The apostle, in these words, compares the church of God, under the Old Testament, to an infant or child in its minority and nonage; partly with respect to their weakness in understanding, and want of the means of knowledge, comparatively to what we enjoy; and partly, with respect to the discipline they were under from their rigid schoolmaster, the ceremonial law. "Now, says the apostle, as a child, though he be heir to, and owner of all his father's inheritance in hope, yet so long as he is a minor, and under age, he differeth nothing from a servant in point of subjection, but is under the management of tutors and directors. In like manner the church, when in its infant state, under the Old Testament, was kept in bondage and subjection under the rigid administration, and rigorous exaction of the law, and tied to almost a numberless number of ceremonial observances, by which it pleased Almighty God to instruct the former ages of his church."
Learn hence, that the Jewish church, in its infant state, was obliged to learn and practice the elements of a religion chiefly consisting in visible and bodily performances of the ceremonial law, which were but rudiments, in respect of that heavenly doctrine concerning spiritual life which the gospel now reveals, and clearly makes known unto us: When we were children, we were in bondage under the elements of the world.
That is, "When the fulness of time was come, which God the Father had appointed for the finishing of the legal dispensation, and for the abolishing the ceremonial rites, God sent forth from himself the Son of himself, his only begotten Son, made, that is, born of a woman, made under and obedient to the law, subjecting himself both to its precepts and its curse, to redeem them who were under the law, and discharge them from the curse and malediction of it; that we believers, we the members of the Christian church, might receive the adoption of sons, without any observance of circumcision, or other ceremonial rites."
Observe here, 1. That Christ was God's Son, his own Son, the Son of himself, as the original calls him, Romans 8:3, his Son, not barely in regard of his miraculous conception, or in regard of his sanctification and mission, or in regard of his resurrection and exaltation, or in regard of that endeared affection which the Father bare unto him, but in regard of his essence and nature, as begotten by him; his Son, by eternal and ineffable generation; being for nature co-essential, for dignity co-equal, and for duration co-eternal with the Father.
Observe, 2. That Christ, God's own Son, was sent forth by God the Father: God sent forth his Son.
This sending of the Son doth,
1. Pre-suppose his pre-existence before his incarnation; for if he had not had a being, he could not have been sent: It supposes also his personality, and that he was a person; not an operation or manifestation only, for that could not be sent; and that he was a person really distinct from the Father; for how else could one send the other?
2. God's sending of Christ doth imply his ordaining, constituting, and appointing Christ from all eternity to come into the world; also his fitting and qualifying of him from his incarnation, and his authorizing and commissionating of Christ to take our nature upon him, and in that nature to do and suffer for us, as our pattern, and as our surety.
Observe, 3. That Christ, God's own Son, sent forth by God the Father, was made of a woman, did really assume and take upon him our flesh, and was made manifest in our nature: It was not an undigested unshapen mass, or lump of flesh, that Christ assumed, but that flesh was organized and formed into a perfect body, having the same parts, members, lineaments and proportions which ours have; St. Paul calls it, the body of his flesh Colossians 1:22; a body, to shew the organization of it; and a body of flesh, to shew the reality of it.
Observe, 4. That the season in which Christ was sent forth, was not in the beginning of time, nor at the end of time, but in the fulness of time. He came not in the beginning of time, to excite his people's affections and longing desires for his coming, and to teach them to prize him the more when come. He stayed not till the end of time, lest the faith of his church and people should have failed; the patriarchs believed in Christ to come, the apostles believed in Christ then present among them, and we believe in Christ as come, and gone again to heaven. Thus, in all differences of times past, present, and to come, faith had, has, and will have its suitable work, and proper employment.
Observe, 5. That the great end of God in sending Christ unto us, and the gracious design of Christ in his undertaking for us, was our redemption from the bondage and curse of the law, and our adoption into the number of God's children: To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
As if the apostle had said, "That you are now, under the gospel, become and made the sons of God, appeareth by this, that God hath sent the Spirit of his natural Son into your hearts to authorize and enable you to call upon him, not only as your God, but as your Father: The gospel assuring you, that you are no longer in that servile condition you were in whilst under the law; but God will deal with you now upon gospel terms, and justify you by faith, without the deeds of the law: Now God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts."
Observe here, 1. The title given to the Holy Spirit; it is called the Spirit of God's Son; that is, the Spirit of Christ, because it is the same Spirit which abode upon him that resteth upon us, and because the Spirit is purchased and procured for us by the blood of the Son. Those rivers of living water, by which the effusion of the Spirit is expressed, do flow out of Christ's pierced side; Christ purchased the spirit for us, before he sent him from heaven to us.
Observe, 2. The act respecting his person, God hath sent forth. This imports not any change of place, as if he were more distant from the Father when he was thus sent, than he was before; but it notes his commission for some special work in and upon the creature.
Observe, 3. The objects which have the benefits of this act; God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts; that is, into the hearts of believers; signifying that the work here intended is an inward work, and a saving work, I will put my Spirit in them; Ezekiel 36:27 not into the brain, to dwell there by common unsanctified gifts, but into the heart, where all the habits of grace are planted, and from whence all the issues of life proceed.
Observe, 4. The office which the Holy Spirit performs in the believer's heart: First, it cries; secondly, it cries, Abba, Father: The Spirit cries, by enabling us through his gracious influences and assistances to cry or pray unto God; and it cries, Father, Father: The repetition made, and the word redoubled, denotes the strength and vehemency of the desire, and speaks a passionate and extraordinary concernment of soul, for obtaining the mercy desired, and the blessings prayed for.
Learn hence, 1. That there are three sacred persons in the blessed Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: all are held forth to us in this single verse, yea, in this single clause of the verse, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son.
Learn, 2. That the Spirit is not a quality or operation, but a person that has a real being and subsistence; else the phrase of being sent could not be properly applied to him.
Learn, 3. That the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and Son; for he is the Spirit of the Son, and is sent by the Father: There is an order among the divine persons, though no priority of being.
Learn, 4. That the spirit of adoption is a spirit of supplication; and this spirit of supplication is the great privilege and advantage of believers under the gospel, for it teaches us what to pray for, and the manner how we are to pray; it joineth with our prayers his own effectual intercession; it gives us a right and privilege to come unto God as unto a Father, and gives us also confidence and assurance, as sons, to be accepted with him.
Learn, 5. That the great privilege of adoption is both discovered and improved by the help of the Spirit of Christ: Our privilege of sonship under the gospel excels by far theirs under the law:
1. In point of manifestation and clearness.
2. As to fulness and amplitude of enjoyment.
Note here, 1. That the spirit of the first covenant was a servile spirit, a spirit of fear and bondage, and they that were under that covenant, were rather servants than sons; not but that true believers, in and under the Old Testament, were the sons and daughters of the Most High God, and we find them challenging their privilege, Isaiah 63:16. Doubtless thou art our Father: But yet it was in so defective a degree, that they seemed more like to servants than to sons, and were trained up under suitable discipline: Hence, says the apostle here, thou art now no more a servant; implying, they were once so.
Note, 2. That the Spirit of the new covenant is a free and ingenuous Spirit, and the gospel state a more filial state than the legal state was: Thou art now no more a servant, but a son; and if sons, then are you heirs of God, and have a right to the inheritance of heaven when you die, and to the blessed privileges, and royal immunities contained in that great charter, the covenant of grace, whilst you live: If a son, then an heir of God, through Christ.
Our apostle having proved sufficiently the believing Christians freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law; next endeavours to convince the Galatians how absurd and unreasonable it was for them voluntarily to put themselves under the obligation and obedience of it, and to look upon it as necessary to their justification and salvation: Now in the verses before us he tells them, that when they were Gentiles they were the worst of slaves, serving them that were no gods at all; whereas the Jews served the true God, though in a servile manner: These Galatians, being Heathens before conversion, served false Gods, and so were in a bondage much worse than that of the Jews. The apostle therefore justly blames them, that they being naturally Gentiles, and never under the ceremonial law, should now desire and choose to enter into that bondage: which was apparently to go backward in religion, or to return to those principles which they had already over-past.
Thence learn, that it is possible for a professing people to advance very far in the way of Christianity, and yet make a foul retreat afterwards in a course of defection and apostacy: After we have known God, that is acknowledged the living and true God, and been acknowledged by him, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements?
Here note, how contemptuously, or at least disesteemingly, our apostle speaks of the legal rites of the ceremonial law: He calls them elements or rudiments, because they were God's first instructions given to his church for his worship, to which he intended afterwards a more perfect way of worship: Next he calls them weak elements, because the law made nothing perfect, and the observance of it was impotent and unavailable to a sinner's justification before God: And lastly, he calls them beggarly elements, in comparison with that more rational and spiritual way of worship under the gospel.
Whence we may learn, that holy zeal will teach a saint to speak with a sort of contempt of any thing that encroaches upon the honour due to Christ, or any of his offices. True, the Levitical ceremonies were appointed by God himself as a part of divine worship leading to Christ, and as such to be religiously observed; but when the false apostles did urge the observation of them under the gospel, as a part of necessary commanded worship, and as a part of the Galatians righteousness before God, St. Paul is bold then to give them the name of weak and beggarly elements.
St. Paul here gives instances to the Galatians, wherein it did appear, that they brought themselves under an unnecessary bondage to the rites of the ceremonial law; he tells them plainly, that they kept the ceremonial sabbaths, feasts and fasts, as if that law was obligatory, and still binding: "Ye observe days, that is, the Jewish sabbath days, and new moons; and months, as the feast of the first month, and of the seventh month; and times, that is, the times of their solemn festivals for going up to Jerusalem, as the Passover, Pentecost, and feast of tabernacles; and years, as the sabbatical years, and years of Jubilee. This, says the apostle, makes me afraid of you, that I have preached the gospel, and the doctrine of free justification by faith, in vain to you; because you leave the doctrine I taught you, and put your confidence in observing those legal ceremonial rites."
Learn hence, 1. That the work of the ministry is a laborious work; I have bestowed upon you labour, says St. Paul. A minister's life is not a life of ease, but of much toil and pains, a labouring unto faintness and weariness, as the word here used doth import and signify.
Learn, 2. That the most laborious ministers and lively preachers may sometimes see so little fruit of their labours and endeavours, that they may have just cause to fear that few are savingly converted by their ministry: St. Paul here was afraid lest he had laboured in vain among the Galatians.
Learn, 3. That in order to the success of our ministry, we must not content ourselves with a reproof of sin in general, but must descend to particulars, and give instances of those several and distinct sins which our people are guilty of, and ought to fall under our reproof for. Thus the apostle here gives particular instances of the sins formerly reproved, in their observing days, and months, and times, and years. Generals, we say, do not affect; but particular reproofs are more piercing, and more convincing; When we say to the sinner, as Nathan to David, Thou art the man; this, if anything, will stick close to the conscience.
Observe here, the holy wisdom of our apostle, in tempering his former reproofs with great mildness and gentleness; I beseech you, brethren. He well knew that these Galatians were alienated in their affections from him; and fearing lest from his present severity and sharpness towards them, they should apprehend that he was alienated from them also, he thus lovingly bespeaks them, "I pray you be affected towards me as I stand affected towards you: Count me not your enemy, because I tell you the truth; for I am the same to you that ever I was: my love is not alienated from you, for any wrong or injury done to me by you: For, alas! it is yourselves, and not me, that you injure, by bringing yourselves into this bondage to the ceremonial law, to the loss of your Christian liberty: Be as I am; for I am as ye are; ye have not injured me at all."
Learn from St. Paul's example, that though the ministers of Christ may, and sometimes must, use severity and sharpness in the rebukes and reproofs which they give for sin, yet must they temper severity with gentleness; and insinuations of kindness and affection must be mingled with rebukes; as looking not so much at what their sin deserveth, as what is most convenient for bringing them to repentance: Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am.
Learn, 2. That when the ministers of God, from a true zeal for the glory of God, do rebuke sin, and reprove sinners, the people are too apt to apprehend that our zeal flows from a private spirit of revenge, as if we had some particular displeasure against their persons for some personal injury done unto ourselves; all which groundless suspicions it is our duty to labour to wipe off: So did our apostle here; Ye have not injured me at all, says he.
Observe here, 1. A singular instance which St. Paul gives of his sincere affection towards these Galatians, he preached the gospel to them at first, and this both with difficulty and danger, through the infirmity of the flesh; that is, through much bodily weakness and imperfections. The ancients say St. Paul was little man, and had some deformity or crookedness of body, and imperfection in his utterance, which rendered both his person and his speech contemptible. These bodily infirmities he calls a temptation; intimating, that the afflictions of the body are great temptations to the soul. And besides these bodily infirmities, he encountered also with persecutions in preaching the gospel to them; which were evidences and convincing demonstrations of his fervent love and affectionate regard towards them: Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel to you at the first.
Observe, 2. The reciprocal returns of love and affection which the Galatians made to St. Paul, at his first coming among them to preach the gospel; they received him as an angel of God, or as a messenger from God sent unto them, yea, as Jesus Christ, as if Christ himself had been there in person, and preached to them: Nay, so warm were their affections then to St. Paul at his first coming amongst them, that they did not only pull open their purses, but had it been possible for them, or profitable to him, they could even have plucked out their very eyes for him. But note, it was at his first coming amongst them, and preaching to them.
Whence we may observe, that the first years of a minister's preaching to, and amongst a people, are usually most successful: then our people's affections are warmest, and perhaps our own too: Our people then hear us without any kind of prejudice against us, with great desire and delight; afterwards their affections cool, either through their own inconstancy, or our inadvertency, or by the malice of Satan, or by the mischievous designs and misrepresentations of some of his instruments.
Observe farther, that the love and reverence which the people owe to their ministers, should not be verbal and in profession only, but real and in sincerity; they ought to part with what is dear to them, to promote the work of God in their houses. There was a time when these Galatians would have given all they had to the apostle, money out of their purse, bread from their table, yea, blood out of their veins, and the very eyes out of their head: I bear you record, that you would even have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.
Learn, lastly, that it is a high commendation to a people, when neither poverty nor deformity, nor any deficiency, which may render a minister of the gospel base and contemptible in the estimation of the world, can possibly diminish anything of that respect which they know to be due and payable unto him. Notwithstanding the Galatians knew the infirmity and temptation of the apostle, yet they received him (at first) as an angel of God.
As if the apostle had said, "How comes your affections, which were so warm at first, to be so cold now? Whence is it that I, who was formerly so precious in your esteem, am now looked upon as an enemy, and only because I declare the truth of God unto you? Can any reason be given on my part, for the sudden change of affection on your part? I trow not, unless you count my candour and ingenuity in telling the truth, a crime: Am I become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?"
Learn hence, that notwithstanding the faithful ministers of Christ, in reproving sin, and vindicating the truths of God, are sometimes counted and treated as enemies, yet will they persist, and finally persevere in their duty, whatever the event may be; though the world account them their enemy, yet they will tell them the truth.
They, that is, the false apostles, pretend great love to you, and a zealous affection for you; but not well, not upon honest and just grounds. There is often an ill cause, which is to be condemned and avoided; zeal is a mixed affection of love and anger working into a fervency of mind, in defending what we believe to be true and good, and in opposing what we judge to be false and bad; they zealously affect you, but not will. Nothing is more common, and consequently more dangerous, than for heretical teachers to pretend great zeal for the glory of God, and great love and affection to the people of God, whilst they are about to persuade them to embrace their pernicious errors and damnable heresies. He adds, Yea, they would exclude you, that you might affect them: Exclude you, that is, from the liberties and privileges of the gospel, say some; from depending upon me, or any faithful pastor, say others; they would ingratiate themselves, that they may ingross you, and you may affect them only. The old practice has ever been amongst seducers, first to alienate the people's minds from their own teachers, and next get themselves looked upon as alone, and only worthy to have themselves looked upon as alone, and only worthy to have room in the people's hearts and affections; They would exclude you from us, and us from you, only that you might affect them.
Note here, That although there is a zeal in a bad cause, which is to be condemned and avoided, yet there is a zeal in a just and righteous cause, which is so laudable and worthy to be practised; when it is a zeal guided by religion, governed by prudence, attended with perseverance; when in a good thing we are affected, zealously affected, and zealously affected always. This the apostle desires that the Galatians should be, and that as well when he was absent from them, as when he was present with them.
Observe here, 1. The endearing title which the apostle gives to the apostatizing Galatians: he calls them children, little children, his little children--My little children.
Note, he calls them children, because converted to Christianity by the preaching of the gospel; and being thus regenerate and born again, they were to be as children, innocent and inoffensive. He calls them little children, to denote the tenderness of their growth in Christianity, the smallness of their proficiency in religion; they were not come to that consistency in grace, to that maturity in goodness, to that perfection in knowledge which he did desire.
Farther, he calls them his little children, to denote that spiritual relation which was between them, he having been the undoubted instrument of their conversion, and so was their spiritual father; and also to denote that endearedness of affection which he bare unto them, and that tender care and concern which he had for them.
Observe, 2. The holy vehemency of the apostle's desire, how earnestly he longed after them in the bowels of Jesus Chrsit. He compares himself to a mother in travail, until he saw Christ formed in their hearts and lives. I travail in birth, till Christ be formed in you.
Learn hence, That there is no stronger love, nor more endeared affection between any relations upon earth, than between such ministers of Christ and their beloved people, as they have been happily instrumental to convert and bring home to Christ.
Learn, 2. That there is nothing in this world which the faithful ministers of Christ do so passionately desire and affectionately long after, as to see Jesus Christ formed and fashioned in the hearts and lives of their beloved people: My little children, of whom I travail in birth, &c.
Our apostle, as a farther testimony of his endeared affections towards the Galatians, declares here his earnest desire to have been with them, and see them face to face, that so being more fully acquainted with their case, he might know how to suit his discourse to them, and might have more cause of rejoicing with, than complaining of them.
Learn hence, 1. That though a minister may sometimes necessarily withdraw himself from his flock, yet he ought always to have a fervent desire to be present with them, without neglecting any opportunity, when occasion offereth, of returning to them: I desire to be present with you.
Learn, 2. That it is a minister's duty to get, as much as may be, the exact knowledge of his people's inclinations and dispositions, of their state and condition, that he may know how to make a fit application to all of them, admonishing and reproving some, threatening and correcting others.
Thus the apostle here wished to be present with them, that he might change his voice; that is, know the better how to speak most suitably and seasonably to their condition. I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice.
Our apostle here proceeds to the end of this chapter, in showing the Galatians that it was the design of God, at the coming of Christ, to abolish the legal dispensation, and free men from the servitude and bondage of that law.
And, first, he argues with them from the nature of the law they were so willing, yea, so desirous, to be under, Ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? That is, "Ye that desire to be justified by your legal performances, by observing circumcision, &c. do you not hear and take notice how the very law itself doth sentence, curse, and condemn you? And do you not find in the Old Testament, the story of Sarah and Hagar, of Ishmael and Isaac? Are you ignorant that Abraham had two sons, Ishmael by Hagar the bond-woman, and Isaac by Sarah the free-woman? Ishmael the bond-woman's son was born after the flesh; that is, by the ordinary strength of nature in generation, Hagar being young, and Abraham being strong. But Isaac was the son of the promise; God gave him, by virtue of his promise made to Abraham when his body was dead, unfit for generation, and Sarah past conception also."
Now from this history of Abraham's family, considered in itself, (without the mystery prefigured by it,) we learn,
1. That the best of men are imperfect men; the holy patriarchs lived in the sin of polygamy, or taking more wives than one, contrary to the first institution of marriage, either not knowing or not considering it was a sin. Abraham had two wives.
Learn, 2. That the truth and veracity of God engages him to fulfil and make good all his promises, though all ordinary means and secondary causes fail, and become impotent and unable to bring about the thing promised.
Thus here, a promise being made to Abraham, that Sarah should have a child, she conceiveth and beareth Isaac; not according to the course of nature, but through virtue of the promise: He of the free-woman was by promise.
Here the apostle makes an allegorical and spiritual application of the foregoing history of Sarah and Hagar, of Isaac and Ishmael; and the mystery he tells us is this, "The two mothers, Sarah and Hagar, are types of the two covenants, the one of works, the other of grace; the two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, are a type of two sorts of men living in the church, the one proceeding from the first, the other from the second covenant; the one regenerate, the other unregenerate men. All regenerate men are under the covenant of grace, and freemen; for every man's freedom depends upon the covenant under which he stands. Ishmael is the son of the bond-woman, and points at Jerusalem which then was, and the people of the Jews, as they then stood affected, seeking justification, and expecting eternal salvation, by the works of the law; but now behold in Isaac, a son of the free-woman, an emblem of the gospel church, which dares not depend upon the righteousness of the Mediator; and this points out Jerusalem above, which is free, and the mother of us all.
Learn hence, That all unregenerate men, who continue in a state of nature, are under the first covenant, or covenant of works. Ishmael is a type of all unregenerate men. Mankind is bound to God by a double bond: First, by a bond of creation: secondly, by a bond of stipulation. The one is natural, and the other is a voluntary, obligation; by the former we are bound to God, by the latter he is bound to us. The covenant made with man in his state of innocency, was Faedus Amicitae, a covenant of friendship; the covenant made with us since the fall, is Faedus Misericordiae, a covenant of reconciliation; the former made with the first Adam, the latter with Christ the second Adam.
The first covenant was made not barely with the person, but with the nature of Adam, with the whole race of mankind; for God dealt with Adam, not as a single person, but as Caput Gentis, as the root and representative of mankind; and, consequently, this covenant was not abolished by the fall, but stands still in force; not to give life, because it is become weak through our flesh: we are become weak to that, not that weak to us; but it commands duty as it did before, namely, perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience; and, in case of failure, denounces the curse.
Lord! awaken every natural and unregenerate man, who, bearing only Adam's image, is also under Adam's covenant; he is a bond-man now, as was Ishmael of old, in bondage to sin, in bondage to Satan, in bondage to the law, in bondage to his own fears, in bondage to the world.
O rest not, till by grace you are delivered from this bondage, by being translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son, and heartily submitted to the terms and conditions of the second covenant, which propoundeth repentance, and promiseth pardon and acceptance upon repentance!
Our apostle here proceeds, and still goes on in his former allegory: the church of the Gentiles he compares to Sarah, who was a long time barren, but at last brought forth a child of the promise, a seed in which all the families of the earth were blessed. The church of the Jews is represented under the notion of a women who had an husband and many children; but the barren Gentiles are, by a spirit of prophecy, called upon to rejoice, and shout for joy, because there should be more children brought forth to God amongst them, than were amongst the Jews.
Here and hence observe, That it is not the church's lot to be always alike fruitful in bringing forth children unto God; she hath her barren times, in which the labours of her ministers are attended with little success, and few are converted and brought home to God: in the first beginnings of the Christian church, though Christ himself was the preacher, she was one that beareth not, and travaileth not.
Learn, 2. That upon the enlargement of Christ's kingdom, and the weakening of Satan's interest in the world, when souls are gathered in, and brought home to Christ; by the power of converting grace, all the churches of Christ ought to rejoice, and break forth into singing, as being matter of exceeding joy and great exultation: Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth into singing, &c.
In the former of these two verses the apostle applies the foregoing allegory, or typical history of Sarah and Hagar, thus: "As, says he, Isaac by virtue of the promise, being born of the free-woman, was heir to all his father's estate; in like manner, they who seek salvation not by the law, but by faith in Christ, are the free children of God, and heirs of the promise of life eternal: We, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of the promise."
In the latter of these two verses, which gives us an account of the persecuting enmity that was in the heart and tongue of Ishmael against Isaac, we have several things observable.
As, 1. The root and rise of Ishmael's persecuting malice discovered, and whence it proceeded; and that was an inward antipathy to the work of grace in Isaac. Those great differences in divine heraldry, of being born after the flesh, and after the Spirit, evidently discover where the quarrel lay, and whence it arose; it was the spiritualness of Isaac that exasperated Ishmael's rage. Isaac was born after the Spirit, and doubtless he showed some fruits of the Spirit which Ishmael could not relish, and therefore did deride and mock him.
Observe, 2. What was the kind of persecution which Isaac underwent; it was the persecution of the tongue, in derisions and cruel mockings; Moses tells us, in the book of Genesis, the manner how, and the weapon with which. Ishmael did not lift up his hand against Isaac, as Cain did against Abel, but his tongue only; yet St. Paul calls it here persecution. Mocking and scoffing either at the word, ways, or people of God, is a sin of unspeakable profaneness, a blaspheming of Christ, and a persecution of his members. He that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit.
Observe, 3. That the persecution of the tongue, at least, is that which the children and church of God have met with in all former, and must expect to meet with in future ages: As it was then, says the apostle, even so it is now; afflictions are the donatives of the gospel, and persecution is the church's patrimony: To us it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but to suffer, Philippians 1:29.
Observe lastly, From Ishmael's being brother to Isaac, and yet his bitter persecutor, that the sorest trials and sharpest persecutions which the saints endure, are very often from the nearest relations, who are tied to them by the strongest obligations either of kindred or acquaintance. Bitterest things are sometimes endured from the hands of those from whom better things might justly have been expected. Christ foretold all this, The brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son. Cain is dead, but the spirit of Cain yet lives; they that scoff, would bite, and make their teeth meet, had they power to use their cheekbone; he that is born after the flesh, will persecute those of his own flesh and family that are born after the Spirit; as it was then, we may go on to say, even so it is now.
The apostle goes on in explaining and applying this typical history of Ishmael and Isaac, and tells us, that the casting out of Ishmael the son of Hagar the bond-woman, did typify the exclusion of the law from a partnership with the gospel in the justification of a sinner before God. As Ishmael was cast out of Abraham's family, and none but Isaac must inherit; so they that depend upon the promise of God, and expect to be justified by faith, without legal performances, they only shall be heirs of grace and mercy.
The doctrine of justification by the works of the law, when it is not only doctrinally maintained, but practically pursued and walked in, doth exclude persons from having any part or share in the kingdom of heaven. So much was typified and prefigured by the son of the bond-woman being cast out, and not allowed to be heir with the son of the free-woman.
Here the apostle draws a conclusion from the foregoing discourse, thus: "As Sarah cast out Hagar and Ishmael, so must the children of the New Jerusalem cast out the law, and all the legal rites, henceforth to be observed no more, either alone without Christ, or in conjunction with Christ. And as the church of the Gentiles was not typified in Hagar, but in Sarah, so we the Christian Gentiles are not obliged to judaical observances, but freed entirely by Christ from them, and justified by gospel grace without them."
The conclusion and sum of all is this, to bring off the Galatians from seeking justification by the works of the law, and to apprehend themselves no longer in bondage to circumcision and the Mosaic rites, but to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free: which introduces that excellent discourse to this purpose which we find contained in the next chapter.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Galatians 4". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany