguile from them the treasure to which persecution had made them cling the more closely?

Too often, alas! the Galatian defection is repeated. The generous devotion of youth is followed by the lethargy and formalism of a prosperous age; and the man who at twenty-five was a pattern of godly zeal, at fifty is a finished worldling. The Christ whom he adored, the cross at which he bowed in those early days-he seldom thinks of them now. "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals; how thou wentest after Me in the wilderness." Success has spoiled him. The world’s glamour has bewitched him. He bids fair to "end in the flesh."

In a broader sense, the Apostle’s question addresses itself to Churches and communities untrue to the spiritual principles that gave them birth. The faith of the primitive Church, that endured three centuries of persecution, yielded its purity to Imperial blandishments. Our fathers, Puritan and Scottish, staked their lives for the crown-rights of Jesus Christ and the freedom of faith. Through generations they endured social and civil ostracism in the cause of religious liberty. And now that the battle is won, there are those amongst their children who scarcely care to know what the struggle was about. Out of indolence of mind and vanity of scepticism, they abandon at the bidding of priest or sophist the spiritual heritage bequeathed to them. Did they then suffer so many things in vain? Was it an illusion that sustained those heroic souls, and enabled them to "stop the mouths of lions and subdue kingdoms"? Was it for nought that so many of Christ’s witnesses in these realms since the Reformation days have suffered the loss of all things rather than yield by subjection to a usurping and worldly priesthood? And can we, reaping the fruit of their faith and courage, afford in these altered times to dispense with the principles whose maintenance cost our forefathers so dear a price?

"O foolish Galatians," Paul in that case might well say to us again!

Verses 6-14

Chapter 12


FAITH then, we have learnt, not works of law, was the condition on which the Galatians received the Spirit of Christ. By this gate they entered the Church of God, and had come into possession of the spiritual blessings common to all Christian believers, and of those extraordinary gifts of grace which marked the Apostolic days.

In this mode of salvation, the Apostle goes on to show, there was after all nothing new. The righteousness of faith is more ancient than legalism. It is as old as Abraham. His religion rested on this ground. "The promise of the Spirit," held by him in trust for the world, was given to his faith. "You received the Spirit, God works in you His marvellous powers, by the hearing of faith-even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness." In the hoary patriarchal days as now, in the time of promise as of fulfilment, faith is the root of religion; grace invites, righteousness waits upon the hearing of faith. So Paul declares in Galatians 3:6-9, and re-affirms with emphasis in Galatians 3:14. The intervening sentences set forth by contrast the curse that hangs over the man who seeks salvation by way of law and personal merit.

Thus the two standing types of religion, the two ways by which men seek salvation, are put in contrast with each other-faith with its blessing, law with its curse. The former is the path on which the Galatians had entered, under the guidance of Paul; the latter, that to which the Judaic teachers were leading them. So far the two principles stand only in antagonism. The antinomy will be resolved in the latter part of the chapter.

But why does Paul make so much of the faith of Abraham? Not only because it furnished him with a telling illustration, or because the words of Genesis 15:6 supplied a decisive proof-text for his doctrine: he could not well have chosen any other ground. Abraham’s case was the instantia probans in this debate. "We are Abraham’s seed": {Matthew 3:9; John 8:33-59} this was the proud consciousness that swelled every Jewish breast. "Abraham’s bosom" was the Israelite’s heaven: even in Hades his guilty sons could claim pity from "Father Abraham". {Luke 16:19-31} In the use of this title were concentrated all the theocratic pride and national bigotry of the Jewish race. To the example of Abraham the Judaistic teacher would not fail to appeal. He would tell the Galatians how the patriarch was called, like themselves, out of the heathen world to the knowledge of the true God; how he was separated from his Gentile kindred, and received the mark of circumcision to be worn thenceforth by all who followed in his steps, and who sought the fulfilment of the promise granted to Abraham and his seed.

The Apostle holds, as strongly as any Judaist, that the promise belongs to the children of Abraham. But what makes a son of Abraham? "Birth, true Jewish blood, of course," replied the Judaist. The Gentile, in his view, could only come into a share of the heritage by receiving circumcision, the mark of legal adoption and incorporation. Paul answers this question by raising another. What was it that brought Abraham his blessing? To what did he owe his righteousness? It was faith: so Scripture declares-"Abraham believed God." Righteousness, covenant, promise, blessing-all turned upon this. And the true sons of Abraham are those who are like him: "Know then that the men of faith, these are Abraham’s sons." This declaration is a blow, launched with studied effect full in the face of Jewish privilege. Only a Pharisee, only a Rabbi, knew how to wound in this fashion. Like the words of Stephen’s defence, such sentences as these stung Judaic pride to the quick. No wonder that his fellow-countrymen, in their fierce fanaticism of race, pursued Paul with burning hate and set a mark upon his life.

But the identity of Abraham’s blessing with that enjoyed by Gentile Christians is not left to rest on mere inference and analogy of principle. Another quotation clinches the argument: "In thee," God promised to the patriarch, "shall be blessed"-not the natural seed, not the circumcised alone-but "all the nations (Gentiles)"! And "the Scripture" said this, "foreseeing" what is now taking place, namely, "that God justifieth the Gentiles by faith." So that in giving this promise to Abraham it gave him, his "gospel before the time (προευηγγελισατο)." Good news indeed it was to the noble patriarch, that all the nations-of whom as a wide traveller he knew so much, and over whose condition he doubtless grieved - were finally to be blessed with the light of faith and the knowledge of the true God; and thus blessed through himself. In this prospect he "rejoiced to see Christ’s day"; nay, the Saviour tells us, like Moses and Elijah, "he saw it and was glad." Up to this point in Abraham’s history, as Paul’s readers would observe, there was no mention of circumcision or legal requirement (Galatians 3:17; Romans 4:9-13). It was on purely evangelical principles, by a declaration of God’s grace listened to in thankful faith, that he had received the promise which linked him to the universal Church and entitled every true believer to call him father. "So that the men of faith are blessed, along with faithful Abraham."

1. What then, we ask, was the nature of Abraham’s blessing? In its essence, it was righteousness. The "blessing" of Galatians 3:9; Galatians 3:14 is synonymous with the "justification" of Galatians 3:6; Galatians 3:8, embracing with it all its fruits and consequences. No higher benediction could come to any man than that God should "count him righteous."

Paul and the Legalists agreed in designating righteousness before God man’s chief good. But they and he intended different things by it. Nay, Paul’s conception of righteousness, it is said, differed radically from that of the Old Testament, and even of his companion writers in the New Testament. Confessedly, his doctrine presents this idea under a peculiar aspect. But there is a spiritual identity, a common basis of truth, in all the Biblical teaching on this vital subject. Abraham’s righteousness was the state of a man who trustfully accepts God’s word of grace, and is thereby set right with God, and put in the way of being and doing right thenceforward. In virtue of his faith, God regarded and dealt with Abraham as a righteous man: Righteousness of character springs out of righteousness of standing. God makes a man righteous by counting him so! This is the Divine paradox of Justification by Faith. When the Hebrew author says, "God counted it to him for righteousness," he does not mean in lieu of righteousness, as though faith were a substitute for a righteousness not forthcoming and now rendered superfluous; but so as to amount to righteousness, with a view to righteousness. This "reckoning" is the sovereign act of the Creator, who gives what He demands, "who maketh alive the dead," and calleth the things that are not as though they Romans 4:17-22. He sees the fruit in the germ.

There is nothing arbitrary, or merely forensic in this imputation. Faith is, for such a being as man, the spring of all righteousness before God, the one act of the soul which is primarily and supremely right. What is more just than that the creature should trust his Creator, the child his Father? Here is the root of all right understanding and right relations between men and God-that which gives God, so to speak, a moral hold upon us. And by this trust of the heart, yielding itself in the "obedience of faith" to its Lord and Redeemer, it comes into communion with all those energies and purposes in Him which make for righteousness. Hence from first to last, alike in the earlier and later stages of revelation, man’s righteousness is "not his own"; it is "the righteousness that is of God, based upon faith." {Philippians 3:9} Faith unites us to the source of righteousness, from which unbelief severs us. So that Paul’s teaching leads us to the fountainhead, while other Biblical teachers for the most part guide us along the course of the same Divine righteousness for man. His doctrine is required by theirs; their doctrine is implied, and indeed more than once expressly stated, in his. {Romans 8:4; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Ephesians 5:9; Titus 2:12-14; etc.}

The Old Testament deals with the materials of character, with the qualities and behaviour constituting a righteous man, more than with the cause or process that makes him righteous. All the more significant therefore are such pronouncements as that of Genesis 15:6, and the saying of Habakkuk 2:4, Paul’s other leading quotation on this subject. This second reference, taken from the times of Israel’s declension, a thousand years and more after Abraham, gives proof of the vitality of the righteousness of faith. The haughty, sensual Chaldean is master of the earth. Kingdom after kingdom he has trampled down. Judah lies at his mercy, and has no mercy to expect. But the prophet looks beyond the storm and ruin of the time. "Art Thou not from everlasting, my God, my Holy One? We shall not die". {Habakkuk 1:12} The faith of Abraham lives in his breast. The people in whom that faith is cannot die. While empires fall, and races are swept away in the flood of conquest, "The just shall live by his faith." If faith is seen here at a different point from that given before, it is still the same faith of Abraham, the grasp of the soul upon the Divine word - there first evoked, here steadfastly maintained, there and here the one ground of righteousness, and therefore of life, for man or for people, Habakkuk and the "remnant" of his day were "blessed with faithful Abraham"; how blessed, his splendid prophecy shows. Righteousness is of faith; life of righteousness: this is the doctrine of Paul, witnessed to by law and prophets.

Into what a life of blessing the righteousness of faith introduced "faithful Abraham," these Galatian students of the Old Testament very well knew. {2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 12:1-6; comp. James 2:23} is he designated "the friend of God." The Arabs still call him el khalil, the friend. His image has impressed itself with singular force on the Oriental mind. He is the noblest figure of the Old Testament, surpassing Isaac in force, Jacob in purity, and both in dignity of character. The man to whom God said, "Fear not, Abraham: I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward"; and again, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be thou perfect": on how lofty a platform of spiritual eminence was he set! The scene of Genesis 18:1-33, throws into striking relief the greatness of Abraham, the greatness of our human nature in him; when the Lord says, "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do?" and allows him to make his bold intercession for the guilty cities of the Plain. Even the trial to which the patriarch was subjected in the sacrifice of Isaac, was a singular honour, done to one whose faith was "counted worthy to endure" this unexampled strain. His religion exhibits a heroic strength and firmness, but at the same time a large-hearted, genial humanity, an elevation and serenity of mind, to which the temper of those who boasted themselves his children was utterly opposed. Father of the Jewish race, Abraham was no Jew. He stands before us in the morning light of revelation a simple, noble, archaic type of man, true "father of many nations." And his faith was the secret of the greatness which has commanded for him the reverence of four thousand years. His trust in God made him worthy to receive so immense a trust for the future of mankind.

With Abraham’s faith, the Gentiles inherit his blessing. They were not simply blessed in him, through his faith which received and handed down the blessing-but blessed with him. Their righteousness rests on the same principle as his. Religion reverts to its earlier, purer type. Just as in the Epistle to the Hebrews Melchizedek’s priesthood is adduced as belonging to a more Christlike order, antecedent to and underlying the Aaronic; so we find here, beneath the cumbrous structure of legalism, the evidence of a primitive religious life, cast in a larger mould, with a happier style of experience, a piety broader, freer, at once more spiritual and more human. Reading the story of Abraham, we witness the bright dawn of faith, its spring-time of promise and of hope. These morning hours passed away; and the sacred history shuts us in to the hard school of Mosaism, with its isolation, its mechanical routine and ritual drapery, its yoke of legal exaction ever growing more burdensome. Of all this the Church of Christ was to know nothing. It was called to enter into the labours of the legal centuries, without the need of sharing their burdens. In the "Father of the faithful" and the "Friend of God" Gentile believers were to see their exemplar, to find the warrant for that sufficiency and freedom of faith of which the natural children of Abraham unjustly strove to rob them.

2. But if the Galatians are resolved to be under the Law, they must understand what this means. The legal state, Paul declares, instead of the blessing of Abraham, brings with it a curse: "As many as are of law-works, are under a curse."

This the Apostle, in other words, had told Peter at Antioch. He maintained that whoever sets up the law as a ground of salvation, "makes himself a transgressor"; {Galatians 2:18} he brings upon himself the misery of having violated law. This is no doubtful contingency. The law in explicit terms pronounces its curse against every man who, binding himself to keep it, yet breaks it in any particular.

The Scripture which Paul quotes to this effect, forms the conclusion of the commination uttered by the people of Israel, according to the directions of Moses, from Mount Ebal, on their entrance into Canaan: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." How terribly had that imprecation been fulfilled! They had in truth pledged themselves to the impossible. The Law had not been kept-could not be kept on merely legal principles, by man or nation. The confessions of the Old Testament, already cited in Galatians 2:16, were proof of this. That no one had "continued in all things written in the law to do them," goes without saying. If Gentile Christians adopt the law of Moses, they must be prepared to render an obedience complete and unfaltering in every detail {Galatians 5:3} -or have this curse hanging perpetually above their heads. They will bring on themselves the very condemnation which was lying so heavily upon the conscience of Israel after the flesh.

This sequence of law and transgression belonged to Paul’s deepest convictions. "The law," he says, "worketh out wrath". {Romans 4:14-15} This is an axiom of Paulinism. Human nature being what it is, law means transgression; and the law being what it is, transgression means Divine anger and the curse. The law is just; the penalty is necessary. The conscience of the ancient people of God compelled them to pronounce the imprecation dictated by Moses. The same thing occurs every day, and under the most varied moral conditions. Every man who knows what is right, and will not do it, execrates himself. The consciousness of transgression is a clinging, inward curse, a witness of ill-desert, foreboding punishment. The law of conscience, like that of Ebal and Gerizim, admits of no exceptions, no intermission. In the majesty of its unbending sternness it can only be satisfied by our continuing in all things that it prescribes. Every instance of failure, attended with whatever excuse or condonation, leaves upon us its mark of self-reproach. And this inward condemnation, this consciousness of guilt latent in the human breast, is not self-condemnation alone, not a merely subjective state; but it proceeds from God’s present judgment on the man. It is the shadow of His just displeasure.

What Paul here proves from Scripture, bitter experience had taught him. As the law unfolded itself to his youthful conscience, he approved it as "holy and just and good." He was pledged and resolved to observe it in every point. He must despise himself if he acted otherwise. He strove to be - in the sight of men indeed he was - "touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." If ever a man carried out to the letter the legal requirements, and fulfilled the moralist’s ideal, it was Saul of Tarsus. Yet his failure was complete, desperate! While men accounted him a paragon of virtue, he loathed himself; he knew that before God his righteousness was worthless. The "law of sin in his members" defied "the law of his reason," and made its power the more sensible the more it was repressed. The curse thundered by the six tribes from Ebal resounded in his ears. And there was no escape. The grasp of the law was relentless, because it was just, like the grasp of death. Against all that was holiest in it the evil in himself stood up in stark, immitigable opposition. "O wretched man that I am," groans the proud Pharisee, "who shall deliver me!" From this curse Christ had redeemed him. And he would not, if he could help it, have the Galatians expose themselves to it again. On legal principles, there is no safety but in absolute, flawless obedience, such as no man ever has rendered, or ever will. Let them trust the experience of centuries of Jewish bondage.

Galatians 3:11-12 support the assertion that the Law issues in condemnation, by a further, negative proof. The argument is a syllogism, both whose premises are drawn from the Old Testament. It may be formally stated thus. Major preraise (evangelical maxim): "The just man lives of faith." {Habakkuk 2:4} (Galatians 3:11). Minor: The man of law does not live of faith (for he lives by doing: legal maxim, Galatians 3:12). {Leviticus 8:5} Ergo: The man of law is not just before God (ver. 11). While therefore the Scripture by its afore-cited commination closes the door of life against righteousness of works, that door is opened to the men of faith. The two principles are logical contradictories. To grant righteousness to faith is to deny it to legal works. This assumption furnishes our minor premise in Galatians 3:12. The legal axiom is, "He that doeth them shall live in them": that is to say, The law gives life for doing not therefore for believing; we get no sort of legal credit for that. The two ways have different starting-points, as they lead to opposite goals. From faith one marches, through God’s righteousness, to blessing; from works, through self-righteousness, to the curse.

The two paths now lie before us-the Pauline and the legal method of salvation, the Abrahamic and the Mosaic scheme of religion. According to the latter, one begins by keeping so many rules-ethical, ceremonial, or what not; and after doing this, one expects to be counted righteous by God. According to the former, the man begins by an act of self-surrendering trust in God’s word of grace, and God already reckons him just on that account, without his pretending to anything in the way of merit for himself. In short, the Legalist tries to make God believe in him: Abraham and Paul are content to believe in God. They do not set themselves over against God, with a righteousness of their own which He is bound to recognise; they commit themselves to God, that He may work out His righteousness in them. Along this path lies blessing-peace of heart, fellowship with God, moral strength, life in its fulness, depth, and permanence. From this source Paul derives all that was noblest in the Church of the Old. Covenant. And he puts the calm, grand image of Father Abraham before us for our pattern, in contrast with the narrow, painful, bitter spirit of Jewish legalism, inwardly self-condemned.

3. But how pass from this curse to that blessing? How escape from the nemesis of the broken law into the freedom, of Abraham’s faith? To this question Galatians 3:13 makes answer: "Christ bought us out of the curse of the law, having become a curse for us." Christ’s redemption changes the curse into a blessing.

We entered this Epistle under the shadow of the cross. It has been all along the centre of the writer’s thought. He has found in it the solution of the terrible problem forced upon him by the law. Law had led him to Christ’s cross; laid him in Christ’s grave; and there left him, to rise with Christ a new, free man, living henceforth to God. {Galatians 2:19-21} So we understand the purpose and the issue of the death of Jesus Christ; now we must look more narrowly at the fact itself.

"Christ became a curse!" Verily the Apostle was not "seeking to please or persuade men." This expression throws the scandal of the cross into the strongest relief. Far from veiling it or apologising for it, Paul accentuates this offence. His experience taught him that Jewish pride must be compelled to reckon with it. No, he would not have "the offence of the cross abolished". {Galatians 5:11}

And did not Christ become a curse? Could the fact be denied by any Jew? His death was that of the most abandoned criminals. By the combined verdict of Jew and Gentile, of civil and religious authority, endorsed by the voice of the populace, He was pronounced a malefactor and blasphemer. But this was not all. The hatred and injustice of men are hard to bear; yet many a sensitive man has borne them in a worthy cause without shrinking. It was a darker dread, an infliction far more crushing, that compelled the cry, "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!" Against the maledictions of men Jesus might surely at the worst have counted on the Father’s good pleasure. But even that failed Him. There fell upon His soul the death of death, the very curse of sin - abandoned by God! Men "did esteem Him" - and for the moment He esteemed Himself-"smitten of God." He hung there abhorred of men, forsaken of His God; earth all hate, heaven all blackness to His view. Are the Apostle’s words too strong? Delivering up His Son to pass through this baptism, God did in truth make Him a curse for us. By His "determinate counsel" the Almighty set Jesus Christ in the place of condemned sinners, and allowed the curse of this wicked world to claim Him for its victim.

The death that befell Him was chosen as if for the purpose of declaring Him accursed. The Jewish people have thus stigmatised Him. They made the Roman magistrate and the heathen soldiery their instrument in gibbeting their Messiah. "Shall I crucify your King?" said Pilate. "Yes," they answered, "crucify Him!" Their rulers thought to lay on the hated Nazarene an everlasting curse. Was it not written, "A curse of God is every one that hangeth on a tree?" This saying attached in the Jewish mind a peculiar loathing to the person of the dead thus exposed. Once crucified, the name of Jesus would surely perish from the lips of men; no Jew would hereafter dare to profess faith in Him. His cause could never surmount this ignominy. In later times the bitterest epithet that Jewish scorn could fling against our Saviour (God forgive them!) was just this word of Deuteronomy, hattaluy- the hanged one.

This sentence of execration, with its shame freshly smarting, Paul has seized and twined into a crown of glory. "Hanged on a tree, crushed with reproach-accursed, you say, He was, my Lord, my Saviour! It is true. But the curse He bore was ours. His death, unmerited by Him, was our ransom-price, endured to buy us out of our curse of sin and death." This is the doctrine of the vicarious sacrifice. In speaking of "ransom" and "redemption," using the terms of the market, Christ and His Apostles are applying human language to things in their essence unutterable, things which we define in their effects rather than in themselves. "We know, we prophesy, in part." We know that we were condemned by God’s holy law; that Christ, Himself sinless, came under the law’s curse, and taking the place of sinners, "became sin for us"; and that His interposition has brought us out of condemnation into blessing and peace. How can we conceive the matter otherwise than as it is put in His own words: He "gave Himself a ransom-The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep?" He suffers in our room and stead; He bears inflictions incurred by our sins, and due to ourselves; He does this at the Divine Will, and under the Divine Law: what is this but to "buy us out," to pay the price which frees us from the prison-house of death?

"Christ redeemed us, " says the Apostle, thinking questionless of himself and his Jewish kindred, on whom the law weighed so heavily. His redemption was offered "to the Jew first." But not to the Jew alone, nor as a Jew. The time of release had come for all men. "Abraham’s blessing," long withheld, was now to be imparted, as it had been promised, to "all the tribes of the earth." In the removal of the legal curse, God comes near to men as in the ancient days. His love is shed abroad; His spirit of sonship dwells in human hearts. In Christ Jesus crucified, risen, reigning-a new world comes into being, which restores and surpasses the promise of the old.

Verses 15-18

Chapter 13


GENTILE Christians, Paul has shown, are already sons of Abraham. Their faith proves their descent from the father of the faithful. The redemption of Christ has expiated the law’s curse, and brought to its fulfilment the primeval promise. It has conferred on Jew and Gentile alike the gift of the Holy Spirit, sealing the Divine inheritance. "Abraham’s blessing" has "come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus." What can Judaism do for them more? Except, in sooth, to bring them under its inevitable curse.

But here the Judaist might interpose: "Granting so much as this, allowing that God covenanted with Abraham on terms of faith, and that believing Gentiles are entitled to his blessing, did not God make a second covenant with Moses, promising further blessings upon terms of law? If the one covenant remains valid, why not the other? From the school of Abraham the Gentiles must pass on to the school of Moses." This inference might appear to follow, by parity of reasoning, from what the apostle has just advanced. And it accords with the position which the legalistic opposition had now taken up. The people of the circumcision, they argued, retained within the Church of Christ their peculiar calling; and Gentiles, if they would be perfect Christians, must accept the covenant-token and the unchangeable ordinances of Israel. Faith is but the first step in the new life; the discipline of the law will bring it to completion. Release from the curse of the law, they might contend, leaves its obligations still binding, its ordinances unrepealed. Christ "came not to destroy, but to fulfil."

So we are brought to the question of the relation of law and promise, which is the theoretical, as that of Gentile to Jewish Christianity is the practical problem of the Epistle. The remainder of the chapter is occupied with its discussion. This section is the special contribution of the Epistle to Christian theology-a contribution weighty enough of itself to give to it a foremost place amongst the documents of Revelation. Paul has written nothing more masterly. The breadth and subtlety of his reasoning, his grasp of the spiritual realities underlying the facts of history, are conspicuously manifest in these paragraphs, despite the extreme difficulty and obscurity of certain sentences.

This part of the Epistle is in fact a piece of inspired historical criticism; it is a magnificent reconstruction of the course of sacred history. It is Paul’s theory of doctrinal development, condensing into a few pregnant sentences the rationale of Judaism, explaining the method of God’s dealings with mankind from Abraham down to Christ, and fitting the legal system into its place in this order with an exactness and consistency that supply an effectual verification of the hypothesis. To such a height has the apostle been raised, so completely is he emancipated from the fetters of Jewish thought, that the whole Mosaic economy becomes to his mind no more than an interlude, a passing stage in the march of Revelation.

This passage finds its counterpart in Romans 11:1-36. Here the past, there the future fortunes of Israel are set forth. Together the two chapters form a Jewish theodicy, a vindication of God’s treatment of the chosen people from first to last. Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-57 supply a wider exposition, on the same principles, of the fortunes of mankind at large. The human mind has conceived nothing more splendid and yet sober, more humbling and exalting, than the view of man’s history and destiny thus sketched out.

The Apostle seeks to establish, in the first place, the fixedness of the Abrahamic covenant. This is the main purport of the passage. At the same time, in Galatians 3:16, he brings into view the object of the covenant, the person designated by it - Christ, its proper Heir. This consideration, though stated here parenthetically, lies at the basis of the settlement made with Abraham; its importance is made manifest by the after-course of Paul’s exposition.

At this point, where the discussion opens out into its larger proportions, we observe that the sharp tone of personal feeling with which the chapter commenced has disappeared. In verse 15 {Galatians 3:15} the writer drops into a conciliatory key. He seems to forget the wounded apostle in the theologian and instructor in Christ. "Brethren," he says, "I speak in human fashion - I put this matter in a way that every one will understand." He lifts himself above the Galatian quarrel, and from the height of his argument addresses himself to the common intelligence of mankind.

But is it covenant or testament that the Apostle intends here? "I speak after the manner of men," he continues; "if the case were that of a man’s διαθήκη, once ratified, no one would set it aside, or add to it." The presumption is that the word is employed in its accepted, everyday significance. And that unquestionably was "testament." It would never occur to an ordinary Greek reader to interpret the expression otherwise. Philo and Josephus, the representatives of contemporary Hellenistic usage, read this term, in the Old Testament, with the connotation of διαθήκη, in current Greek. The context of this passage is in harmony with their usage. The "covenant" of Galatians 3:15 corresponds to "the blessing of Abraham," and "the promise of the Spirit" in the two preceding verses. Again, in Galatians 3:17, "promise" and "covenant" are synonymous. Now a ‘covenant of promise’ amounts to a "testament." It is the prospective nature of the covenant, the bond which it creates between Abraham and the Gentiles, which the Apostle has been insisting on ever since verse 6. It belongs "to Abraham and to his seed"; it comes by way of gift and ‘grace’ (Galatians 3:18; Galatians 3:22); it invests those taking part in it with "sonship" and rights of "inheritance" (Galatians 3:18; Galatians 3:26; Galatians 3:29, etc.) These ideas cluster round the thought of a testament; they are not inherent in covenant, strictly considered. Even in the Old Testament this latter designation fails to convey all that belongs to the Divine engagements there recorded. In a covenant the two parties are conceived as equals in point of law, binding themselves by a compact that bears on each alike. Here it is not so. The disposition of affairs is made by God, who in the sovereignty of His grace "hath granted it to Abraham." It was surely a reverent sense of this difference which dictated to the men of the Septuagint the use of διαθηκη rather than συνθηκη the ordinary term for covenant or compact, in their rendering of the Hebrew berith.

This aspect of the covenants now becomes their commanding feature. Our Lord’s employment of this word at the Last Supper gave it the affecting reference to His death which it has conveyed ever since to the Christian mind. The Latin translators were guided by a true instinct when in the Scriptures of the New Covenant they wrote testamentum everywhere, not faedus or pactum, for this word. The testament is a covenant-and something more. The testator designates his heir, and binds himself to grant to him at the predetermined time {Galatians 4:2} the specified boon, which it remains for the beneficiary simply to accept. Such a Divine testament has come down from Abraham to his Gentile sons.

1. Now when a man has made a testament, and it has been ratified-"proved," as we should say - it stands good for ever. No one has afterwards any power to set it aside, or to attach to it a new codicil, modifying its previous terms. There it stands-a document complete and unchangeable (Galatians 3:15).

Such a testament God gave "to Abraham and his seed." It was "ratified" (or "confirmed") by the final attestation made to the patriarch after the supreme trial of his faith in the sacrifice of Isaac: "By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." {Hebrews 6:17} In human testaments the ratification takes place through another; but God "having no greater," yet "to show to the heirs of the promise the immutability of His counsel" confirmed it by His own oath. Nothing was wanting to mark the Abrahamic covenant with an indelible character, and to show that it expressed an unalterable purpose in the mind of God.

With such Divine asseveration "were the promises spoken to Abraham, and his seed." This last word diverts the Apostle’s thoughts for a moment, and he gives a side-glance at the person thus designated in the terms of the promise. Then he returns to his former statement, urging it home against the Legalists: "Now this is what I mean: a testament, previously ratified by God, the Law which dates four hundred and thirty years later cannot annul, so as to abrogate the Promise" (Galatians 3:17). The bearing of Paul’s argument is now perfectly clear. He is using the promise to Abraham to overthrow the supremacy of the Mosaic law. The Promise was, he says, the prior settlement. No subsequent transaction could invalidate it or disqualify those entitled under it to receive the inheritance. That testament lies at the foundation of the sacred history. The Jew least of all could deny this. How could such an instrument be set aside? Or what right has any one to limit it by stipulations of a later date?

When a man amongst ourselves bequeaths his property, and his will is publicly attested, its directions are scrupulously observed; to tamper with them is a crime. Shall we have less respect to this Divine settlement, this venerable charter of human salvation? You say, The Law of Moses has its rights: it must be taken into account as well as the Promise to Abraham. True; but it has no power to cancel or restrict the Promise, older by four centuries and a half. The later must be adjusted to the earlier dispensation, the Law interpreted by the Promise. God has not made two testaments-the one solemnly committed to, the faith and hope of mankind, only to be retracted and substituted by something of a different stamp. He could not thus stultify Himself. And we must not apply the Mosaic enactments, addressed to a single people, in such way as to neutralise the original provisions made for the race at large. Our human instincts of good faith, our reverence for public compacts and established rights, forbid our allowing the Law of Moses to trench upon the inheritance assured to mankind in the Covenant of Abraham.

This contradiction necessarily arises if the Law is put on a level with the Promise. To read the Law as a continuation of the older instrument is virtually to efface the latter, to "make the promise of none effect." The two institutes proceed on opposite principles. "If the inheritance is of law, it is no longer of promise" (Galatians 3:18). Law prescribes certain things to be done, and guarantees a corresponding reward-so much pay for so much work. That, in its proper place, is an excellent principle. But the promise stands on another footing: "God hath bestowed it on Abraham by way of grace" (κεχαριοται, ver. 18). It holds out a blessing conferred by the Promiser’s good will, to be conveyed at the right time without demanding anything more from the recipient than faith, which is just the will to receive. So God dealt with Abraham, centuries before any one had dreamed of the Mosaic system of law. God appeared to Abraham in His sovereign grace; Abraham met that grace with faith. So the Covenant was formed. And so it abides, clear of all legal conditions and claims of human merit, an "everlasting covenant". {Genesis 17:7; Hebrews 13:20}

Its permanence is emphasised by the tense of the verb relating to it. The Greek perfect describes settled facts, actions or events that carry with them finality. Accordingly we read in Galatians 3:15; Galatians 3:17 of "a ratified covenant"-one that stands ratified: In Galatians 3:18, "God hath granted it to Abraham"-a grace never to be recalled. Again (Galatians 3:19), "the seed to whom the promise hath been made"-once for all. A perfect participle is used of the Law in Galatians 3:17 (γεγονως), for it is a fact of abiding significance that it was so much later than the Promise; and in Galatians 3:24, "the Law hath been our tutor," - its work in that respect is an enduring benefit. Otherwise the verbs relating to Mosaism in this context are past in tense, describing what is now matter of history, a course of events that has come and gone. Meanwhile the Promise remains an immovable certainty, a settlement never to be disturbed. The emphatic position of οθεος (Galatians 3:18), at the very end of the paragraph, serves to heighten its effect. "It is God that hath bestowed this grace on Abraham." There is a challenge in the word, as though Paul asked, "Who shall make it void?"

Paul’s chronology in Galatians 3:17 has been called in question. We are not much concerned to defend it. Whether Abraham preceded Moses by four hundred and thirty years, as the Septuagint and the Samaritan text of Exodus 12:40-41 affirm, and as Paul’s contemporaries commonly supposed; or whether, as it stands in the Hebrew text of Exodus, this was the length of time covered by the sojourn in Egypt, so that the entire period would be about half as long again, is a problem that Old Testament historians must settle for themselves; it need not trouble the reader of Paul. The shorter period is amply sufficient for his purpose. If any one had said, "No, Paul; you are mistaken. It was six hundred and thirty, not four hundred and thirty years from Abraham to Moses"; he would have accepted the correction with the greatest good will. He might have replied, "So much the better for my argument." It is possible to "strain out" the "gnats" of Biblical criticism, and yet to swallow huge "camels" of improbability.

2. Galatians 3:16 remains for our consideration. In proving the steadfastness of the covenant with Abraham, the Apostle at the same time directs our attention to the Person designated by it, to whom its fulfilment was guaranteed. "To Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed-‘to thy seed,’ which is Christ."

This identification the Judaist would not question. He made no doubt that the Messiah was the legatee of the testament, "the seed to whom it hath been promised." Whatever partial and germinant fulfillments the Promise had received, it is on Christ in chief that the inheritance of Israel devolves. In its true and full intent, this promise, like all predictions of the triumph of God’s kingdom, was understood to be waiting for His advent.

The fact that this Promise looked to Christ, lends additional force to the Apostle’s assertion of its indelibility. The words "unto Christ," which were inserted in the text of Galatians 3:17 at an early time, are a correct gloss. The covenant did not lie between God and Abraham alone. It embraced Abraham’s descendants in their unity, culminating in Christ. It looked down the stream of time to the last ages. Abraham was its starting-point; Christ its goal. "To thee-and to thy seed": these words span the gulf of two thousand years, and overarch the Mosaic dispensation. So that the covenant vouchsafed to Abraham placed him, even at that distance of time, in close personal relationship with the Saviour of mankind. No wonder that it was so evangelical in its terms, and brought the patriarch an experience of religion which anticipated the privileges of Christian faith. God’s covenant with Abraham, being in effect His covenant with mankind in Christ, stands both first and last. The Mosaic economy holds a second and subsidiary place in the scheme of Revelation.

The reason the Apostle gives for reading Christ into the promise is certainly peculiar. He has been taxed with false exegesis, with "rabbinical hair-splitting" and the like. Here, it is said, is a fine example of the art, familiar to theologians, of torturing out of a word a predetermined sense, foreign to its original meaning. "He doth not say, and to seeds, as referring to many; but as referring to one, and to thy seed, which is Christ." Paul appears to infer from the fact that the word "seed" is grammatically singular, and not plural, that it designates a single individual, who can be no other than Christ. On the surface this does, admittedly, look like a verbal quibble. The word "seed," in Hebrew and Greek as in English, is not used, and could not in ordinary speech be used in the plural to denote a number of descendants. It is a collective singular. The plural applies only to different kinds of seed. The Apostle, we may presume, was quite as well aware of this as his critics, It does not need philological research or grammatical acumen to establish a distinction obvious to common sense. This piece of wordplay is in reality the vehicle of a historical argument, as unimpeachable as it is important. Abraham was taught, by a series of lessons, {Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 15:2-6; Genesis 17:4-8; Genesis 17:15-21; Genesis 22:16-18} to refer the promise to the single line of Isaac. Paul elsewhere lays great stress on this consideration; he brings Isaac into close analogy with Christ; for he was the child of faith, and represented in his birth a spiritual principle and the communication of a supernatural life. {Galatians 4:21-31; Romans 4:17-22; comp Hebrews 11:11-12} The true seed of Abraham was in the first instance one, not many. In the primary realisation of the Promise, typical of its final accomplishment, it received a singular interpretation; it concentrated itself on the one, spiritual offspring, putting aside the many, natural and heterogeneous. (Hagarite or Keturite) descendants. And this sifting principle, this law of election which singles out from the varieties of nature the Divine type, comes into play all along the line of descent, as in the case of Jacob, and of David.

It finds its supreme expression in the person of Christ. The Abrahamic testament devolved under a law of spiritual selection. By its very nature it pointed ultimately to Jesus Christ. When Paul writes "Not to seeds, as of many," he virtually says that the word of inspiration was singular in sense as well as in form; in the mind of the Promiser, and in the interpretation given to it by events, it bore an individual reference, and was never intended to apply to Abraham’s descendants at large, to the many and miscellaneous "children according to flesh."

Paul’s interpretation of the Promise has abundant analogies. All great principles of human history tend to embody themselves in some "chosen seed." They find at last their true heir, the one man destined to be their fulfilment. Moses, David, Paul; Socrates and Alexander; Shakespeare, Newton, are examples of this. The work that such men do belongs to themselves. Had any promise assured the world of the gifts to be bestowed through them, in each case one might have said beforehand, It will have to be, "Not as of many, but as of one." It is not multitudes, but men that rule the world. "By one man sin entered into the world: we shall reign in life through the one Jesus Christ." From the first words of hope given to the repentant pair banished from Eden, down to the latest predictions of the Coming One, the Promise became at every stage more determinate and individualising. The finger of prophecy pointed with increasing distinctness, now from this side, now from that, to the veiled form of the Chosen of God-"the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham," the "star out of Jacob," the "Son of David," the "King Messiah," the suffering "Servant of the Lord," the "smitten Shepherd," the "Son of man, coming in the clouds of heaven." In His person all the lines of promise and preparation meet; the scattered rays of Divine light are brought to a focus. And the desire of all nations, groping, half-articulate, unites with the inspired foresight of the seers of Israel to find its goal in Jesus Christ. There was but One who could meet the manifold conditions created by the world’s previous history, and furnish the key to the mysteries and contradictions which had gathered round the path of Revelation.

Notwithstanding, the Promise had and has a generic application, attending its personal accomplishment. "Salvation is of the Jews." Christ belongs "to the Jew first." Israel was raised up and consecrated to be the trustee of the Promise given to the world through Abraham. The vocation of this gifted race, the secret of its indestructible vitality, lies in its relationship to Jesus Christ. They are "His own," though they "received Him not." Apart from Him, Israel is nothing to the world-nothing but a witness against itself. Premising its essential fulfilment in Christ, Paul still reserves for his own people their peculiar share in the Testament of Abraham-not a place of exclusive privilege, but of richer honour and larger influence. "Hath God cast away His people?" he asks: "Nay, indeed. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham." So that, after all, it is something to be of Abraham’s children by nature. Despite this hostility to Judaism, the Apostle claims for the Jewish race a special office in the dispensation of the Gospel, in the working out of God’s ultimate designs for mankind. {Romans 11:1-36}

Would they only accept their Messiah, how exalted a rank amongst the nations awaits them! The title "seed of Abraham" with Paul, like the "Servant of Jehovah" in Isaiah, has a double significance. The sufferings of the elect people made them in their national character a pathetic type of the great Sufferer and Servant of the Lord, His supreme Elect. In Jesus Christ the collective destiny of Israel is attained; its prophetic ideal, the spiritual conception of its calling, is realised, -"the seed to whom it hath been promised."

Paul is not alone in his insistence on the relation of Christ to Abraham. It is announced in the first sentence of the New Testament: "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, son of Abraham, son of David." And it is set forth with singular beauty in the Gospel of the Infancy. Mary’s song and Zacharias’ prophecy recall the freedom and simplicity of an inspiration long silenced, as they tell how "the Lord hath visited and redeemed His people; He hath shown mercy to our fathers, in remembrance of His holy covenant, the oath which He sware unto Abraham our father." And again, "He hath helped Israel His servant in remembrance of His mercy, as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever." {Luke 1:54-55; Luke 1:68-73} These pious and tender souls who watched over the cradle of our Lord and stood in the dawning of His new day, instinctively cast their thoughts back to the Covenant of Abraham. In it they found matter for their songs and a warrant for their hopes, such as no ritual ordinances could furnish. Their utterances breathe a spontaneity of faith, a vernal freshness of joy and hope to which the Jewish people for ages had been strangers. The dull constraint and stiffness, the harsh fanaticism of the Hebrew nature, have fallen from them. They have put on the beautiful garments of Zion, her ancient robes of praise. For the time of the Promise draws near. Abraham’s Seed is now to be born; and Abraham’s faith revives to meet Him. It breaks forth anew out of the dry and long-barren soil of Judaism; it is raised up to a richer and an enduring life. Paul’s doctrine of Grace does but translate into logic the poetry of Mary’s and Zacharias’ anthems. The Testament of Abraham supplies their common theme.

Verses 19-24

Chapter 14


"WHAT then is the law?" So the Jew might well exclaim. Paul has been doing nothing but disparage it.-"You say that the Law of Moses brings no righteousness or blessing, but only a curse; that the covenant made with Abraham ignores it, and does not admit of being in any way qualified by its provisions. What then do you make of it? Is it not God’s voice that we hear in its commands? Have the sons of Abraham ever since Moses’ day been wandering from the true path of faith? "Such inferences might be drawn, not unnaturally, from the Apostle’s denunciation of Legalism. They were actually drawn by Marcion in the second century, in his extreme hostility to Judaism and the Old Testament.

This question must indeed have early forced itself upon Paul’s mind. How could the doctrine of Salvation by Faith and the supremacy of the Abrahamic Covenant be reconciled with the Divine commission of Moses? How, on the other hand, could the displacement of the Law by the Gospel be justified, if the former too was authorised and inspired by God? Can the same God have given to men these two contrasted revelations of Himself? The answer, contained in the passage before us, is that the two revelations had different ends in view. They are complementary, not competing institutes. Of the two, the Covenant of Promise has the prior right; it points immediately to Christ. The Legal economy is ancillary thereto; it never professed to accomplish the work of grace, as the Judaists would have it do. Its office was external, but nevertheless accessory to that of the Promise. It guarded and schooled the infant heirs of Abraham’s Testament, until the time of its falling due, when they should be prepared in the manhood of faith to enter on their inheritance. "The law hath been our tutor for Christ, with the intent we should be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).

This aspect of the Law, under which, instead of being an obstacle to the life of faith, it is seen to subserve it, has been suggested already. "For I," the Apostle said, "through law died to law". {Galatians 2:19} The Law first impelled him to Christ. It constrained him to look beyond itself. Its discipline was a preparation for faith. Paul reverses the relation in which Faith and Law were set by the Judaists. They brought in the Law to perfect the unfinished work of faith (Galatians 3:3): he made it preliminary and pro paedeutic. What they gave out for more advanced doctrine, he treats as the "weak rudiments," belonging to the infancy of the sons of God. {Galatians 4:1-11} Up to this point, however, the Mosaic law has been considered chiefly in a negative way, as a foil to the Covenant of grace. The Apostle has now to treat of its nature more positively and explicitly, first indeed in contrast with the promise (Galatians 3:19-20); and secondly, in its co-operation with the promise (Galatians 3:22-24). Galatians 3:21 is the transition from the first to the second of these conceptions.

I. "For the sake of the transgressions (committed against it) the law was added." The Promise, let us remember, was complete in itself. Its testament of grace was sealed and delivered age’s before the Mosaic legislation, which could not therefore retract or modify it. The Law was "superadded," as something over and above, attached to the former revelation for a subsidiary purpose lying outside the proper scope of the Promise. What then was this purpose?

1. For the sake of transgressions. In other words, the object of the law of Moses was to develop sin. This is not the whole of the Apostle’s answer; but it is the key to his explanation. This design of the Mosaic revelation determined its form and character. Here is the standpoint from which we are to estimate its working, and its relation to the kingdom of grace. The saying of Romans 5:20 is Paul’s commentary upon this sentence: "The law came in by the way, in order that the trespass (of Adam) might multiply." The same necessity is expressed in the paradox of 1 Corinthians 15:56 : "The strength of sin is the law."

This enigma, as a psychological question, is resolved by the Apostle in Romans 7:13-24. The law acts as a spur and provocative, rousing the power of sin to conscious activity. However good in itself, coming into contact with man’s evil flesh, its promulgation is followed inevitably by transgression. Its commands are so many occasions for sin to come into action, to exhibit and confirm its power. So that the Law practically assumes the same relation to sin as that in which the Promise stands to righteousness and life. In its union with the law our sinful nature perpetually "brings forth fruit unto death." And this mournful result God certainly contemplated when He gave the Law of Moses.

But are we compelled to out so harsh a sense on the Apostle’s words? May we not say that the Law was imposed in order to restrain sin, to keep it within bounds? Some excellent interpreters read the verse in this way. It is quite true that, in respect of public morals and the outward manifestations of evil, the Jewish law acted beneficially, as a bridle upon the sinful passions. But this is beside the mark. The Apostle is thinking only of inward righteousness, that which avails before God. The wording of the clause altogether excludes the milder interpretation. For the sake of (χαριν, Latin gratia) signifies promotion, not prevention. And the word transgression, by its Pauline and Jewish usage, compels us to this view. Transgression presupposes law. It is the specific form which sin takes under law-the reaction of sin against law. What was before a latent tendency, a bias of disposition, now starts to light as a flagrant, guilty fact. By bringing about repeated transgressions the Law reveals the true nature of sin, so that it "becomes exceeding sinful." It does not make matters worse; but it shows how bad they really are. It aggravates the disease, in order to bring it to a crisis. And this is a necessary step towards the cure.

2. The Law of Moses was therefore a provisional dispensation, -"added until the Seed should come to whom the promise hath been made." Its object was to make itself superfluous. It "is not, made for a righteous man; but for the lawless and unruly". {1 Timothy 1:9} Like the discipline and drill of a strictly governed boyhood, it was calculated to produce a certain effect on the moral nature, after the attainment of which it was no longer needed and its continuance would be injurious. The essential part of this effect lay, however, not so much in the outward regularity it imposed, as in the inner repugnancy excited by it, the consciousness of sin unsubdued and defiant. By its operation on the conscience the Law taught man his need of redemption. It thus prepared the platform for the work of Grace. The Promise had been given. The coming of the Covenant-heir was assured. But its fulfilment was far off. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise,"-and yet it was two thousand years before "Abraham’s seed" came to birth. The degeneracy of the patriarch’s children in the third and fourth generation showed how little the earlier heirs of the Promise were capable of receiving it. A thousand years later, when the Covenant was renewed with David, the ancient predictions seemed at last nearing their fulfilment. But no; the times were still unripe; the human conscience but half-disciplined. The bright dawn of the Davidic monarchy was overclouded. The legal yoke is made more burdensome; sore chastisements fall on the chosen people, marked out for suffering as well as honour. Prophecy has many lessons yet to inculcate. The world’s education for Christ has another millennium to run.

Nor when He came, did "the Son of man find faith in the earth"! The people of the Law had no sooner seen than they hated "Him to whom the law and the prophets gave witness." Yet, strangely enough, the very manner of their rejection showed how complete was the preparation for His coming. Two features, rarely united, marked the ethical condition of the Jewish people at this time-an intense moral consciousness, and a deep moral perversion; reverence for the Divine law, combined with an alienation from its spirit. The chapter of Paul’s autobiography to which we have so often referred {Romans 7:7-24} is typical of the better mind of Judaism. It is the ne plus ultra of self-condemnation. The consciousness of sin in mankind has ripened.

3. And further, the Law of Moses revealed God’s will in a veiled and accommodated fashion, while the Promise and the Gospel are its direct emanations. This is the inference which we draw from Galatians 3:19-20.

We are well aware of the extreme difficulty of this passage. Galatians 3:20 has received, it is computed, some four hundred and thirty distinct interpretations. Of all the "hard things our beloved brother Paul" has written, this is the very hardest. The words which make up the sentence are simple and familiar; and yet in their combination most enigmatic. And it stands in the midst of a paragraph among the most interesting and important that the Apostle ever wrote.

Let us look first at the latter clause of Galatians 3:19 : "ordained through angels, in the hand (i.e., by means) of a mediator." These circumstances, as the orthodox Jew supposed, enhanced the glory of the Law. The pomp and formality under which Mosaism was ushered in, the presence of the angelic host to whose agency the terrific manifestations attending the Law-giving were referred, impressed the popular mind with a sense of the incomparable sacredness of the Sinaitic revelation. It was this assumption which gave its force to the climax of Stephen’s speech, of which we hear an echo in these words of Paul: "who received the law at the disposition of angels-and have not kept it!" The simplicity and informality of the Divine communion with Abraham, and again of Christ’s appearance in the world and His intercourse with men, afford a striking contrast to all this.

More is hinted than is expressly said in Scripture of the part taken by the angels in the Law-giving. Deuteronomy 33:2 and Psalms 68:17 give the most definite indications of the ancient faith of Israel on this point. But "the Angel of the Lord" is a familiar figure of Old Testament revelation. In Hebrew thought impressive physical phenomena were commonly associated with the presence of spiritual agents. The language of Hebrews 1:7; Hebrews 2:2 endorses this belief, which in no way conflicts with natural science, and is in keeping with the Christian faith.

But while such intermediacy, from the Jewish standpoint, increased the splendour and authority of the Law, believers in Christ had learned to look at the matter otherwise. A revelation "administered through angels, " spoke to them of a God distant and obscured, of a people unfit for access to His presence. This is plainly intimated in the added clause, "by means of a mediator, "- a title commonly given to Moses, and recalling the entreaty Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:22-28 : "The people said, Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die." These are the words of sinful men, receiving a law given, as the Apostle has just declared, on purpose to convict them of their sins. The form of the Mosaic revelation tended therefore in reality not to exalt the Law, but to exhibit its difference from the Promise and the distance at which it placed men from God.

The same thought is expressed, as Bishop Lightfoot aptly shows, by the figure of "the veil on Moses’ face," which Paul employs with so much felicity in 2 Corinthians 3:13-18. In the external glory of the Sinaitic law-giving, as on the illuminated face of the Law-giver, there was a fading brightness, a visible lustre concealing its imperfect and transitory character. The theophanies of the Old Covenant were a magnificent veil, hiding while they revealed. Under the Law, angels, Moses came between God and man. It was God who in His own grace conveyed the promise to justified Abraham (Galatians 3:18).

The Law employed a mediator; the Promise did not (Galatians 3:19). With this contrast in our minds we approach Galatians 3:20. On the other side of it (Galatians 3:21), we find Law and Promise again in sharp antithesis. The same antithesis runs through the intervening sentence. The two clauses of Galatians 3:20 belong to the Law and Promise respectively. "Now a mediator is not of one": that is an axiom which holds good of the Law. "But God is one": this glorious truth, the first article of Israel’s creed, applies to the Promise. Where "a mediator" is necessary, unity is wanting, -not simply in a numerical, but in a moral sense, as matter of feeling and of aim. There are separate interests, discordant views to be consulted. This was true of Mosaism. Although in substance "holy and just and good," it was by no means purely Divine. It was not the absolute religion. Not only was it defective; it contained, in the judgment of Christ, positive elements of wrong, precepts given "for the hardness of men’s hearts." It largely consisted of "carnal ordinances, imposed till the time of rectification". {Hebrews 9:10} The theocratic legislation of the Pentateuch is lacking in the unity and consistency of a perfect revelation. Its disclosures of God were refracted in a manifest degree by the atmosphere through which they passed.

"But God is one." Here again the unity is moral and essential-of character and action, rather than of number. In the Promise God spoke immediately and for Himself. There was no screen to intercept the view of faith, no go-between like Moses, with God on the mountaintop shrouded in thunder-clouds and the people terrified or wantoning far below. Of all differences between the Abrahamic and Judaic types of piety this was the chief. The man of Abraham’s faith sees God in His unity. The Legalist gets his religion at second-hand, mixed with un-divine elements. He believes that there is one God; but his hold upon the truth is formal. There is no unity, no simplicity of faith in his conception of God. He projects on to the Divine image confusing shadows of human imperfection.

God is one: this great article of faith was the foundation of Israel’s life. It forms the first sentence of the Shema, the "Hear, O Israel," {Deuteronomy 6:4-9} which every pious Jew repeats twice a day, and which in literal obedience to the Lawgiver’s words he fixes above his house-door, and binds upon his arm and brow at the time of prayer. Three times besides has the Apostle quoted this sentence. The first of these passages, Romans 3:29-30, {Comp. 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; also Mark 12:29-30; James 2:19} may help us to understand its application here. In that place he employs it as a weapon against Jewish exclusiveness. If there is but "one God," he argues, "there can be only one way of justification, for Jew and Gentile alike." The inference drawn here is even more bold and singular. There is "one God," who appeared in His proper character in the Covenant with Abraham. If the Law of Moses gives us a conception of His nature in any wise different from this, it is because other and lower elements found a place in it. Through the whole course of revelation there is one God-manifest to Abraham, veiled in Mosaism, revealed again in His perfect image in "the face of Jesus Christ."

II. So far the Apostle has pursued the contrast between the systems of Law and Grace. When finally he has referred the latter rather than the former to the "one God," we naturally ask, "Is the Law then against the promises of God?" (Galatians 3:21). Was the Legal dispensation a mere reaction, a retrogression from the Promise? This would be to push Paul’s argument to an antinomian extreme: He hastens to protest.-"The law against the promises? Away with the thought." Not on the Apostle’s premises, but on those of his opponents, did this consequence ensue. It is they who set the two at variance, by trying to make law do the work of grace. "For if a law had been given that could bring men to life, righteousness would verily in that case have been of law" (Galatians 3:21). That righteousness, and therefore life, is not of law, the Apostle has abundantly shown. {Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:10-13} Had the Law provided some efficient means of its own for winning righteousness, there would then indeed have been a conflict between the two principles. As matters stand there is none. Law and Promise move on different planes. Their functions are distinct. Yet there is a connection between them. The design of the Law is to mediate between the Promise and its fulfilment. "The trespass" must be "multiplied," the knowledge of sin deepened, before Grace can do its office. The fever of sin has to come to its crisis, before the remedy can take effect. Law is therefore not the enemy, but the minister of Grace. It was charged with a purpose lying beyond itself. "Christ is the end of the law, for righteousness". {Romans 10:4}

1. For, in the first place, the law cuts men off from all other hope of salvation.

On the Judaistic hypothesis, "righteousness would have been of law." But quite on the contrary, "the Scripture shuts up everything under sin, that the promise might be given in the way of faith in Jesus Christ, to them that believe" (Galatians 3:22). Condemnation inevitable, universal, was pronounced by the Divine word under the Law, not in order that men might remain crushed beneath its weight, but that, abandoning vain hopes of self-justification, they might find in Christ their true deliverer.

The Apostle is referring here to the general support of "the Scripture." His assertion embraces the whole teaching of the Old Testament concerning human sinfulness, embodied, for example, in the chain of citations drawn Romans 3:10-18. Wherever the man looking for legal justification turned, the Scripture met him with some new command which drove him back upon the sense of his moral helplessness. It fenced him in with prohibitions; it showered on him threatenings and reproaches; it besieged him in ever narrowing circles. And if he felt less the pressure of its outward burdens, all the more was he tormented by inward disharmony and self-accusation.

Now the judgment of Scripture is not uttered against this class of men or that, against this type of sin or that. Its impeachment sweeps the entire area of human life, sounding the depths of the heart, searching every avenue of thought and desire. It makes of the world one vast prison-house, with the Law for jailor, and mankind held fast in chains of sin, waiting for death. In this position the Apostle had found himself; {Romans 7:24-25; Romans 8:1-2} and in his own heart he saw a mirror of the world. "Every mouth was stopped, and all the world brought in guilty before God". {Romans 3:19} This condition he graphically describes in terms of his former experience, in Galatians 3:23 : "Before faith came, under law we were kept in ward, being shut up unto the faith that was to be revealed." The Law was all the while standing guard over its subjects, watching and checking every attempt to escape, but intending to hand them over in due time to the charge of Faith. The Law posts its ordinances, like so many sentinels, round the prisoner’s cell. The cordon is complete. He tries again and again to break out; the iron circle will not yield. But deliverance will yet be his. The day of faith approaches. It dawned long ago in Abraham’s Promise. Even now its light shines into his dungeon, and he hears the word of Jesus, "Thy sins are forgiven thee; go in peace." Law, the stern jailor, has after all been a good friend, if it has reserved him for this. It prevents the sinner escaping to a futile and illusive freedom.

In this dramatic fashion Paul shows how the Mosaic law by its ethical discipline prepared men for a life which by itself it was incapable of giving. Where Law has done its work well, it produces, as in the Apostle’s earlier experience, a profound sense of personal demerit, a tenderness of conscience, a contrition of heart which makes one ready thankfully to receive "the righteousness which is of God by faith." In every age and condition of life a like effect is wrought upon men who honestly strive to live up to an exacting moral standard. They confess their failure. They lose self-conceit. They grow "poor in spirit," willing to accept "the abundance of the gift of righteousness" in Jesus Christ.

Faith is trebly honoured here. It is the condition of the gift, the characteristic of its recipient (Galatians 3:22; Galatians 3:24), and the end for which he was put under the charge of Law (Galatians 3:23). "To them that believe" is "given," as it was in foretaste to Abraham (Galatians 3:6), a righteousness unearned, and bestowed on Christ’s account; {Galatians 3:13; Romans 5:17-18} which brings with it the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, reserved in its conscious possession for Abraham’s children in the faith of Christ. {Galatians 3:14; Galatians 4:4} These blessings form the commencement of that true life whose root is a spiritual union with Christ, and which reaches on to eternity. {Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:21; Romans 6:23} Of such life the Law could impart nothing; but it taught men their need of it, and disposed them to accept it. This was the purpose of its institution. It was the forerunner, not the finisher, of Faith.

2. Paul makes use of a second figure to describe the office of the Law; under which he gives his final answer to the question of Galatians 3:19. The metaphor of the jailor is exchanged for that of the tutor." The law hath been our παιδαγωγος for Christ." This Greek word (boy-leader) has no English equivalent; we have not the thing it represents. The "pedagogue" was a sort of nursery governor, -a confidential servant in the Greek household, commonly a slave, who had charge of the boy from his infancy, and was responsible for his oversight. In his food, his clothes, his home-lessons, his play, his walks-at every point the pedagogue was required to wait upon his young charge, and to control his movements. Amongst other offices, his tutor might have to conduct the boy to school; and it has been supposed that Paul is thinking of this duty, as though he meant, "The Law has been our pedagogue, to take us to Christ, our true teacher." But he adds, "That we might be justified of faith." The "tutor" of Galatians 3:24 is parallel to the "guard" of the last verse; he represents a distinctly disciplinary influence.

This figure implies not like the last the imprisoned condition of the subject-but his childish, undeveloped state. This is an advance of thought. The Law was something more than a system of restraint and condemnation. It contained an element of progress. Under the tutelage of his pedagogue the boy is growing up to manhood. At the end of its term the Law will hand over its charge mature in capacity and equal to the responsibilities of faith. "If then the Law is a παιδαγωγος, it is not hostile to Grace, but its fellow-worker; but should it continue to hold us fast when Grace has come, then it would be hostile" (Chrysostom).

Although the highest function, that of "giving life," is denied to the Law, a worthy part is still assigned to it by the Apostle. It was "a tutor to lead men to Christ." Judaism was an education for Christianity. It prepared the world for the Redeemer’s coming. It drilled and moralised the religious youth of the human race. It broke up the fallow-ground of nature, and cleared a space in the weed-covered soil to receive the seed of the kingdom. Its moral regimen deepened the conviction of sin, while it multiplied its overt acts. Its ceremonial impressed on sensuous natures the idea of the Divine holiness; and its sacrificial rites gave definiteness and vividness to men’s conceptions of the necessity of atonement, failing indeed to remove sin, but awakening the need and sustaining the hope of its removal. {Hebrews 10:1-18}

The Law of Moses has formed in the Jewish nation a type of humanity like no other in the world. "They dwell alone," said Balaam, "and shall not be reckoned amongst the nations." Disciplined for ages under their harsh "pedagogue," this wonderful people acquired a strength of moral fibre and a spiritual sensibility that prepared them to be the religious leaders of mankind. Israel has given us David and Isaiah, Paul and John. Christ above all was "born under law-of David’s seed according to flesh." The influence of Jewish minds at this present time on the world’s higher thought, whether for good or evil, is incalculable; and it penetrates everywhere. The Christian Church may with increased emphasis repeat Paul’s anticipation, "What will the receiving of them be, but life from the dead!" They have a great service still to do for the Lord and for His Christ. It was well for them and for us that they have "borne the yoke in their youth."

Verses 25-29

Chapter 15


"FAITH has come!" At this announcement Law the tutor yields up his charge; Law the jailor sets his prisoner at liberty. The age of servitude has passed. In truth it endured long enough. The iron of its bondage had entered into the soul. But at last Faith is come; and with it comes a new world. The clock of time cannot be put back. The soul of man will never return to the old tutelage, nor submit again to a religion of rabbinism and sacerdotalism. "We are no longer under a pedagogue"; we have ceased to be children in the nursery, schoolboys at our tasks-"ye are all sons of God." In such terms the new-born, free spirit of Christianity speaks in Paul. He had tasted the bitterness of the Judaic yoke; no man more deeply. He had felt the weight of its impossible exactions, its fatal condemnation. This sentence is a shout of deliverance. "Wretch that I am," he had cried," who shall deliver me?-I give thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord; for the law of the Spirit of life in Him hath freed me from the law of sin and death". {Romans 7:24; Romans 8:2}

Faith is the true emancipator of the human mind. It comes to take its place as mistress of the soul, queen in the realm of the heart; to be henceforth its spring of life, the normal and guiding principle of its activity. "The life that I live in the flesh," Paul testifies, "I live in faith." The Mosaic law-a system of external, repressive ordinances-is no longer to be the basis of religion. Law itself, and for its proper purposes, Faith honours and magnifies. {Romans 3:31} It is in the interests of Law that the Apostle insists on the abolishment of its Judaic form. Faith is an essentially just principle, the rightful, original ground of human fellowship with God. In the age of Abraham, and even under the Mosaic regime, in the religion of the Prophets and Psalmists, faith was the quickening element, the wellspring of piety and hope and moral vigour. Now it is brought to light. It assumes its sovereignty, and claims its inheritance. Faith is come-for Christ is come, its "author and finisher."

The efficacy of faith lies in its object. "Works "assume an intrinsic merit in the doer; faith has its virtue in Him it trusts. It is the soul’s recumbency on Christ." Through faith in Christ Jesus," Paul goes on to say, "ye are all sons of God." Christ evokes the faith which shakes off legal bondage, leaving the age of formalism and ritual behind, and beginning for the world an era of spiritual freedom. "In Christ Jesus" faith has its being; He constitutes for the soul a new atmosphere and habitat, in which faith awakens to full existence, bursts the confining shell of legalism, recognises itself and its destiny, and unfolds into the glorious consciousness of its Divine sonship.

We prefer, with Ellicott and Meyer, to attach the complement "in Christ Jesus" to "faith" (so in A.V), rather than to the predicate, "Ye are sons" - the construction endorsed by the Revised comma after "faith." The former connection more obvious in itself, seems to us to fall in with the Apostle’s line of thought. And it is sustained by the language of Galatians 3:27. Faith in Christ, baptism into Christ, and putting on Christ are connected and correspondent expressions. The first is the spiritual principle, the ground or element of the new life; the second, its visible attestation; and the third indicates the character and habit proper thereto.

1. It is faith in Christ then which constitutes its sons of God. This principle is the foundation-stone of the Christian life.

In the Old Testament the sonship of believers lay in shadow. Jehovah was "the King, the Lord of Hosts," the "Shepherd of Israel." They are "His people, the sheep of His pasture"-"‘My servant Jacob," He says, "Israel whom I have chosen." If He is named Father, it is of the collective Israel, not the individual; otherwise the title occurs only in figure and apostrophe. The promise of this blessedness had never been explicitly given under the Covenant of Moses. The assurance quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:18 is pieced together from scattered hints of prophecy. Old-Testament faith hardly dared to dream of such a privilege as this. It is not ascribed even to Abraham. Only to the kingly "Son of David" is it said, "I will be a Father unto him; and he shall be to me for a son". {2 Samuel 7:14}

But "beloved, now are we children of God". {1 John 3:2} The filial consciousness is the distinction of the Church of Jesus Christ. The Apostolic writings are full of it. The unspeakable dignity of this relationship, the boundless hopes which it inspires, have left their fresh impress on the pages of the New Testament. The writers are men who have made a vast discovery. They have sailed out into a new ocean. They have come upon an infinite treasure. "Thou art no longer a slave, but a son." What exultation filled the soul of Paul and of John as they penned such words! "The Spirit of glory and of God" rested upon them.

The Apostle is virtually repeating here what he said in Galatians 3:2-5 touching the "receiving of the Spirit," which is, he declared, the distinctive mark of the Christian state, and raises its possessor ipso facto above the religion of externalism. The antithesis of flesh and spirit now becomes that of sonship and pupilage. Christ Himself, in the words of Luke 11:13, marked out the gift of "the Holy Spirit" as the bond between the "heavenly Father" and His human children. Accordingly Paul writes immediately in Galatians 4:6-7, of "God sending forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts" to show that we "are sons," where we find again the thought which follows here in Galatians 3:27, viz., that union with Christ imparts this exalted status. This is, after all, the central conception of the Christian life. Paul has already stated it as the sum of his own experience: "Christ is in me". {Galatians 2:20} "I have put on Christ" is the same thing in other words. In Galatians 2:20 he contemplates the union as an inner, vitalising force; here it is viewed as a matter of status and condition. The believer is invested with Christ. He enters into the filial estate and endowments, since he is in Christ Jesus. "For if Christ is Son of God, and thou hast put on Him, having the Son in thyself and being made like to Him, thou wast brought into one kindred and one form of being with Him" (Chrysostom).

This was true of "so many as were baptised into Christ"-an expression employed not in order to limit the assertion, but to extend it coincidently with the "all" of Galatians 3:26. There was no difference in this respect between the circumcised and uncircumcised. Every baptised Galatian was a son of God. Baptism manifestly presupposes faith. To imagine that the opus operatum, the mechanical performance of the rite, apart from faith present or anticipated in the subject, "clothes us with Christ," is to hark back to Judaism. It is to substitute baptism for circumcision-a difference merely of form, so long as the doctrine of ritual regeneration remains the same. This passage is as clear a proof as could well be desired, that in the Pauline vocabulary "baptised" is synonymous with "believing." The baptism of these Galatians solemnised their spiritual union with Christ. It was the public acceptance, in trust and submission, of God’s covenant of grace-for their children haply, as well as for themselves.

In the case of the infant, the household to which it belongs, the religious community which receives it to be nursed in its bosom, stand sponsors for its faith. On them will rest the blame of broken vows and responsibility disowned, if their baptised children are left to lapse into ignorance of Christ’s claims upon them. The Church which practises infant baptism assumes a very serious obligation. If it takes no sufficient care to have the rite made good, if children pass through its laver to remain unmarked and unshepherded, it is sinning against Christ. Such administration makes His ordinance an object of superstition, or of contempt.

The baptism of the Galatians signalised their entrance "into Christ," the union of their souls with the dying, risen Lord. They were "baptised," as Paul phrases it elsewhere, "into His death," to "walk" henceforth with Him "in newness of life." By its very form-the normal and most expressive form of primitive baptism, descent into and rising from the symbolic waters - it pictured the soul’s death with Christ, its burial and its resurrection in Him, its separation from the life of sin and entrance upon the new career of a regenerated child of God. {Romans 6:3-14} This power attended the ordinance "through faith in the operation of God who raised Christ from the dead". {Colossians 2:11-13} Baptism had proved to them the laver of regeneration in virtue of "the renewing of the Holy Spirit," under those spiritual conditions of accepted mercy and "justification by grace through faith," without which it is a mere law-work, as useless as any other. It was the outward and visible sign of the inward transaction which made the Galatian believers sons of God and heirs of life eternal. It was therefore a "putting on of Christ," a veritable assumption of the Christian character, the filial relationship to God. Every such baptism announced to heaven and earth the passage of another soul from servitude to freedom, from death, unto life, the birth of a brother into the family of God. From this day the new convert was a member incorporate of the Body of Christ, affianced to his Lord, not alone in the secret vows of his heart, but pledged to Him before his fellow-men. He had put on Christ- to be worn in his daily life, while He dwelt in the shrine of his spirit. And men would see Christ in him, as they see the robe upon its wearer, the armour glittering on the soldier’s breast.

By receiving Christ, inwardly accepted in faith, visibly assumed in baptism, we are made sons of God, He makes us free of the house of God, where He rules as Son, and where no slave may longer stay. Those who call themselves "Abraham’s seed" and yet were "slaves of sin," must be driven from the place in God’s household which they dishonoured, and must forfeit their abused prerogatives. They were not Abraham’s children, for they were utterly unlike him; the Devil surely was their father, whom by their lusts they featured. So Christ declared to the unbelieving Jews. {John 8:31-44} And so the Apostle identifies the children of Abraham with the sons of God, by faith united to "the Son." Alike in the historical sonship toward Abraham and the supernatural sonship toward God, Christ is the ground of filiation. Our sonship is grafted upon His. He is "the vine," we "branches" in Him. He is the seed of Abraham, the Son of God; we, sons of God and Abraham’s seed" if we are Christ’s." Through Him we derive from God; through Him all that is best in the life of humanity comes down to us. Christ is the central stock, the spiritual root of the human race. His manifestation reveals God to man, and man also to himself. In Jesus Christ we regain the Divine image, stamped upon us in Him at our creation, {Colossians 1:15-16; Colossians 3:10-11} the filial likeness to God which constitutes man’s proper nature. Its attainment is the essential blessing, the promise which descended from Abraham along the succession of faith.

Now this dignity belongs universally to Christian faith. "Ye are all, " the Apostle says, "sons of God through faith in Him." Sonship is a human, not a Jewish distinction. The discipline Israel had endured, it endured for the world. The Gentiles have no need to pass through it again. Abraham’s blessing, when it came, was to embrace "all the families of the earth." The new life in Christ in which it is realised, is as large in scope as it is complete in nature. "Faith in Christ Jesus" is a condition that opens the door to every human being, -"Jew or Greek, bond or free, male or female." If then baptised, believing Gentiles are sons of God, they stand already on a level higher than any to which Mosaism raised its professors. "Putting on Christ," they are robed in a righteousness brighter and purer than that of the most blameless legalist. What can Judaism do for them more? How could they wish to cover their glorious dress with its faded, worn-out garments? To add circumcision to their faith would be not to rise, but to sink from the state of sons to that of serfs.

2. On this first principle of the new life there rests a second. The sons of God are brethren to each other. Christianity is the perfection of society, as well as of the individual. The faith of Christ restores the broken unity of mankind. "In Christ Jesus there is no Jew or Greek; there is no bondman or freeman; there is no male and female. You are all one in Him."

The Galatian believer at his baptism had entered a communion which gave him for the first time the sense of a common humanity. In Jesus Christ he found a bond of union with his fellows, an identity of interest and aim so commanding that in its presence secular differences appeared as nothing. From the height to which his Divine adoption raised him these things were invisible. Distinctions of race, of rank, even that of sex, which bulk so largely in our outward life and are sustained by all the force of pride and habit, are forgotten here. These dividing lines and party-walls have no power to sunder us from Christ, nor therefore from each other in Christ. The tide of Divine love and joy which through the gate of faith poured into the souls of these Gentiles of "many nations," submerged all barriers. They are one in the brotherhood of the eternal life. When one says "I am a child of God," one no longer thinks, "I am a Greek or Jew, rich or poor, noble or ignoble-man or woman." A son of God!-that sublime consciousness fills his being.

Paul, to be sure, does not mean that these differences have ceased to exist. He fully recognises them; and indeed insists strongly on the proprieties of sex, and on the duties of civil station. He values his own Jewish birth and Roman citizenship. But "in Christ Jesus" he "counts them refuse." {Philippians 3:4-8} Our relations to God, our heritage in Abraham’s Testament, depend on our faith in Christ Jesus and our possession of His Spirit. Neither birth nor office affects this relationship in the least degree. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." {Romans 8:14} This is the Divine criterion of churchmanship, applied to prince or beggar, to archbishop or sexton, with perfect impartiality. "God is no respecter of persons."

This rule of the Apostle’s was a new principle in religion, pregnant with immense consequences. The Stoic cosmopolitan philosophy made a considerable approach to it, teaching, as it did, the worth of the moral person and the independence of virtue of outward conditions. Buddhism previously, and Mahommedanism subsequently, each in its own way addressed themselves to man as man, declaring all believers equal and abolishing the privileges of race and caste. To their recognition of human brotherhood the marvellous victories Won by these two creeds are largely due. These religious systems, with all their errors, were a signal advance upon Paganism with its "gods many and lords many," its local and national deities, whose worship belittled the idea of God and turned religion into an engine of hostility instead of a bond of union amongst men.

Greek culture, moreover, and Roman government, it has often been observed, had greatly tended to unify mankind. They diffused a common atmosphere of thought and established one imperial law round the circuit of the Mediterranean shore. But these conquests of secular civilisation, the victories of arms and arts, were achieved at the expense of religion. Polytheism is essentially barbarian. It flourishes in division and in ignorance. To bring together its innumerable gods and creeds was to bring them all into contempt. The one law, the one learning now prevailing in the world, created a void in the Conscience of mankind, only to be filled by the one faith. Without a centre of spiritual unity, history shows that no other union will endure. But for Christianity, the Graeco-Roman civilisation would have perished, trampled out by the feet of Goths and Huns.

The Jewish faith failed to meet the world’s demand for a universal religion. It would never have saved European society. Nor was it designed for such a purpose. True, its Jehovah was "the God of the whole earth." The teaching of the Old Testament, as Paul easily showed, had a universal import and brought all men within the scope of its promises. But in its actual shape and its positive institutions it was still tribal and exclusive. Mosaism planted round the family of Abraham a fence of ordinances, framed of set purpose to make them a separate people and preserve them from heathen contamination. This system, at first maintained with difficulty, in course of time gained control of the Israelitish nature, and its exclusiveness was aggravated by every device of Pharisaic ingenuity. Without an entire transformation, without in fact ceasing to be Judaism, the Jewish religion was doomed to isolation. Under the Roman Empire, in consequence of the ubiquitous dispersion of the Jews, it spread far and wide. It attracted numerous and influential converts. But these proselytes never were, and never could have been generally amalgamated with the sacred people. They remained in the outer court, worshipping the God of Israel "afar off". {Ephesians 2:11-22; Ephesians 3:4-6}

This particularism of the Mosaic system was, to Paul’s mind, a proof of its temporary character. The abiding faith, the faith of "Abraham and his seed," must be broad as humanity. It could know nothing of Jew and Gentile, of master and slave, nor even of man and woman; it knows only the soul and God. The gospel of Christ allied itself thus with the nascent instinct of humanity, the fellow-feeling of the race. It adopted the sentiment of the Roman poet, himself an enfranchised slave, who wrote: Homo sum et humani a me nil alienum puto. In our religion human kinship at last receives adequate expression. The Son of man lays the foundation of a world-wide fraternity. The one Father claims all men for His sons in Christ. A new, tenderer, holier humanity is formed around His cross. Men of the most distant climes and races, coming across their ancient battle-fields, clasp each other’s hands and say, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another."

The practice of the Church has fallen far below the doctrine of Christ and His Apostles. In this respect Mohammedans and Buddhists might teach Christian congregations a lesson of fraternity. The arrangements of our public worship seem often designed expressly to emphasise social distinctions, and to remind the poor man of his inequality. Our native hauteur and conventionality are nowhere more painfully conspicuous than in the house of God. English Christianity is seamed through and through with caste-feeling. This lies at the root of our sectarian jealousies. It is largely due to this cause that the social ideal of Jesus Christ has been so deplorably ignored, and that a frank brotherly fellowship amongst the Churches is at present impossible. Sacerdotalism first destroyed the Christian brotherhood by absorbing in the official ministry the functions of the individual believer. And the Protestant Reformation has but partially reestablished these prerogatives. Its action has been so far too exclusively negative and protestant, too little constructive and creative. It has allowed itself to be secularised and identified with existing national limitations and social distinctions. How greatly has the authority of our faith and the influence of the Church suffered from this error. The filial consciousness should produce the fraternal consciousness. With the former we may have a number of private Christians; with the latter only can we have a Church.

"Ye are all," says the Apostle, "one (man) in Christ Jesus." The numeral is masculine, not neuter-one person (no abstract unity), as though possessing one mind and will, and that "the mind that was in Christ." Just so far as individual men are "in Christ" and He becomes the soul of their life, do they realise this unity. The Christ within them recognises the Christ without, as "face answereth to face in a glass." In this recognition social disparity vanishes. We think of it no more than we shall do before the judgment-seat of Christ. What matters it whether my brother wears velvet or fustian, if Christ be in him? The humbleness of his birth or occupation, the uncouthness of his speech, cannot separate him, nor can the absence of these peculiarities separate his neighbour, from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Why should these differences make them strangers to each other in the Church.? If both are in Christ, why are they not one in Christ? A tide of patriotic emotion, a scene of pity or terror-a shipwreck, an earthquake-levels all classes and makes us feel and act as one man. Our faith in Christ should do no less. Or do we love God less than we fear death? Is our country more to us than Jesus Christ? In rare moments of exaltation we rise, it may be, to the height at which Paul sets our life. But until we can habitually and by settled principle in our Church-relations "know no man after the flesh," we come short of the purpose of Jesus Christ. {comp. John 17:20-23}

The unity Paul desiderates would effectually counteract the Judaistie agitation. The force of the latter lay in antipathy. Paul’s opponents contended that there must he "Jew and Greek." They fenced off the Jewish preserve from uncircumcised intruders. Gentile non-conformists must adopt their ritual; or they will remain a lower caste, outside the privileged circle of the covenant-heirs of Abraham. Compelled under this pressure to accept the Mosaic law, it was anticipated that they would add to the glory of Judaism and help to maintain its institutions unimpaired. But the Apostle has cut the ground from under their feet. It is faith, he affirms, which makes men sons of God. And faith is equally possible to Jew or Gentile. Then Judaism is doomed. No system of caste, no principle of social exclusion has, on this assumption, any foothold in the Church. Spiritual life, nearness and likeness to the common Saviour-in a word character, is the standard of worth in His kingdom. And the range of that kingdom is made wide as humanity; its charity, deep as the love of God.

And "if you-whether Jews or Greeks-are Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, heirs in terms of the Promise." So the Apostle brings to a close this part of his argument, and links it to what he has said before touching the falsehood of Abraham. Since Galatians 3:18 we have lost sight of the patriarch; but he has not been forgotten. From that verse Paul has been conducting us onward through the legal centuries which parted Abraham from Christ. He has shown how the law of Moses interposed between promise and fulfilment, schooling the Jewish race and mankind in them for its accomplishment. Now the long discipline is over. The hour of release has struck. Faith resumes her ancient sway, in a larger realm. In Christ a new, universal humanity comes into existence, formed of men who by faith are grafted into Him. Partakers of Christ, Gentiles also are of the seed of Abraham; the wild scions of nature share "the root and fatness of the good olive-tree." All things are theirs; for they are Christ’s. {1 Corinthians 3:21-23}

Christ never stands alone. "In the midst of the Church-firstborn of many brethren" He presents Himself, standing "in the presence of God for us." He has secured for mankind and keeps in trust its glorious heritage. In Him we hold in fee the ages past and to come. The sons of God are heirs of the universe.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Galatians 3". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/galatians-3.html.
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