corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary
Galatians 4



Other Authors
Verse 3

Galatians 4:3

I. Mankind has been in the position of a child, and successive generations have been slowly trained by God's fatherly care, as a preparation for that liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, that life and immortality brought to light by the Gospel, the all-pervading glory of the Sun of righteousness.

II. Consider the lessons to be learned from the fact that the preparatory discipline of a partial revelation and imperfect religious system in the law has been followed by a complete manifestation of God to man in the Gospel. Throughout the Epistle to the Galatians St. Paul protests against the fatal error of confounding the two dispensations and of viewing the law, not as ordained to make ready the way of the Lord, but as intended to be a permanent rule, entangling us for ever in the yoke of bondage. After that faith is come; faith in Christ as a living Friend and Saviour, whose great love for us constrains us to love Him in return, we are no longer under a schoolmaster, we have no more need of such a tutor, nor would it be natural to submit to such discipline.

III. In reckoning the law among the elements of the unspiritual outer world, St. Paul is only speaking of its transient institutions, its principle of mere obedience to the letter, its temporary permission of imperfect morality, its sacrifices, ceremonies, and types, which were to train mankind for Christianity, and not of its eternal testimony to truth and holiness. (1) We shall fall back under the bondage of the law if we go about to establish our own righteousness, instead of submitting ourselves to the righteousness of God. (2) We return to the law if we content ourselves with a conventional Christianity, a mere conformity to the standard of religion sanctioned by the world. (3) We may also become entangled again in the yoke of bondage by lowering the standard of Christian holiness and adopting some of those inferior principles of morality which, in the times of ignorance, God winked at. (4) Once more, we are falling back, like the Galatians, to the elements of the world if we are led astray, by a formal and ceremonial system of religion, from the simplicity that is in Christ. We Christians are called to the duties and privileges of spiritual manhood, to obedience resulting from principle, from conviction, from gratitude for God's forgiving mercy, and a desire for true holiness. This desire can only be gratified, these feelings can only be realised, through fellowship with the Lord Jesus by faith. Therefore whatsoever keeps us from Him is a return from the brightness of the New Testament to the twilight of the Old.

G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons on the Epistles, vol. i., p. 64.

Reference: Galatians 4:3-6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1815.

Verse 4

Galatians 4:4

Christ Obedient to the Law.

I. Christ's obedience to the law was not a matter of course, following upon His incarnation. Scripture everywhere separates the two, making His obedience an additional thing, undertaken by Him over and above His becoming man. It was a positive thing, not to be for a moment in our thoughts merged in the mere negative fact of His being pure and free from sin.

II. Secondly, it was not only an integral, but also a necessary, part of His work of redemption. The Jew was lifted above all the other nations, and stood nearer to God. His privilege was greater, and his guilt was different. The guilt of all mankind before God was indeed that of original disobedience, but might now be said to consist in blindly following sinful courses, while Israel's guilt was that of constant and deliberate disregard of a written and ever-present law. And that righteousness which put man into the position of God's approval being to come in by one Man, Jesus Christ, all cases of guilt must be covered, all situations of disobedience taken up and borne and carried triumphantly out into perfection and accordance with the Father's will by the Son of God in our flesh; and this could only be done by His taking upon Himself the situation of the higher responsibility and the deeper guilt. And there was another reason why our Lord should have been made under the law: His fulfilling of the will of God for man was to be, not only complete, but was to be our pattern, that as He was holy, so we might be holy also; and this it could not have been had it not been of the highest kind. He not only fulfilled all righteousness in His own person, but He showed to us, His disciples, a new and better way: He led us up through the law, and out of and above the law, into our obedience and spiritual freedom, so that He has satisfied and abolished the handwriting of ordinances that was against us and has taken it out of the way, nailing it to His cross.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. vi., p. 88.

The Fulness of Time.

I. God sent forth His Son, and sent Him in the fulness of time. In four ways God had prepared the civilised world for the reception of Christianity. (1) By means of the Roman empire He had reduced all the world under one government, so that there was free intercourse between all parts of the known world, and there was no political obstacle to the spread of the faith from one nation to another. (2) By means of the Greek language, the most perfect instrument of thought ever known, He had made the earth to be of one tongue, and thus He had prepared the way for the advent of Christ. (3) By means of the chosen people of the Jews, having still their religious centre at Jerusalem, yet scattered throughout the world, He had provided a nursery for the tender plant of the Gospel. (4) By reason of the general confluence and mutual competition of all kinds of heathen idolatries, He had caused heathenism to lose its old repute and power over souls.

II. Why did God not send His Son sooner into the world to comfort and to save? Is it not hard to think of the Son of God looking calmly down through all the ages on His miserable creatures, tormenting and slaying one another, crying with piteous, unavailing cries to that heaven which, in its unmoved majesty, only seemed to mock their agony? We may ask these questions, but we cannot answer them. Revelation is as dumb as Nature herself to these inquiries. We only know that to God the moment of our Saviour's advent was the fulness of the time, was the earliest moment in which He could come to our help. But He that stooped from His Divine estate to die upon the cross has surely earned our confidence. We do not know how the history of the world is to be reconciled with the goodness of God, but we can believe. Jesus Christ has surely a right to demand that we should trust Him, not only with the present, but with the past, too.

R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 323.

The Fulness of Time.

I. There was a threefold work of preparation for the Son of God, carried forward in what was then called the civilised world, and each portion of this preparation demanded the lapse of a certain period. (1) The world had to be prepared in a certain sense politically for His work. In order to spread an idea or a dreed, two instruments are very desirable. The first is a common language, and the second is a common social system, common laws, a common government. The first of these conditions was partly provided by the conquests of Alexander. He spread the Greek language through Western Asia, throughout Egypt; and when Greece itself was conquered, the educated Romans learned the language of the vanquished provincials. And during the half-century which preceded the birth of Christ the Roman empire was finally consolidated into a great political whole, so that Palestine and Spain, so that North Africa and Southern Germany, were administered by a single government. Christianity, indeed, did not need this. It passed beyond the frontiers of the empire in the lifetime of the Apostles. But this preparation was an important element in the process by which preceding ages led up to the fulness of time. (2) There was a preparation in the convictions of mankind. The most gifted of races had done its best with heathenism, and the result was that all the highest and purest minds loathed the present and looked forward to the future. It was the fulness of the time. (3) There was also a preparation in the moral experience of mankind. The widespread corruption of the age, the longing for better things, marked the close of the epoch of moral experiments; it announced that the fulness of the time had come.

II. The fulness of the time came, and God sent forth His Son. If we had seen Jesus Christ in His earthly life and had freely opened our souls without prejudice to the impression He could have produced upon them, what would that impression have been? (1) First of all, we should have observed that He stands in a totally different relation towards moral truth from that of every other man whom we have ever met. His life breathes sinlessness, freedom, peace. To Him the law can bring no curse. The law does but express His character in human words; He is strictly in harmony with it. (2) And not merely is His life thus sinless: it is also at harmony with itself. Precisely because He is not like any individual man, with some great special endowment, with some striking idiosyncrasy, but, on the contrary, of a humanity so universal, so comprehensive, that all feel that they have their share in Him, and even Pilate, unconscious of the mighty truth he was uttering, could cry, "Behold the man," therefore He draws all men to Himself; therefore He can sanctify all human capacities; therefore He can subdue all human wills; therefore the century in which, and the people among which, He appears cannot monopolise Him. He and His revelation have on them the clear mark of eternity. He can bring all whose hearts are not closed against His advances by wilful sin into their right relation towards God and towards each other.

H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 703.

References: Galatians 4:4.—H. Batchelor, The Incarnation of God, p. 1; H. P. Liddon, Christmastide Sermons, p. 74; Ibid., Advent Sermons, vol. i., p. 157; G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 150. Galatians 4:4, Galatians 4:5.—W. Cunningham, Sermons, p. 393; J. Monro Gibson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 56; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 331; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 321.

Let us consider wherein consisted the preparation of the fulness of the time preceding the birth of Christ for a new turn in the history of the world and wherein consisted the special peculiarity of the coming of Christ which made it the germ of what there was to be in the ages following, and further see how this is really true of ourselves and of our own age.

I. There was a general sickness, so to speak, in the condition of the civilised world at that time. Look at the Roman empire. The most tremendous civil wars that ever were fought had just ended, leaving all their scars and sores behind. "If ever we were to judge of God's moral judgment," says a great Roman historian, "exclusively from the varying fortunes of good and bad men, there are few instances of successful wickedness which would more disturb our faith than that of the long and peaceful reign of Augustus Caesar, whose word rules the earth." Look, again, at the dying and worn-out condition of the old pagan religion. Or look at the Jewish nation, with its sects of Pharisees and Sadducees, the religion of Moses and Isaiah falling away into a discussion of the most minute ceremonial of dress and food and posture, a fierce fanaticism taking possession of the whole people. It was in some respects the darkest period of the Gentile-Jewish world, the dullness before the dawn. "God sent forth His Son." He was a Teacher unlike the generation from which He sprang, yet specially suited to the needs of the generation. "I dreamt a dream," says one of the most gifted writers of the last century, the famous Rousseau. "I saw the temples and altars of the ancient world in all their splendour. I looked, and they had vanished, and in their place I saw standing a young Teacher, full of grace and truth. He had not attacked them; He had not destroyed them; but by His own intrinsic excellence and majesty He had superseded them, and there was no one to dispute His right." This is the true description of the aspect of Jesus Christ towards the darker side of the old world. And what was His aspect towards the brighter side? Almost everything there was of good in it took courage, was revived and assimilated and strengthened by Him. The long-unexampled peace under Augustus Caesar, the organic unity of the civilised world under his sceptre, gave a framework into which the Gospel could fit and spread without hindrance or violence.

II. Such a fulness of time, such a craving of the empty human heart, such a providential preparation, as occurred on the first birthday of Christianity cannot be re-enacted, but in each successive age and in each individual there is in a certain sense a return of the fulness and a reproduction of the coming. In each successive age, even in this age of our own, there is something like it. In every age the glad tidings of great joy is but the moral element of human nature as the true representative and vehicle of Divinity. Where this is to be found in any degree, there in some degree is the manifestation of the Godhead and a child of God. Where it is not found, whatever else there may be, there the supreme Divinity is not. Where it is found in the highest degree, there is God incarnate; there is the true Son of the universal Father.

A. P. Stanley, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 851.

Reference: Galatians 4:4-6.—G. Hester, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 11.

Verse 6

Galatians 4:6

Trinity Sunday.

I. God is our Father. Our Lord and His Apostles are constantly impressing this truth upon us. By doing so they bring the conception of God home to the very humblest and most ignorant of His creatures. They plant it firmly in the heart, in the seat of those affections of which no child of man is destitute. As the Creator and Sustainer and Ruler of the world, God would claim our allegiance and reverence; but allegiance and reverence, if paid to mere power and wisdom, are sure to degenerate into superstitious terror. But let us be once assured of the love no less than of the power and wisdom of our God, and then we are privileged and drawn to love also, and love casts out slavish fear.

II. And then, with affections and instincts thus prepared, we are fitted to apprehend the goodness of the Father in sending His Son to teach us more about Him and to enable us to come nearer to Him. Christ came to draw away the thick veil which the inborn corruption of the human heart and the accumulated sins and falsehoods of centuries had interposed between man and God. That we might understand God, it was necessary that we should see Him as one of ourselves, tried by temptations; victorious over temptations; suffering for us and suffering with us; bowed down, though not overcome, by the load of sin under which the whole world staggers. So, and so only, could our thoughts of God be at once adequate and clear, and permanently operative on our conduct.

III. It is the action of the Spirit of God's Son on our hearts that encourages us to approach the throne of God and fling our cry before the Invisible One, "Abba, Father." We cannot enter into the Fatherly character of God without being animated by the same Spirit that animated His well-beloved Son, Jesus. We must be like Christ, we must be very brothers of Christ, if we would claim His Father as our Father.

H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, p. 298.

References: Galatians 4:6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv., No. 1435; Church of England Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 64; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vii., p. 339.

Verse 7

Galatians 4:7

God's Offspring.

I. Men were children before Christ came, ignorant and unable to take care of themselves. St. Paul told the heathen Athenians that they were God's children. He put them in mind that one of their own heathen poets had told them so, and had said, "We are also God's offspring." And so in this chapter he says, You were God's children all along, though you did not know it. You were God's heirs all along, though you differed in nothing from slaves, for as long as you were in your heathen ignorance and foolishness God had to treat you as His slaves, not as His children; and so you were in bondage under the elements of the world till the fulness of time was come.

II. Therefore is every child that comes into the world baptised freely into the name of God. Baptism is a sign and warrant that God loves that child, that God looks on it as His child, not for itself or its own sake, but because it belongs to Jesus Christ, who by becoming a man redeemed all mankind, and made them His property and His brothers. Therefore every child, when it is brought to be baptized, promises repentance and faith when it comes to years of understanding. It is not God's slave, as the beasts are; it is God's child. No slavish, terrified, superstitious coaxing and flattering will help us with God. He has told us to call Him our Father, and if we speak to Him in any other way we insult Him, and trample under foot the riches of His grace.

III. This thought and the peace which it brings, St. Paul tells us, is none of our own; we did not put it into our own hearts, from God it comes, that blessed thought that He is our Father. We could never have found it out for ourselves. It is the Spirit of the Son of God, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, which gives us courage to say, "Our Father which art in heaven," which makes us feel that these words are true, and must be true, and are worth all other words in the world put together: that God is our Father, and we are His sons.

C. Kingsley, Sermons for the Times, p. 213.

References: Galatians 4:7.—S. Pearson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 90; T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 230. Galatians 4:9.—Wilkinson, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 120. Galatians 4:15.—Homilist, vol. v., p. 128; S. Pearson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 115; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 248.

Verse 16

Galatians 4:16

The Right Mode of Giving and Receiving Reproof.

I. Men will profess, and perhaps unthinkingly believe, that they derive the most essential benefits derivable from a true friend; but if he shall offer to impart them he becomes an enemy. The great cause of this perversity and repugnance is that it cannot be but the plain truth (by whatever voice) must say many things that are unpleasing. All censure is so, as it hurts the most quick, and delicate, and constant of all feelings, self-love. And censure! who dares to say in how many points the full unmitigated application of truth to him would not be censure? And who dares to say how many of these points might not be struck upon by a clear-sighted friend, that should unreservedly express the truth? Hence the disposition to regard him as an enemy. Other things contributing to this feeling towards him are (1) a want of the real, earnest desire to be in all things set right; (2) pride, reacting against a fellow-mortal and fellow-sinner; (3) a difference of judgment on the matters in question; (4) an unfavourable opinion or surmise as to the motives of the teller of this truth.

II. (1) Those who have to tell unpleasant truth should well exercise themselves to understand what they speak of. (2) It should be the instructor's aim that the authority may be conveyed in the truth itself, and not seem to be assumed by him as the speaker of it, that he may be the mere conveyer of the force of the subject. (3) The teller of unpleasing truths should watch to select favourable times and occasions (mollia tempora fandi) when an inquisitive or docile disposition is most apparent, when some circumstance or topic naturally leads without formality or abruptness to the point, when there appears to be in the way the least to put the person reproved in the attitude of pride and hostile self-defence.

J. Foster, Lectures, 1st series, p. 43.

Reference: Galatians 4:16.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 96.

Verse 18

Galatians 4:18

Christian Zeal Commended.

I. Zeal may be defined as the heat or fervour of the mind, prompting its vehemence of indignation against anything which it conceives to be evil-prompting, its vehemence of desire towards anything which it imagines to be good. In itself it has no moral character at all. It is the simple instinct of energetic nature, never wholly divested of a certain rude nobility and never destitute of influence upon the lives and upon the characters of others. Zeal in itself is neither morally excellent nor morally blameworthy, and it becomes Christian zeal only when it springs from Christian motive, when it is displayed in a Christian manner, when it is used for Christian ends. The great constraining motive of Christian zeal, as of every other grace or energy that is hallowed, is the love of God shed abroad in the heart, and kindling a pure, disinterested, brotherly love to the fellow-man. All true Christian zeal bears this mark. The chief object of Christian zeal will be the spread of the religion of Jesus, that which is the great cementing bond of all social relations here, and which links them in a higher fellowship with the brotherhood of heaven.

II. The pith of the Apostle's warning lies in this: "It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing." The Galatians in the presence of the Apostle were warm and extravagant in their professions of attachment both to himself and to the cause to which he had given his life; but they needed his presence. They needed his presence to prevent the relapse of their affections into indifference, nay, not only into indifference, but into opposition, inveterate in proportion to their former enthusiasm. He therefore reminds them that zeal, to be valuable, should be permanent; that it should not be based upon the shifting sand of favourable circumstances, but rooted in a well-principled conviction which, like a rock, will be granite to the storm as well as granite to the sunshine.

III. Note the profitableness of Christian zeal: "It is good." No higher praise can be given to it. Where the heart preserves the ardour of devotion, it will preserve the ardour of enterprise, and will always be at work for the best interests of men.

W. M. Punshon, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 14.

References: Galatians 4:19.—R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxv., p. 71; H. W. Beecher, Plymouth Pulpit Sermons, 5th series, p. 7. Galatians 4:20.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 379. Galatians 4:22-31.—Homilist, vol. i., p. 405. Galatians 4:23.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xii., p. 143. Galatians 4:24.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii., No. 69; J. Edmunds, Sixty Sermons, p. 130. Galatians 4:25, Galatians 4:26.—B. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 385.

Verse 28

Galatians 4:28

The Promise Fulfilled for Time and Eternity.

I. The promise of God to Abraham did more than give civilisation to men: it opened to them the doors of heaven. Great as have been the temporal gifts bestowed by it, greater and better are its spiritual blessings. The best commentary that has ever been written on the promise made to Abraham is to be found in Heb. xi. St. Paul is never weary of pointing to the glorious character of this spiritual promise. "God," says St. Augustine, "is patient, for God is eternal," and so also the faith that trusts the promise of God partakes of the unchangeable calm of Him on whom it rests, the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Canaan, the heavenly Canaan, was ever before the ancient saints, though they knew that to reach it they must cross the dark valley. Clear before their eyes shone the reward of their labours, but they saw that it was set on the top of a cross.

II. We too are children of promise; but often we forget this, and flatter ourselves that some special object on which our desires are set will one day disclose to us the secret of abiding happiness. If we set our hearts on some earthly Canaan, we shall find that the only rest it will give us is the rest of the grave. Consistently with the splendour of the goal that is set before us and the feebleness of all human effort to reach it, God has decreed that our happiness on earth should consist rather in working than in enjoying, rather in using the means than in gaining the end. If from the last sleep there were no awakening, if the night of death were followed by no dawn, then, indeed, the outlook before us would be sad and gloomy. But to us it has been given to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. His risen body sheds the true light upon life and its work; it fulfils to us all the promise of good fortune, and adds to its fulfilment the glories of eternity.

D. Haig-Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 257.

References: Galatians 4:28.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 89; C. J. Vaughan, Words of Hope, p. 149. Galatians 4:31.—A. Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 190; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 144; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 263; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 96. Galatians 5:1.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 90; J. B. Brown, Ibid., vol. xvi., p. 337; J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 22. Galatians 5:1-13.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 330; F. W. Farrar, Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 145. Galatians 5:3, Galatians 5:4.—H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. v., p. 75. Galatians 5:4.—J. Irons, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 349. Galatians 5:5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1228.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Galatians 4:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology