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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Galatians 3

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

CHAP. III.

He asketh, what moveth them to leave the faith, and depend upon the law? They that believe are justified, and blessed with Abraham. And this he sheweth by many reasons.

Anno Domini 49.

ST. PAUL, having by many arguments proved himself a real Apostle, and shewed that his knowledge of the Gospel was given him by immediate revelation from Jesus Christ, proceeds in this and the following chapter, to treat of the doctrines in dispute between him and the false teachers. They affirmed, that no man could be justified but by the law of Moses, because the pardon of sin could be obtained only by the atonements which it prescribed: and therefore they urged the Gentiles to become Jews, that they might have the benefit of these atonements. But to impress the Galatians the more strongly with a sense of the danger of that doctrine, the Apostle charged them with want of understanding for listening to it; and spake of their not obeying the truth, as if it were the effect of some fascination, Galatians 3:1.—Then, by asking those who had gone over to Judaism, whether they had received the genuine religion which they possessed, as well as the spiritual gifts, by obeying the law, or by obeying the Gospel, he shewed them that obedience to the law of Moses had no part in men's acceptance with God, Galatians 3:2.—and taxed them with folly, because, after having had their acceptance with God, in the Gospel dispensation, through the alone merit of Christ, sealed to them by the graces, gifts, and witness of the Spirit, they proposed to make themselves more acceptable by performing the ceremonies of the law of Moses, which sanctified nothing but the flesh, Galatians 3:3.—Besides, by that course, they rendered all their former sufferings for resisting Judaism of no use, Galatians 3:4.—And to finish his rebuke, he asked them whether he had communicated the spiritual gifts to them, to prove that men are saved through obedience to the law of Moses, or to prove that they are saved through obedience to the Gospel, that is, through the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ, and by the operations of the Holy Spirit? Galatians 3:5.

In what follows, the Apostle overturned the doctrine of the Judaizers more directly, by observing, that even Abraham himself was justified, not by the works of the law, but in the Gospel method of faith counted for righteousness. And that they who like him believe in God, are Abraham's sons, and entitled to all the blessings of the covenant, Galatians 3:6-7.—And that God, having determined to justify the nations by faith, preached the Gospel, or good news of his determination, to Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed, Galatians 3:8.—And therefore in every age and nation, they who believe in Godshall be blessed with Abraham, by having theirfaith counted to them, as his was to him, for righteousness, Galatians 3:9.—Whereas according to the law of Moses itself, every one who seeketh justification meritoriously by the works of that law, most certainly is condemned by its curse, Galatians 3:10.

Farther, to prove that by the law of Moses no man is justified in the sight of God, the Apostle appealed to the Jewish prophets as testifying that doctrine, particularly Habakkuk, Galatians 3:11.—Besides, the law does not require faith, but obedience to its precepts, as the condition of the life which it promises, Galatians 3:12.—Wherefore every sinner being doomed to death by the curse of the law of Moses, no person can be justified by that law. But Christ hath bought us off from the curse of the law of Moses, which is in fact the curse of the law of nature, consequently from law itself as rule of justification, by dying for us, Galatians 3:13.—That the blessing of Abraham, the blessing of justification by faith, which, in the covenant with Abraham, God promised to bestow on all nations through his seed, might come upon the Gentiles through Christ Jesus; and that they might receive the promise of the Spirit in all his gifts, graces, and witness, as the seal of their present title to justification by faith, and also of eternal life, if persevering in this faith unto death.

But because the Jews believed, from Isaiah 60:3-5 that the Gentiles were to be converted to them, the Jews contended that the blessing of the nations in Abraham's seed, was to be accomplished by the Gentiles embracing Judaism, and by their receivingjustification through the Levitical atonements. Wherefore, to overturn that false notion, the Apostle reasoned in the following manner: even a human covenant is not set aside, or altered, after it is ratified, except by the contracting parties, Galatians 3:15. But the promises of the covenant concerning the counting of the faith of the nations for righteousness, were made not only to Abraham, but to his seed: particularly this promise, In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. He does not say and in thy seeds, as speaking concerning a multitude of children, but as concerning one person only; and in thy seed, who is Christ, Galatians 3:16.—I therefore affirm that this covenant which was before ratified by God, concerning the blessing of the nations with justification by faith through Christ, in consequence of the promise made to Abraham as a federal head of believers, the law which was given four hundred and thirty years after, cannot annul, so as to abolish the promise, by introducing a method of blessing or justifying the nations, different from that established by the promise, Galatians 3:17.—Farther, if the inheritance be obtained by works of law, it is no longer bestowed by promise; yet God bestowed it on Abraham and his seed, as a free gift by promise, Galatians 3:18.

Yewillperhapsreply,ifneithertheinheritance,norjustification, is obtained through the works of the law of Moses, why was that law added after the covenant was made with Abraham? It was added for the sake of restraining the Jews from transgressions, and more especially from idolatry; and was to continue till Christ the Seed should come, to whom it was promised, that the nations should be blessed with justification by faith through him. Moreover, the law being added to the covenant for this other purpose, namely, to make the Israelites sensible that they were sinners, and that God was displeased with them,it was delivered by angels into the hand of a Mediator, Galatians 3:19.—For a mediator is not employed between persons in good agreement with one another, Galatians 3:20.—From these things it followed (though the Apostle has not drawn the conclusion,) that a law which was given to make the Israelites sensible that they were sinners, and which by its curse condemned every sinner to death without remedy, could never be intended for their justification. Is the law of Moses then, which makes us sensible of our transgressions, and subjects us to its curse, inconsistent with the promise of justification by faith? By no means. That operation of law, on the contrary, shews the absolute necessity of the promise. For if any law could have been given capable of delivering us from death temporal and spiritual, certainlyrighteousness might have been obtained by such a law, Galatians 3:21.—But the law of Moses contained in the scripture, instead of communicating righteousness and eternal life to any person, has shut up all mankind together in prison, as sinners sentenced to death, that the promise of justification now published in the Gospel, may be performed to all believers, Galatians 3:22.—Wherefore before the Gospel was introduced, Jews and Gentiles were imprisoned as condemned criminals, and shut up together under the custody of law, so as to be obliged to have recourse to the method of justification by faith, which at the beginning was but imperfectly discovered, but which was afterwards to be fully revealed to all, in the Gospel, Galatians 3:23.—So that the law was our pedagogue, to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith, Galatians 3:24,—But the method of justification by faith, being now universally made known in the Gospel, Jews and Gentiles are no longer under the pedagogy of the law of Moses, and of nature, Galatians 3:25.—Besides, ye Jews and Gentiles who believe, are all the sons of God and heirs of eternal life through your faith in Jesus Christ. So that to your being the sons of God, it is not necessary to subject yourselves to the law of Moses, Galatians 3:26.—For at your baptism ye professed to put on the temper of Christ, Galatians 3:27.—And where this is really done, there is in the Gospel no preference given to men, as formerly under the law, on account of their descent or their outward condition; but all are equally honourable and equally beloved of God as his sons, who possess the temper and virtues of Christ Jesus, Galatians 3:28.—And with respect to you Gentiles, if ye are Christ's brethren by possessing his temper and virtues, certainly ye are Abraham's seed, and heirs of the heavenly country, according to God's promise, Galatians 3:29.


Verse 1

Galatians 3:1. O foolish Galatians, By the account that St. Paul has given of himself in the foregoing chapters, the Galatians beingfurnished with evidence sufficient to clear him in their minds from the report of his preaching circumcision he comes now, the way being thus opened, directly to oppose their being circumcised, and subjecting themselves to the law. The first argument which he uses is, "That they received the Holy Ghost, and the gift of miracles, by the Gospel, and not by the law." Galatians 3:1-5. Instead of who hath bewitched you? some would render εβασκανε, who hath enchanted you; and others, who hath envied your happiness? The word strongly expresses the unreasonable turn which their minds had taken, so that one would imagine they had been deprived of the regular use even of their natural faculties. That you should not obey the truth, means, "That you should not stand fast in the liberty of the gospel." See on ch. Galatians 2:14. St. Paul mentions nothing to them here but Christ crucified; as knowing that, when formerlyhe had preached Christ crucified to them, he had shewn them that, by his death on the cross, believers were set free from the curse of the law, and the covenant of works was entirely removed, to make way for that of grace. This we may find him inculcating upon his other Gentile converts, Ephesians 2:15-16. Colossians 2:14; Colossians 2:20 and, accordingly he tells the Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4 that if, by circumcision, they put themselves under the law, they were fallen from grace, and Christ would profit them nothing at all. 'There is no room to object here, that what St. Paul urges is merely an argument to the passions; for, in proportion to the affecting sense which they had of the love of Christ, in submitting to crucifixion for them, would be the rational sense of the obligations that they were under to him, to preserve his gospel pure, and his church free and happy. Dr. Heylin renders the last clause, you,—to whose view the crucifixion of Jesus Christ hath been so lively represented. And Musculus and Bengelius read, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth crucified among you.


Verse 2

Galatians 3:2. Received ye the Spirit, &c.— There is no doubt but that it was on their becoming Christians that they received the Spirit; and therefore that it could not be ascribed to the law, to which they were strangers till afterwards; but must be owing to that faith in which they were instructed by the gospel, on their embracing Christianity. Nor can it justly be objected that they still retained the Christianity by which the Spirit was received; for they were now perverted to a different system by their new teachers; and that which St. Paul had preached at first among them, was a Christianity of which Judaism made no part.


Verse 3

Galatians 3:3. Are ye so foolish, &c.— "Having then set out so happily and hopefully in your Christian course, under the light and influence of the Spirit, with faith in Christ for divine acceptance, according to the tenor of the gospel; how surprisingly stupid and irrational is it for any one of you to imagine that your justification is to be completed by your obedience to the law of Moses, which may be termed flesh, in opposition to the gospel, as it is destitute of the Spirit (see 2 Corinthians 3:6-8.); and a man is bound to obey the whole of it by the fleshly ordinance of circumcision (Galatians 5:3.); as its ceremonial rites sanctify only to the purifying of the flesh, (Hebrews 9:13.); and as seeking justification by any works of the law is pleasing to the flesh, is taught by the wisdom of the flesh, and gratifies the pride of corrupt nature, in giving it occasion of assuming glory to itself? (Romans 4:2.) But all this is so far from perfecting, that it is directly subversive of the gospel doctrine, in this grand article of it."


Verse 4

Galatians 3:4. Have ye suffered so many things in vain? As much persecution might be declined by admitting this mixture of Judaism, there was reason to fear that a regard to their own present ease and convenience led them to it; (comp. ch. Galatians 5:11 and Galatians 6:12.) which was, in a manner, cancelling the good effect of their former resolution; and, indeed, any thing which looked like a sinful temporizing, in those who had before been confessors for the truth, might occasion peculiar scandal, and endanger many others.


Verse 5

Galatians 3:5. He that ministereth, &c.— The person meant here by he that ministereth, and ch. Galatians 1:6 by him that called, is plainly St. Paul himself; though, out of modesty, he declines making use of his own name. It was certainly a great display of the divine wisdom to suffer such contentions to arise early in the church, as should make it necessary for the apostles to appeal to the miracles wrought before and upon those who were afterwards, in some degree, alienated from them, that future ages might be convinced of the certainty of those miracles, as matters of fact, beyond all possibility of contradiction.


Verse 6

Galatians 3:6.— St. Paul's next argument against circumcision and subjection to the law is, "That the children of Abraham, intitled to the inheritance and blessing promised to Abraham and his seed, are so by faith, and not by being under the law, which brings a curse upon those who are under it," Galatians 3:6-18. Beza is of opinion that the 7th verse should not begin a sentence, but depend on the foregoing, As Abraham believed,—ver. 7 ye therefore know, &c.


Verse 8

Galatians 3:8. In thee shall all nations be blessed. It may perhaps be asked, "What evidence there is that this promise meant the conversion of Jews and Gentiles to Christianity, rather than converting the Gentiles to Judaism, and so blessing them with a participation of the privileges originally granted to the natural seed of Abraham?"—But, besides what the Apostle afterwards says for clearing up this point, it may be answered,—that the Mosaic economy was so constituted, that it could never be universal; and that when it was considered what sort of a person Christ in fact was, there would appear reason to believe that this promise referred to him, separate from the authority of the Apostle in asserting it, and however dubious soever the sense of the prophesy might appear till it was illustrated by the event. See Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18.


Verse 10

Galatians 3:10. The works of the law They of faith, Galatians 3:9 and they of the works of the law, are spoken of as two sorts of persons; the one the genuine posterity of Abraham, by faith, and thereby heirs of the promise; the other not. There is also another division in these two verses, of the blessed, and those under the curse; whereby is meant such as are in a state of life, or acceptance with God, and such as are exposed to his wrath, and to death. See Deuteronomy 30:19. Dr. Whitby proves that the law of Adam was attended with a curse, as well as that of Moses; and that it is the more general curse which is here intended, as illustrated by what Moses expressed as the sanction of his institutions. See Deuteronomy 27:26.


Verse 11

Galatians 3:11. The just shall live by faith.. A dispute arose between St. Paul and the Judeaizing Christians, concerning what it was which justified a man before God, and entitled him to that eternal life brought to light by the gospel. They held it to be the works of the law. St. Paul, on the contrary, affirms, that it was faith in Jesus the Messiah: and thus he argues: But that no man is justified by the law, is evident; for the just shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith, but the man that doth them shall live in them.—As much as to say, "That no man can obtain life by virtue of the law, is evident from one of your own prophets, Habakkuk, who expressly holds, that the just shall live by faith. Now, by the law, no rewards are promised to faith, but to works only;—The man that doth, (says the law, Leviticus 18:5.) shall live in them." See Romans 1:17; Romans 3:28. Hebrews 2:4.


Verse 12

Galatians 3:12. And the law is not of faith: As the Apostle shews here, that there was no obtaining life by the law, without an immaculate obedience; faith, which is used here in opposition to it, must signify a firm belief of the promise of God, and acting according to it, in a dependance upon Christ only for righteousness and salvation; which is the way of justification and salvation revealed by the gospel.


Verse 13

Galatians 3:13. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, The curse of the law, from which Christ hath redeemed us, was that which doomed us to eternal misery; whence it has been justly inferred, that the law of Moses, which is included in this expression, was established on the sanction of future punishments. But, further, it is evident, that the course of the Apostle's argument here implies, that all true believers are redeemed from the curse, and, consequently, that he speaks of a curse to which all, as sinners, were liable: whereas the Gentiles, being under no obligation to the Mosaic lawat all, could not possibly be affected directly by its curse, nor could, indeed, be at all affected by it, otherwise than as the word law in this place includes the law of nature, or the Adamic law, as well as the Mosaic, as it undoubtedly must.

Christ was made a curse for us, by enduring the penalty which our sins had deserved; for such was the death which he bore in our stead, not only when considered as a capital punishment, which universally implies something of this kind, but as thus stigmatised by the express declaration of the law, Deuteronomy 21:23.


Verse 14

Galatians 3:14. That the blessing, &c.— That the blessing, Galatians 3:8-9; Galatians 3:14 justification, Galatians 3:11 and being the children of God, Galatians 3:26 are in effect all the same, on the one side; and that the curse, Galatians 3:13 is the direct contrary, on the other side, is so plain in St. Paul's discourse here, that nobody who reads it with the least attention can be in any doubt. His argument, to convince the Galatians that they ought not to be circumcised, or to submit to the law, on account of their having received the Spirit from him, that is, by his instrumentality, on embracing the gospel which he preached to them, stands thus: "The blessing promised to Abraham and his seed was wholly upon account of faith, Galatians 3:7. There were not different seeds who should inherit the promise,—the one by the works of the law, and the other by faith; for there was but one seed, which was Christ, (Galatians 3:16.) and those who should claim in and under him by faith. Among these there was no distinction of Jew and Gentile: they, and they only, who believed, were all one and the same true seed of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise, Galatians 3:28-29. And therefore the promise made to the people of God, of giving them the Spirit under the Gospel was performed only to those who believed in Christ:—a clear evidence that it was not by putting themselves under the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ, that they were the people of God, and heirs of the promise." It has been observed, that the plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit of God had been so frequently promised by the prophets, as the great blessing of the latter day, that it is here used as synonimous to the blessing of Abraham. Whence the great importance of the Spirit may be inferred; since the imparting it is represented as the great blessing of the gospel dispensation. And hence it follows, that the withdrawing and withholding it, is the great calamity which falls upon men by their apostacy from God. Only, it must ever be remembered, that every good thought, word and work, which has been produced by fallen man, has originated with this same Divine Spirit.


Verse 16

Galatians 3:16. He saith not, And to seeds, That is, The promises made to Abraham were not appropriated to one line of his descendants,—that is, to those by Isaac; but centred in one illustrious Person, with regard to whom the rest are made partakers of the great blessing exhibited in the Abrahamic covenant, that is to say, all the faithful saints of God.


Verse 17

Galatians 3:17. Four hundred and thirty years after, The first celebrated promise was made to Abraham when he was 75 years old, Genesis 12:3-4 and from this date of it, to the birth of Isaac, when Abraham was 100 years old, Genesis 21:5 was 25 years.

Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born, Genesis 25:26. Jacob went into Egypt at 130, Genesis 47:9 and the Israelites sojourned there (according to the LXX. Exodus 12:40.) 215 years; which completes the number. See Acts 7:6.


Verse 19

Galatians 3:19.— In answer to the objection, To what then serveth the law? the Apostle shews that the law was not contrary to the promise; but since all men were guilty of transgression, Galatians 3:22 the law was added, to shew the Israelites the fruit and inevitable consequence of their sin, and thereby the necessity of betaking themselves to Christ. But as soon as men had received Christ, they had attained the end of the law of Moses, and therefore should be no longer under it. This is a further argument against circumcision, Galatians 3:19-25.

It was added because of transgression, "It was added after the promise to Abraham was made." As the law given by Moses neither did nor could disannul the covenant made with Abraham, to which the Jews undoubtedly had a claim, the design of that law must therefore have been to engage those of his descendants who came under it, to see their need of that covenant, and more effectually to recommend the promise to them. And as the writing of the book of Genesis gave them a further account of it than tradition had preserved, the law might be said to be added to that account, because of transgressions, as their transgressions, not only of the ceremonial, but also of the moral precepts, would appear more exceedingly sinful and dangerous, in proportion to the perspicuity of these precepts, and the awful solemnity with which they were delivered.—That the law was given by the ministration of angels, is apparent from many passages of scripture; (comp. Psalms 68:17. Acts 7:53 and Hebrews 2:2.) though the Logos, or eternal Son of God, did undoubtedly preside among them, and it was in his name that the proclamation was made by the angels, as his heralds and attendants. The mediator here meant was Moses, who was particularly authorized by the Jewish people, as well as constituted by God, to mediate in the affair of receiving the law, which he transacted once for all. See Deuteronomy 5:5. Leviticus 26:46 where it is said, that the law was made between God and the children of Israel, by the hand of Moses.


Verse 20

Galatians 3:20. Now a mediator, &c.— To understand this verse, we must carry in our minds what St. Paul is here doing; and from Galatians 3:17 it is manifest that he is proving that the law could not disannul the promise; and he does it upon this known rule, that a covenant, or promise, once ratified, cannot be altered, or disannulled, by any other, but by both the parties concerned. Now, says he, God is but one of the parties concerned in the promise; the Gentiles and Israelites together made up the other, Galatians 3:14. But Moses, at the giving of the law, was a mediator only between the Israelites and God, and therefore could not transact my thing to the disannulling the promise which was between God and the Israelites and Gentiles together, because God was but one of the parties to that covenant; the other, which was the Gentiles (as well as Israelites), Moses appeared or transacted not for. And so what was done at Mount Sinai, by the mediation of Moses, could not affect a covenant made between parties, whereof one only was there. How necessary it was for St. Paul to add this, we shall see, if we consider that, without it, his argument, of 430 years' distance, would have been deficient, and hardly conclusive. For, if both the parties concerned in the promise had transacted by Moses, the mediator, (as they might, if none but the nation of the Israelites had been concerned in the promise made by God to Abraham), they might, by mutual consent, have altered, or set aside, the former promise, as well four hundred years as four days after. That which hindered it was, that, at Moses' mediation at Mount Sinai, God, who was but one of the parties to the promise, was present; but the other party, Abraham's seed, consisting of Israelites and Gentiles together, was not there. Moses transacted for the nation of the Israelites alone; the other nations were not concerned in the covenant made at mount Sinai, as they were in the promise made to Abraham and his seed, which, therefore, could not be disannulled without their consent: for that both the promise to Abraham and his seed, as well as the covenant with Israel at mount Sinai, was national, is in itself evi


Verse 21

Galatians 3:21. Which could have given life, Which could have put into a state of life. The word Ζωοποιησαι signifies, to make alive: St. Paul considers all men here as in a mortal state; and to be put out of that mortal state into a state of life, he calls being made alive. He says the law could not do this, because, it could not confer righteousness. By the law, means, by works, or obedience to that law, which tended towards righteousness as well as the promise, but was not able to reach to, or confirm it. See Romans 8:3.


Verse 22

Galatians 3:22. All The words Τα παντα are used here for all men. In Romans 3:9; Romans 3:19 the Apostle expresses the same thing by παντας, all men, and πας ο κοσμος, all the world: but, speaking in the present verse of the Jews in particular, he says we, meaning those of his own nation, as is evident from Galatians 3:24-25. Hath concluded all under sin, means, "hath ranked them all together, as one guilty race of sinners." See this proved, Romans 1:18; Romans 1:32; Romans 3:9. To the same purpose of putting both Jews and Gentiles into one state, St. Paul uses, Hath shut them up all together, Romans 11:32. Some render Galatians 3:23. But before faith came, we were kept shut up under the law, till the future faith should be revealed.


Verse 24

Galatians 3:24. Our school-master The original does not signify a school-master, but "one who heads or conducts children to school."The ancients generally employed a person for this purpose; and if the Apostle be supposed to allude to this custom, his reasoning will appear exceedingly plain and conclusive. See the next verse, and on Romans 10:4 and the Introduction to my Commentary on the Old Testament.


Verse 26

Galatians 3:26. For ye are all the children of God, &c.— As a further argument to dissuade them from circumcision, St. Paul tells the Galatians, that, by faith, that is, living faith, in Christ, all, whether Jews or Gentiles, are made the children of God; and so they stood in no need of circumcision.


Verse 27

Galatians 3:27. Have put on Christ. This, at first sight, may seem a very bad metaphor; but if we consider what St. Paul has said, Galatians 3:16; Galatians 3:26 we shall find it admirably adapted to express his thoughts in few words. He says, Galatians 3:16 that the Seed to which the promise was made was but one, and that one was Christ; and Galatians 3:26 he declares that by faith in Christ they all become the sons of God. To lead them into an easy conception of this, he here tells them, that, by taking on them, sincerely and in faith, the profession of the gospel, they have put on Christ: so that to God now looking on them, enjoying this living faith, there appears, as it were, nothing but Christ: that is to say, as long as they preserve this living faith and vital union with Christ, God the Father looks upon them to be as entirely free from guilt and condemnation as if they had been perfectly innocent, and receives them into full acceptance; and all this in and through the Beloved.


Verse 28

Galatians 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, That is to say, nor Gentile. "All distinctions are now put an end to, by this happy union; all are equally accepted in Christ Jesus; and, being made one body in him, believers, of whatever nation, sex, or condition, are all cemented in the bonds of holy friendship, and animated with the views of the same happiness."


Verse 29

Galatians 3:29. And if ye be Christ's, &c.— That is, if ye are united by faith to Him, who is the promised Seed, then are ye the true seed of Abraham, and, in consequence of this, heirs according to the promise.

Inferences.—With what gratitude should we reflect that, through the amazing goodness of God, we share in the same great privilege with the Galatians, and have Jesus Christ crucified evidently set forth amongst us. Let us make the object familiar to our view, and to our hearts; and may we all feel its powerful influence, to engage us to obey the truth, and to comply with the practical design of the gospel, spite of all the fascinating enchantments of this vain and delusive world! May those especially who have begun in the Spirit, and perhaps have suffered many difficulties already in the cause of religion, be concerned that they may not suffer so many things in vain; and, after all their pretensions and hopes, make an end in the flesh, by forsaking that excellent cause!

That we may be deemed the children of Abraham, let us be careful to obtain and cultivate the same faith with him; that so, believing in God, as he did, and trusting in the glorious Messiah, we may attain that righteousness, which it is impossible to attain by the deeds of the law; that law which insists upon immaculate obedience, and passes sentence upon every one that has transgressed it. Nothing can be more important than to endeavour to impress our souls with this fundamental truth; "That if we are of the works of the law, and trust in these for justification, we are under a curse." O that God may graciously thunder that curse into the ears of sleeping sinners, and make them sensible of their guilt and danger; that, as prisoners of justice, yet in some measure prisoners of hope, they may flee for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them in the Gospel! Zechariah 9:12. Hebrews 6:18.

Nor need we go far for help: no sooner are we wounded, as it were, in one verse, than we find provision for our healing in another: for Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law—and this in a method never sufficiently to be admired; even by making himself a ransom, yea, and becoming a curse for us; submitting, not only to great infamy and wretchedness in his life, but to an ignominious and accursed death, being slain and hanged on a tree, Acts 5:30; Acts 10:39.

To him let us apply, that the curse may be removed; and, with humble confidence in him, lift up our eyes in cheerful expectation; and, though by birth we are Gentiles, the blessing of Abraham will come upon us, and through faith we shall receive the promise of the Spirit. And what promise can be more valuable than this? what blessing more desirable, than to be enlightened, quickened, sanctified, and comforted by the Spirit of the living God? As the just, may we live by faith; and make it our daily request at the throne of grace, that God will implant and increase that divine principle in our hearts; even such a faith as shall work by love, and prove the genuine basis of sincere and universal obedience.

Rejoicing in these spiritual promises to which all true Christians are now equally intitled, and charging our souls with these obligations which necessarily attend them, let us look upon ourselves as the children of Abraham, as entitled to the noblest of those promises which God made to that excellent saint, even to that great and comprehensive promise, (which is all the salvation and all the desire, of every true child of Abraham,) namely, that God will be a God unto us, Genesis 17:7-8. Let us approve ourselves his genuine offspring, by imitating his faith; and always bear in mind, that, having been baptized into Christ, we have so put on Christ, as to be obliged to resemble him in his temper and character.

If we desire to share the blessings and glories of that one body, whereof Christ is the great and glorious head, let us not lay a disproportionate stress upon any thing, by which one Christian may be distinguished from another; but endeavour, as one in Christ Jesus, to be one in affection and friendship to each other: and let those who seem to have the greatest advantages, condescend to those who seem most their inferiors.

Giving up all expectations of life from the law, since that of Moses could not give it, let us look for glory, honour, and immortality by the gospel; truly thankful for the knowledge we have of the Mediator of a better covenant than that in which Moses was appointed to mediate. And, as the law was given, not to disannul the covenant of promise, but with a view to be subservient to it, and to point out Christ, let us apply to Him for righteousness and life; and in Him—as that one Seed of Abraham, in whom all the families and nations of believers were to be blessed,—let us centre our hopes, and be very solicitous that, by faith, we may be united to him, and so have a claim under him to all the privileges of the promise.

Thus let us continue to make use of the law, not as the foundation of our hope towards God, but as our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, by the discovery it has given of our need of him: and being sensible that it has shut up all under sin, from which we cannot be delivered but by the faith which the gospel has revealed, may we be led so to seek the benefit of the promise, that, being sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus, we may be joyful inheritors of eternal life and blessedness.

REFLECTIONS.—1st. With warm expostulation, and sharp rebuke, the Apostle upbraids the stupidity and folly of these Galatians, who had departed so grievously from the simplicity of the gospel. O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, what emissary of Satan, by his craft, has perverted your souls, that ye should not obey the truth, but depart from the grand principles of the gospel, renouncing the doctrine of free justification through the Redeemer's blood? Several things served to aggravate their folly:

1. The clear display of the truth which had been made to them—Before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, and his death and sufferings, with all the effects and designs of them, represented in such a lively manner, as if he had been crucified among you.

2. What they had received, under the ministration of the gospel. This only would I learn of you, received ye the Spirit, his gifts and graces, by the works of the law, by the ministration of it, or obedience to it, or by the hearing of faith, the preaching of justification through the free grace of a Redeemer? They must own that it was through the latter: and therefore most inexcusable was their folly to quit that gospel, the blessed and most happy effects of which they had experienced.

3. Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? and, forsaking your dependence on the grace of the gospel, do you expect to reach perfection by your obedience to the law of Moses? Are ye so foolish as to have recourse to the ministration of death, in order to obtain righteousness unto life?

4. Have ye suffered so many things in vain, for the cause of Christ and the profession of the gospel? How absurd were it to expose yourselves thus, if it be yet in vain, and after all you should apostatize, and lose the blessings of your profession and sufferings? You must then of all men be most foolish and most miserable.

5. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doth he it by the works of the law, as the way of justification, or by the hearing of faith, in the ministry of the gospel? If these miracles, as was evident, were wrought in confirmation of the doctrines of grace, how preposterously absurd were they to quit the truth confirmed by such divine and incontestable evidence!

2nd, The Apostle, having sharply rebuked the folly of the Galatians in departing from the truth, proceeds to confirm the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, from which they had been seduced. And he proves it,

1. By the example of Abraham. He believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness: the Lord Messiah, on whom his faith rested, became the meritorious cause of his acceptance before God. Know ye therefore, that they which are of faith, and place their whole dependence for acceptance with God on the same object, they are the spiritual children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, when neither circumcision was yet instituted, nor the law given, saying, In thee, that is, in thy Seed, the Messiah, shall all nations be blessed, accepted of God in him, and admitted to the participation of all the privileges of God's peculiar people. So then it is hence evident, that they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham, without the least respect to the law of Moses.

2. It is impossible for any man to be justified before God any other way than by faith. For as many as are of the works of the law, and seek justification on the footing of personal righteousness, are, and must be under the curse denounced on every transgressor: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them; the least failure in thought, word, or deed, but once, even in the longest life, effectually cuts off the sinner from all hope by the law, and leaves him under the wrath of an offended God. Therefore Christ, viewing our desperate guilt and hopeless misery, hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, by the price of his own blood, being made a curse for us, by divine constitution appointed to be our surety, and bearing, in his own body on the cross, the punishment due to our iniquities: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. And to this most painful, shameful, and accursed death he submitted, that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we, whether Jews or Gentiles, being taken into a state of acceptance with God, might receive the promise of the Spirit, in all his plenitude of gifts, graces, and consolations, through faith in the Redeemer; and not on account of any works of our own, or legal services. Note; (1.) Every man, being unable to yield immaculate obedience to the law, is consequently a transgressor, and sealed up, by nature, under wrath. (2.) Despair is written on every effort of the fallen sinner, made in his own natural strength, to escape from the condemnation under which he lies. (3.) The gospel brings relief to the desperate, by revealing to us a divine Substitute, all-sufficient to bear our sins, and to restore us to the enjoyment of God's forfeited favour. (4.) By persevering faith alone we embrace, and actually possess, all the blessings obtained for us in and by the great Redeemer.

3. The scriptures of the Old Testament are express to the point. But that no man is justified by the works of the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for the just shall live by faith; he only who by faith has laid hold of the great Atonement, can live in a state of favour with God. And the law is not of faith: but the way it prescribes for justification is directly opposite, even by immaculate personal obedience; the man that doeth them, and keeps, in spirit and practice, universally and abidingly, all the commands enjoined, shall live in them; but every defect, flaw, or failure, brings down death as the wages of sin. So that the saints of old were justified in the same way as we are, and the gospel was preached to them even as unto us.

4. The stability of the covenant made with Abraham could not be vacated by the law. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men, and use a familiar instance to elucidate the point in hand: though it be but a man's covenant, yet, if it be confirmed, and duly signed and sealed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto, except the parties interested, by mutual consent. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made, of justification, adoption, grace, and glory. He saith not to seeds, as of many, as if the promises referred to all his natural, as well as spiritual children, but as of one, in the singular number; and to thy Seed, which is Christ, through whose merit alone we can be justified, and by whose Spirit alone we can be sanctified. And this I say, as evident, that the covenant which was confirmed before, to Abraham, of God in Christ, or with respect to Christ, who was the Mediator and Surety of the covenant, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect, and introduce another way of justification before God, different from, yea, contrary to, that which God had before established with Abraham. For if the inheritance be of the law, and the title to acceptance with God be obtained by immaculate obedience, it is no more of promise: but God gave it graciously to Abraham by promise, which no subsequent dispensation could set aside; for God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent; and therefore the promise of justification and adoption is in Christ, promised only to those who truly believe in him.

3rdly, As to the objections which he knew the Jewish zealots would raise, as if he derogated from the honour of the law, and rendered it useless, he states and answers them.

1. They might say, Wherefore then serveth the law, if no creature can be justified or saved by it. I reply, It was added because of transgressions, in subservience to the design of the covenant of grace; in order to restrain, by its penalty, and to convince, discover, and condemn the transgressors, shewing them the necessity of a Divine Atonement, till the Seed should come, to whom the promise was made, and who should be the end of the law for righteousness, to every believer; and it was ordained by angels, delivered by their ministry, in the hand of a mediator, even Moses, who was typical of the great Mediator, Jesus Christ. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but stands between the two parties; but God is one; and as the Gentiles were not represented at all at mount Sinai, nor regarded as one of the parties in that covenant, which was a transaction merely between God and Abraham's natural seed, this cannot exclude them from the benefit of the antecedent promise which God made to Abraham and his spiritual seed.

2. Some may hence argue, Is the law then against the promises of God, made to Abraham and his seed? are they at variance with each other? God forbid: there is the most perfect harmony between them. For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law; and could man have yielded, in his own person, an immaculate obedience to the law, his title to life would have been clear, and the promised Substitute had been unnecessary: but the scripture hath concluded all under sin, hath shut up every man, as in a dungeon, under the guilt and condemnation of sin, all having come short of the glory of God; that the promise, by faith, of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe, and that pardon and salvation might come to such, as the free gift of God in him. But before faith came, (before Christ, the great object of faith, appeared incarnate, and his gospel was more clearly manifested) we, who were under the Mosaic dispensation, were kept under the law, as in a castle, separate from other nations, and as captives under a yoke of bondage, shut up in close custody unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed, and till Christ, opening to us a door of hope, should bring us from this state of servitude into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster, and served most directly to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith: the moral precepts and sanction convinced us of our desperate case, as unable to answer the demands of the law, and obnoxious to the curse; the ceremonial institutions led us to look for the divine Substitute, in all the sacrifices which were enjoined for the expiation of sin; and both taught the necessity of justification by faith, through a divine and infinitely meritorious Atonement. But after that faith is come, and Christ, the sinner's Substitute, hath appeared, and is held forth to us in the gospel, we are no longer under a schoolmaster, being delivered from our former state of minority and legal bondage. For now ye who believe, are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ, arrived to maturity of age, and entitled to all the blessings of adoption which Jesus hath obtained for all that perseveringly believe in him. For as many of you, whether Jews or Gentiles, as have been baptized into Christ, by faith really united to him, and by baptism making open profession of him, have put on Christ: through him alone they are accepted, and by his Spirit are cloathed with the whole panoply of God. There is now neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, all distinctions of nation, sex, condition, are ceased: for ye, who believe, are all one in Christ Jesus, united to him in one body, and alike freely partakers of all the privileges contained in the gospel. And if ye be Christ's, living members of his body mystical, then are ye Abraham's Seed, in a spiritual sense, and heirs according to the promise, entitled to claim, under Christ, your great covenant head, all the blessings which he has purchased by his blood, which will, in due time, be bestowed on all his faithful saints.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Galatians 3:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/galatians-3.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, July 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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