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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Galatians 4

 

 

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Introduction

CHAP. IV.

We were under the law till Christ came, as the heir is under his guardian till he be of age. But Christ freed us from the law: therefore we are servants no longer to it. He remembereth their good-will to him, and his to them; and sheweth that we are the sons of Abraham by the free-woman.

Anno Domini 49.

THE Apostle having established the joyful doctrine, that believers, in every age and country of the world, are heirs of the promises made to Abraham and to his seed, goes on in this chapter to answer two questions, which he knew would naturally occur to his readers, but which, according to his manner, he does not formally state. The first is, since all believers from the beginning were heirs of the promises, as well as of the things promised, why were they not put in possession of the promises from the beginning, by sending Christ into the world, and introducing the gospel dispensation, in the first age; that the promises, especially the promise of pardon and eternal life through faith, might have been published universally, and preserved for the benefit of the heirs in every age? The second question is, Why were mankind left for so many ages to the direction of the laws of nature and of Moses (for so the infidel would state his objection), neither of which gave them any hope of pardon and eternal life?—To the first of these questions the Apostle replied, That in not giving the heirs the knowledge of the promises, by introducing the gospel dispensation immediately after the fall, God treated them as a prudent father treats his son, while under age. During his non-age he does not allow him to possess the estate of which he is the heir, because he has not discretion to use it aright; but he keeps him in the condition of a bondman. In the same manner, though believers from the beginning were heirs of the promises, God did not, in the early ages, put them in possession of them, by immediately setting up the gospel dispensation; because, in the first ages, the state of the world did not admit, either of the universal publication of the gospel, or of its preservation, Galatians 4:1.—To the secondquestion, concerning the keeping of the heirs for so many ages under the tuition of the laws of nature and of Moses, the Apostle's answer implies, that, as the heir of a great estate must be prepared by a proper education for enjoying it with dignity, and is therefore, in his childhood, placed under tutors who protect and instruct him, and stewards who manage his estate, and supply himwithnecessaries,tillthe time appointed in his father's will for taking possession of his inheritance, Galatians 4:2.—so, to prepare believers for the actual inheritance of the promises under the gospel dispensation, God judged it proper to continue them for a long time under the bondage of the laws of nature and of Moses, or rather, as a Christian would express it, under the Adamic law, &c.—a law accompanied with such offers of grace and influences of the Spirit, as would bring every sincere soul to glory, through the infinite and alone merits of the great Redeemer of mankind, that, by experiencing the hardships of that bondage, they might be the more sensible of the happiness which they were to derive from the liberty of the gospel, Galatians 4:3. Only it must be added, that the Adamic law, as well as the law of Moses, could do nothing of itself, without grace, but make sin exceeding sinful.

More particularly, it was not fit that a complete discoveryof the method of salvation should be made to all mankind by the publication of the promises in the gospel, till they were made sensible of the utter insufficiency of their own natural powers for discovering an effectual method of reconciling themselves to God. But so perfectly ineffectual is the mere reason of fallen man to guide us to life eternal, that, though a sufficiency of grace for salvation was offered to mankind under the darkest dispensations, the generality of the world had lost even the imperfect knowledge of the method of salvation which God had revealed to their first parents after the fall; notwithstanding, to preserve that knowledge, God appointed the sacrifices of beasts, as an emblem of that effectual sacrifice which the Seed of the woman was to offer in due time. For mankind, not preserving the true meaning of these sacrifices, believed them to be real atonements; and in that persuasion multiplying them without end, they foolishly expected to be pardoned, through the number and costliness of the animal sacrifices which they offered. In this state of the world, God thought fit to introduce the law of Moses, in which the same sacrifices of beasts wereappointed; not however as real atonements for sin, but expressly as types of the real Atonement which God had promised should be made; that, bybringing back the rite of sacrifice to its original intendment, and by reviving the expectation of a real atonement, mankind might be made sensible that it is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take away sin. This important truth was still more directly shewn in those precepts of the law of Moses which ordered the same sacrifices to be often offered for the same persons. For, as the Apostle justly argues, Hebrews 10:2 if these sacrifices had been real atonements, being once offered, there would have been no need to have repeated them. Thus the Levitical sacrifices, by reviving the expectation of a real atonement to be made in due time, and by shewing the utter inefficacy of the sacrifices of beasts to procure the pardon of sin, led the Jews to the sacrifice of Christ, the only real atonement; so that, as the Apostle affirms, Galatians 3:24 the law of Moses, by its sacrifices, as well as by its curse, was a schoolmaster to lead the Jews to Christ.—Wherefore, when the heathens, under the tuition of the Adamic law, accompanied with divine grace, without which it could work nothing but death, were made sensible of the insufficiency of their own natural powers to discover any effectual method of obtaining pardon; and when the Jews, by the law of Moses, were shewn that it was not possible for the sacrifices of beasts to take away sin, and when the political state of the world admitted the gospel to be preached to all nations, and preserved when preached,—then was the fulness of the time, or the proper season for God's sending forth his Son into the world, born of a woman, descended from Abraham, to make a complete discovery of the method of salvation by the gospel revelation, Galatians 4:4.—And by offering himself a sacrifice for sin to redeem believers, the heirs of the promises, from the tuition both of the Adamic law and of the law of Moses; and to place them under the gospel dispensation, that they may receive the adoption of sons; that is, all the privileges which belong to the sons, or heirs of God.

Next, in regard that the believing Gentiles, equally with the believing Jews, are the sons of God, and heirs of the promises, the Apostle addressed both, saying, Wherefore, because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the spirit of his Son into your hearts, the Holy Spirit, whose gifts, graces, and witness, are evidences of your sonship, and embolden you to address God by the endearing appellation of Father, Galatians 4:6. Thou then who possessest the graces and witness of the Spirit, whether thou be'st a Jew or a Gentile, art no longer a bond-man, under the tuition of the law, either the Adamic or that of Moses, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God, an heir of all the promises of God, through the atonement which Christ has made for thee, Galatians 4:7.—However, ye Gentiles ought to remember, that in your heathen state, being ignorant of the true God, ye worshipped, with a slavish subjection, things which are no gods, Galatians 4:8.—But now, having acknowledged the true God as your Father, or, to express it better, being acknowledged by the true God as his sons, ye worship him acceptably with spiritual services. And being in this happy state, why do ye, by embracing Judaism, return to the same kind of bodily unprofitable worship, by sacrifices, washings, and holy days, which ye practised in heathenism? Galatians 4:9.—I am told that ye observe the days, and new moons, and seasons, and years enjoined in the law of Moses;which kind of worship, though different in respect of its object, is in its nature the same with the worship that ye formerly paid to your idols, and has the same tendency to beget in you a superstitious, slavish, disposition. These observances, I know, ye have been made to believe are necessary to your salvation: but I assure you that they are utterly ineffectual for that purpose, Galatians 4:10.—I am afraid I have laboured in vain among you, Galatians 4:11. Lest, however, this rebuke might have offended the Galatians, he assured them that it proceeded from love; and desired the continuance of their affection, which, when he first preached to them, had been very great, Galatians 4:12-20.

The Apostle next turned his discourse to the false teachers, and asked them and their disciples, who wished to be under the law of Moses as the rule of their justification, why they did not understand the law? He meant the writings of Moses, which, when rightly interpreted, taught the freedom of Abraham's seed, by faith, from the bondage of the law, Galatians 4:21.—To prove this, the Apostle, entering into the deep meaning of the things which Moses has written concerning Abraham, observed that Abraham, as the father of the people of God, had two sons, the one by the bond-maid, Hagar, the other by the free-woman, Sarah, Galatians 4:22.—But the one by the bond-maid was begotten by the natural strength of his parents; but the son, who was born of the free-woman, was begotten supernaturally, through the strength communicated to his parents by the promise, Galatians 4:23.—These things the Apostle told the Galatians were an allegory: for these mothers represent the two covenants, by which men are made the church and people of God. The one covenant is that of the law given from mount Sinai, whereby the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh were made the visible church and people of God; and which bringeth forth all its children in bondage to the law. This covenant is represented by Hagar, Galatians 4:24.—Wherefore her son Ishmael, whom she brought forth in bondage, was a type of the then present Jerusalem, or visible Jewish church, consisting of Abraham's natural descendants by Isaac; who are all in bondage to the law; and who, if they have no relation to Abraham but by natural descent, and to God but by living in his visible church, will be excluded from the inheritance of heaven, as Ishmael was from the earthlyinheritance, on account of his being brought forth in bondage. Hagar and her son Ishmael are likewise types of those who, under the gospel dispensation, are members of God's visible church, merely by being born of parents who are members of that church, and who are in bondage to their lusts: for they likewise will be excluded from the inheritance of heaven, Galatians 4:25.—The other covenant is that of the gospel, which was published from Mount Zion, Isaiah 2:3 whereby believers, Abraham's children by faith, are made citizens of the Jerusalem above; that is, members of God's invisible, universal church, whose most perfect state will be in heaven. This covenant is fitly typified bySarah, the free-woman, who was constituted by God the mother of all believers. And her son Isaac, who was born in freedom, is an apt type of Abraham's children by faith, who, being regenerated by God, are born in freedom from the bondage of the law, and from the slavery of sin; and are the universal invisible church of God, and heirs of the heavenly inheritance, Galatians 4:2

The foregoing account of Abraham's wives and sons, and of the persons and things typified by them, the Apostle told the Galatians, was confirmed by Isaiah, who foretold the conversion of the Gentiles, under the idea of their becoming Sarah's children by faith, in these words: Rejoice, O barren woman, &c. Galatians 4:27.

Having thus established his allegorical interpretation of the history of Abraham's wives and sons, he drew therefrom the following conclusion, concerning believers of all nations: we, brethren, after the manner of Isaac, are the children begotten to Abraham, by God's promise, "a father of many nations I have constituted thee," and are the persons typified by Isaac, Galatians 4:28.—But, says the Apostle, As then Ishmael, who was begotten according to the flesh, persecuted Isaac, who was begotten according to the Spirit, by mocking him, and by insisting that he should be excluded from the inheritance, because he was the younger son; so it hath happened now. The Jews, the natural descendants of Abraham, persecute us believers in Christ, who are Abraham's spiritual seed, and endeavour to exclude us from the inheritance, because they were made the church and people of God before us, Galatians 4:29.—But what (says the scripture) happened on that occasion? why, that God ordered Abraham to cast out the bond-woman and her son: for the son of the bond-woman shall not inherit with the son of the free-woman; thereby declaring, that those who are the people of God only by natural descent and outward profession, shall not inherit heaven, Galatians 4:30.—Thus, brethren, it appears from the law itself, that the births of Ishmael and Isaac were ordered in such a manner, as to shew that believers of all nations are the children of Abraham, not by the bond-woman, indeed, but by the free; consequently, that they are the heirs of the promises, and of the heavenly country, although they are not in bondage to the law of Moses, Galatians 4:31.


Verse 1

Galatians 4:1. Now I say, that the heir, &c.— The Apostle goes on farther to prove, that the law was not against the promise, in that the child is not disinherited by being under tutors: But his chief design is, to shew that, though both Jews and Gentiles were intended to be the children of God, and heirs of the promise by faith in Christ,yet they both of them were left in bondage, till Christ, in due time, came to redeem them both; and therefore it was folly in the Galatians, being redeemed from one bondage, to go backwards, and put themselves again into a state of bondage, though under a new master.

The word Δουλος signifies properly, and should be rendered, bondman, or bond-servant; and unless it be so translated, Galatians 4:1; Galatians 4:7-8 bondage in Galatians 4:3; Galatians 4:9 will scarcely be understood by an English reader; but St. Paul's sense will be lost to a person who, by servant, understands not one in a state of bondage. Bengelius thinks, that this should connect with what precedes, and not begin a new chapter:—what I mean is, that as long as, &c.


Verse 3

Galatians 4:3. Even so we, It is plain that St. Paul speaks here in the name of the Jews or Jewish church, which, though God's peculiar people, yet was to pass a nonage,—so St. Paul calls it,—under the restraint and tutelage of the law; and not to receive the possession of the promised inheritance till Christ came.


Verse 4-5

Galatians 4:4-5. God sent forth his son, These verses should be read and understood thus: God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, (made under the law, to redeem them that are under the law) that we might receive the adoption of sons.


Verse 6

Galatians 4:6. God hath sent forth the Spirit, &c.— St. Paul uses the same argument of proving their sonship from having the Spirit, Romans 8:16. And he that will read 2 Corinthians 4:17 to 2Co_5:6 and Ephesians 1:11-14 will find, that the Spirit is looked upon as the seal and assurance of the inheritance of life to those who have received the adoption of sons, as St. Paul speaks here, Galatians 4:5. The force of the argument seems to lie in this, that as he who has the spirit of a man in him, has an evidence that he is the son of man; so he that hath the Spirit of God has thereby an assurance that he is the Son of God. It was not allowed to slaves among the Jews to use the title of abba, father, in addressing the master of the family to which they belonged, or the correspondent title of imma, mother, when speaking to the mistress of it.


Verse 7

Galatians 4:7. And if a son, then an heir, &c.— From the Galatians having received the Spirit, as appears ch. Galatians 3:2. St. Paul argues, that they are the Sons of God without the law; consequently, heirs of the promise without the law: "For," says he, Galatians 4:1-6 the Jews themselves were obliged "to be redeemed from the bondage of the law by Jesus Christ, that as sons they might attain to the inheritance; but you, Galatians, (he goes on,) have, by the Spirit which is given you through the ministry of the gospel, an evidence that God is your Father; and being sons, are free from the bondage of the law, and heirs without it." St. Paul uses the same sort of reasoning to the Romans, ch. Romans 8:14-17.


Verse 8

Galatians 4:8. Ye did service unto them, &c.— Ye were in bondage unto those which, &c. See on Galatians 4:1. It is evident here, that though these Christians had, before their conversion, been idolatrous Gentiles, the Judaizing teachers were desirous of subjecting them to the yoke of the Mosaic ceremonies.


Verse 9

Galatians 4:9. Are known of God, Or, are approved of God. The Apostle having said, ye have known God, he subjoins, or rather are known of him, in the Hebrew latitude of the word known; in which language it sometimes signifies, "knowing with choice and approbation." See Amos 3:2. 1 Corinthians 8:3. The law is here Called weak, because it was not able to deliver a man from bondage and death into the glorious liberty of the sons of God; and it is called beggarly, or poor, because it kept men in the poor estate of pupils, from the full possession and enjoyment of the inheritance, Galatians 4:1-3. The Apostle makes it matter of astonishment how they who had been in bondage to false gods, having been once set free, could endure the thoughts of parting with their liberty; of returning into anysort of bondage again; much more to a bondage under the weak and wretched external institutions of the Mosaical law, which was not able to make themsons, and instate them in the inheritance. For in Galatians 4:7 he expressly opposes bondage to sonship.

The word Παλιν, again, evidently refers here, not to elements which the Galatians had never been under hitherto, but to bondage, which he tells them, Galatians 4:8 they had been in to false gods.


Verse 11

Galatians 4:11. I am afraid of you, &c.— There was the greater reason for this apprehension, as the fixing the time for the Jewish feasts depended upon the great Sanhedrim; so that their observing them would bring them into such an intercourse with, and dependence upon that court, as might be greatly to the hazard of their Christianity.


Verse 12

Galatians 4:12. For I am as ye are: the original words καγω ως υμεις are ambiguous, and may either signify, I am, or I have been, as ye are. Our translation takes them in the former sense, and so they must express his unanimity with them in love; which he urges as an argument for their unanimity with him, and affection to him; and this certainly very well suits the connection with the subsequent part of the verse. The latter sense, however, seems preferable, as more weighty, copious, and striking, and, perhaps, more natural too: for it is certain that many of them were much prejudiced against him, while he was most tenderly affected towards them. See Galatians 4:16 ch. Galatians 1:6.


Verse 14

Galatians 4:14. My temptation which was in my flesh, What this weakness and trial in the flesh was, says Mr. Locke, since it has not pleased the Apostle to mention, it is impossible for us to know; but it may be remarked here, as an instance, once for all, oftheunavoidableobscurityofsome passages in epistolary writings, without any fault in the author; for some things necessary to the understanding of what is written are usually of course and justly omitted, because already known by the person, or persons, to whom the letter is written; and it would be often superfluous, and sometimes very ungraceful, particularly to mention them. We may, however, just observe, that this seems to be the same as the infirmity of the flesh, Galatians 4:13 and it is very probably supposed by many to be what he speaks of 2 Corinthians 12:7. See also

2 Corinthians 10:10. But we must once more add, that St. Paul, as well as all the other writers of the bible, was, while writing, under the infallible direction of the Holy Ghost.


Verse 15

Galatians 4:15. Where is then the blessedness, &c.— What benedictions did you then pour out upon me! Locke; who observes, that the context makes this sense of the words so necessary and visible, that it is to be wondered how any one could overlook it. Several commentators, however, do not agree with Mr. Locke; but think that by blessedness here we are to understand the sense which they had of their own happiness, in being enlightened by St. Paul in the knowledge of the gospel. See Romans 4:6; Romans 4:9.


Verse 17

Galatians 4:17. They would exclude you. Some copies and several expositors read us, which certainly appears more natural and easy; and, is there is no doubt but that the Apostle refers here to the endeavours used by the false teachers to alienate their affections from him, it may induce us to prefer this reading:—which is put by the translators of our bible in the margin.


Verse 18

Galatians 4:18. In a good thing, That by the word καλω here, he means a person and himself, the scope of the context evinces. In the preceding verses he speaks only of himself, and the change of their affection to him since he left them. There is no other thing mentioned aspeculiarly deserving their affection, to which the rule given in this verse could refer. He had said, Galatians 4:17 they affect you, and that you may affect them. This is only of persons, and therefore the words ζηλουσθαι εν καλω, which immediately follow, may best be understood of a person; else the following part of the verse, though joined by the copulative and, will make but a broken sense with the preceding. But there can be nothing more coherent than this, which seems to be St. Paul's sense: "You were very affectionate to me when I was with you; you are since estranged from me. It is the artifice of the seducers, who have cooled you to me; but if I am the good man you took me to be, you will do well to continue the warmth of your affection to me when I am absent, and not to be well affected towards me only when present among you." Though this be his meaning, yet the way that he has taken to express it is much more elegant, modest, and graceful. Let any one read the original, and he will be fully satisfied that it is so. Some connect this with the following verse, thus:—and not only when I am present with you, my little children, of whom, &c. until Christ be formed in you: Galatians 4:20. But I desire, &c.


Verse 20

Galatians 4:20. And to change my voice; This seems to signify the speaking higher, or lower, changing the tone of the voice suitably to the matter delivered, whether it be advice, commendation, or reproof; for each of these have their distinct voices. St. Paul wishes himself with them, that he might accommodate himself to their present condition and circumstances. Dr. Heylin, however, understands it differently, and translates, that I might address you in another manner, (viva voce) for I am in great perplexity upon your account.


Verse 21

Galatians 4:21.— The Apostle exhorts the Galatians to stand fast in the liberty with which Christ hath made them free; shewing those who are so zealous for the law, that if they mind what they read in the law, they will there find that the children of the promise, or of the new Jerusalem, were to be free; but the children after the flesh, of the earthly Jerusalem, were to be in bondage, to be cast out, and not to have the inheritance.


Verse 24

Galatians 4:24. Which things are an allegory: The original may be rendered, Which things are allegorical, or have been allegorized. It seems to have been in compliance with the disposition of the Jewish Christians, who were fond of allegoric interpretations, that St. Paul, above all the other apostles, used that way. He seems to intimate as much, when, upon the allegory of Abraham's two sons, he argues for the discharge of the believing Gentiles from the legal rites. He had, in his former chapter, offered them several good reasons in proof of their liberty, before he comes to this, which he introduces with the preface, "My little children, &c." Galatians 4:19-20. He goes on, "I will try what an allegory will do. Tell me, you who desire, &c." St. Paul had no intention to prove by this allegory the truth of Christianity to the unbelievingJews;buttoshew the Christian exemption from Jewish rites, to Jews who professed themselves Christians. To such persons his arguments, built upon this passage in Moses's writings, were very convincing, because they against whom he disputed approved of this sort of reasoning upon scripture history, and admitted the general principles upon which this and other allegorical principles were built. They had learned, that all things happened to their fathers in a figure, and that things in the law included a mystery relating to future times. And when an exact coincidence of all the circumstances in the history, and some after-event, was made out, it was to them a strong argument, because it suited their genius, and was a method of proof to which theyhad been accustomed. In Philo, we see this history allegorized to a moral sense; Sarah being put for virtue by that author, in his book of allegories: and Agar, for that knowledge of the sciences which ought to be subservient to virtue, or else to be expelled: and who can say that this history was not allegorized by others in St. Paul's sense, especially as there is an obvious analogy between the family of Abraham, the father of the faithful, and the church of the faithful; which St. Paul might improve, in comparing all the parts of that history with the state of the present Christian and Jewish church, to accommodate the whole to the subject of their controversy. Be this as it may, the Galatians could not mistake him, as if he was about to impose a false sense of the law upon them, after he had forewarned them in what sense he interpreted that history. He does not give the least intimation that the words in Genesis literally signified the two covenants: on the contrary, he tells them, these things being allegorized, have this sense. And if they were allegorized, then they were transferred from their genuine signification to other things illustrated in the figure. The history did not predict, but figured the other by unforced accommodation.

These are the two covenants That is, These two persons, Hagar and Sarah, may well be considered as representing the two covenants, or dispensations, of the law and the gospel. This Hagar, I say, (Galatians 4:25.) whose name signifies a rock, is a representation of those who are under the law, given from mount Sinai in Arabia, in the desarts of which the Hagarenes, who descended from Ishmael, were settled: and it answers in the allegory to the present state of the earthly Jerusalem, which, with her children, is in bondage under the law. The particle γαρ cannot have its illative force in Galatians 4:25 since it would be very injurious to the Apostle to suppose that he meant to argue thus: "Mount Sinai is Agar; for this Agar is mount Sinai." It must therefore signify the same with I say, and only introduce the repetition of a thought which the Apostle was desirous to inculcate; as it often does elsewhere.


Verse 26

Galatians 4:26. Jerusalem which is above, Under the name of Jerusalem is understood the gospel covenant, as will appear from the very etymology of the word; which signifies, the seeing or possessing of peace, or the peace-maker—a name highly applicable to the covenant of the Messiah, who is stiled, "The Prince of Salem, or, of Peace." The Apostle here refers to the free genius of Christianity, which, when compared with Judaism, made it evidently fit, in the illustration of this allegory, to consider the free-woman, that is, Sarah, as representing the church under this nobler form. The temple of God and the new Jerusalem, under the Christian dispensation, is the whole collective body, the universal church, consisting of converts fromJews and Gentiles.


Verse 29

Galatians 4:29. Born after the flesh That is, Ishmael; in whose birth there was nothing beyond the common course of nature. He that was born after the Spirit is Isaac, who was produced as the spiritual seed, by the especial energy of God's miraculous power. See Genesis 21:3. 2 Corinthians 10:3.—Even so is it now: that is, "So the carnal Jews who are the seed of Abraham after the flesh, abuse and persecute us Christians, who are Abraham's seed after the spirit, because we will not conform to the observance of legal ceremonies." The expressions, born after the flesh, and born after the Spirit, have, in their original brevity with regard to the whole view wherein St. Paul uses them, an admirable beauty and force.


Verse 31

Galatians 4:31. So then, brethren, The Apostle, by this allegorical history, shews the Galatians that they who are sons of Agar, that is to say, under the law given at mount Sinai, are in bondage; the peculiar inheritance being designed for those only who are the free-born sons of God, under the spiritual covenant of the gospel. And thereupon he exhorts them in the following words, to preserve themselves in that state of freedom; for the exhortation in Galatians 4:1 of the following chapter is so evidently grounded on what the Apostle has been saying here, that it should, by all means, be connected with it. It is made the close of this chapter in three of Stephens's copies; which seems to be much more proper than to make it the beginning of another. We shall subjoin here a few observations on this chapter, particularly on Galatians 4:4.—to prove that the time when Christianity was made known, was the fittest period possible,—by way of

Inferences.—The goodness of God is not only eminently displayed in the great and signal blessings which he has conferred on mankind; but it may appear likewise in the very time fixed upon for bestowing his favours. We all know, from our own experience, that the deferring a benefit frequently enhances the value of it, and, of consequence, heightens our obligation to the benefactor. This reasoning may well be applied to the argument now under consideration.

Captious men have been apt to abound in vain inquiries; and, among others of a like nature, to ask this question;—"Why the Christian revelation, if it be really divine, was not communicated sooner?" To which St. Paul has plainly intimated, in the words before us, this solid and sufficient answer. "That the preceding ages of the world were not so proper for it; for, in the fulness of time, God sent forth his Son: that is, at the time prescribed and pointed out in the ancient prophesies; not from mere arbitrary pleasure, but because it was in itself the fittest."

Indeed, if the introduction of the Christian dispensation into the world, immediately after the fall, were absolutely necessary, in the nature of the thing itself, to enable mankind to know, experience, and practise what it is their indispensable duty to know, experience, and practise, for eternal salvation, we should have had reason to conclude that it must have subsisted from the beginning, or as soon as this necessity commenced; and not have been delayed in the manner it was. But this is not the just state of the case; because the infinitely wise and righteous Governor of the world can require nothing of his creatures but what he has given them, or offered to them, a capacity and power to perform: the natural consequence of which is, that every man answers the end of that particular station wherein he is placed, who receives and uses the grace offered to him, and accordingly acts up to the light and advantages which he enjoys, whatever they are; though, in point of merit, he can be accepted of God only through the great atonement of the Son of his love, who was the Lamb slain in promise from the foundation of the world.

The fixing, therefore, of the times of the different dispensations, had no regard to equity, but solely to the Divine wisdom and goodness; so that, whatever time was judged most proper in the Divine Mind for the introduction of the gospel dispensation, or for the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, and the mission of the Holy Ghost, that was, without doubt, the most expedient and seasonable for the introduction or promulgation of it.* We proceed, therefore, to shew,—"That the time mentioned by St. Paul was the fittest period for infinite Wisdom to fix upon, because it was most proper for the propagation of Christianity; and that for two reasons of incontestible weight: first, that it could be more easily spread from one nation to another; and, secondly, that it might make a larger and more extensive progress."

* I am conscious that the omnipotence of God could make all circumstances submit to his pleasure. But we are not to judge in these cases from what he could, but from what he is pleased to do.

To this end it is proper to remember, that the greatest part of the known world was now united in one empire, under the Roman power; so that the intercourse between mankind was more universal, and travelling to remote nations more easy and commodious than it had ever been, under any other of the great monarchies. In this period likewise the world enjoyed a degree of peace and tranquillity, for a long while before unknown; which was another very favourable circumstance for the propagation and settlement of the gospel:—for, amid the horrors and desolations of war, the minds of men are distracted, and their thoughts fluctuating and confused. The general attention is engaged by victories and triumphs, or by scenes of devastation and ruin. The fate of nations is the point to be decided: the principal question depending, which employs speculations and inquiries, hopes and fears, is, "which shall be established—liberty or servitude?" And it is not to be expected, considering the depravity of mankind, that the generality will be sedate enough to examine and pursue truth as they ought, with disorder and confusion all around them. The preachers of new doctrines must then especially be obnoxious to the suspicions and resentments of the governing powers; every innovation will be represented as in a peculiar degree dangerous, and is likely to be suppressed, if possible, by all imaginary methods of craft and violence: not to mention that the communication between countries of opposite pretensions and interests being shut up, the propagation of true religion would be exceedingly obstructed.

Now, all these inconveniences which attend a state of war in general, formed the real situation and state of things for a long time before our Blessed Saviour's appearance: But, after the most polite and flourishing parts of the world had, for several centuries, been disquieted and shaken by frequent revolutions of empire, and harrassed with almost perpetual wars—in the reign of Augustus Caesar, these competitions and convulsions ceased;—and THEN the Saviour of the World, the Prince of Peace, was born; the substance of whose commission was, to assert the glory of the triune and eternal God, by his infinitely satisfactory atonement, and by the mission of the Holy Spirit; and thereby also to establish in the hearts of men love to God and love to each other; and, of consequence, that peace among men, that amiable and generous spirit of unconfined benevolence, which, if it prevailed, would make cruelty relent, bend stubborn pride, and allay the raging heat of ambition.—And it is farther observable, that the external peace which now subsisted, was not only more universal, but continued longer than had been often known in the history of preceding times; by which means, among others, Christianity became more established, till at length, through divine grace, that Roman power, which had severely oppressed and persecuted the professors of it, submitted, and owned its authority. Thus then we see that our blessed Saviour appeared at that period of time best fitted for trying, examining, proving, enforcing, and conveying his doctrines to all parts of the world, and to all succeeding ages and generations.

Again, one reason why his coming was so long delayed, was probably in order to justify the conduct of God in his dispensations to mankind, and to enable us to answer the cavil so often urged against the Christian dispensation—"Where was the necessity of this extraordinary step?—Could nothing less than the Son of God redeem mankind from their sins, and inform and instruct the world?"

To this the answer is now obvious:—"All other methods of effecting that purpose had been tried, or put in force, and all proved ineffectual."—When the preaching of Noah for an hundred years together was found utterly fruitless for the regeneration and reformation of mankind, God destroyed the whole race, one family excepted, by a flood.—When longevity and the experience of ages were found only to inspire mankind with confidence and security in sinning, God contracted their lives from period to period, until he reduced them to the present pittance.—When the example and influence of Noah, and the recent judgments of God upon the earth, could not restrain his sons from the vanity and evil tendencies of building the city and tower of Babel, God at once, by a signal interposition, confounded their language and their devices. The terrors of this judgment could scarcely be abated, before the signal blessings of God upon Abraham, and his judgments upon Sodom, became an open monition to mankind of divine savour and protection to piety, and vengeance upon wickedness. When the Egyptians began to grow eminent over the other empires of the world, God signally interposed for the manifestation of the true religion, by the ministry of Joseph; from whom, there is good reason to believe, they were more or less taught the worship of the true God, and the duties which they owed him. And when this nation became perfectly corrupt, through length of time and the increase of power and wealth, God again interposed for the deliverance of his people from among them, with a mighty hand and stretched-out arm, to the terror of the whole world, and the manifestation of his more immediate providence and dominion over the affairs of men.

From this time his peculiar people subsisted in the midst of their enemies by little less than a series of miracles, until they became, under David and Solomon, the greatest empire of the earth; and then the lustre and glory of the true religion was amply exhibited to the whole world around them.

As they became corrupt, the Egyptian monarchy prevailed, and principally upon their ruins;—as they repented, they were redeemed; and as they returned to their corruptions, they were gradually and proportionably oppressed by the succeeding monarchies: but still, in each of these,—in the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Grecian, God signally interposed, by prophets, by miracles, by visions, and by signal judgments from heaven, for the manifestation of the true religion;—and, last of all,—when all these mercies, miracles, judgments, deliverances, monitions, visions, failed, and were found ineffectual; when the wisest and the divinest poets failed; when lawgivers, politicians, philosophers, and prophets proved insufficient for the instruction, regeneration, and amendment of the world!—the Divine Wisdom once more interposed, by sending down THE SON OF GOD from heaven, to atone, instruct, and, by his Holy Spirit, regenerate all that would believe. From all these reasons united, it is therefore clearly evident, that the period when Christ so came was the fittest season,—the fulness of time for sending a Saviour into the world.

And now, from what we have seen with respect to the past, we may extend our view to future times. For, as the Supreme Being must be at liberty to confer favours which could not be claimed, and as he has been pleased actually to communicate a revelation of these glorious truths,—we have sufficient ground to hope, yea, to be fully confident, not only from these arguments, but from the sure word of prophesy, that it certainly will be hereafter universally diffused. And if there will be such a future period, as we are fully assured there will, we may justly presume, from what we are convinced was the case at the first promulgation of the gospel, "that there will be sufficient evidence to convince thoughtful inquirers, that this also is the fittest season which could be fixed upon to answer the gracious design of Providence."

There are several circumstances already opened to our view, which demonstrate, that even now Christianity might be spread vastly farther than it could ever be during the continuance of the Roman empire.—A great part of the globe is planted by colonies of nominal Christians, which, but a few ages ago, was utterly unknown; and, besides the late discoveries and settlements in America, the commerce and trade of Christendom has extended itself to very remote Eastern nations, where the Roman arms never penetrated; nay, and where it is probable that the very name of heathen Rome, even in the height of its power and splendor, was never heard of. Add to this,—the considerable modern improvements in navigation, which procure us so easy an access to these newly-discovered countries;—the intercourse which we are capable of maintaining with the inhabitants, by the help of persons skilled in their several languages; together with the invention of printing,—that important method of improving, and easy way of dispersing knowledge: and all these concur, with the most important method of all, the establishment of missions, to facilitate the propagation of the gospel, beyond what could reasonably be expected in preceding ancient times.

But, notwithstanding all these, the critical period for making Christianity the universal religion does not seem to be yet come. Many obstacles remain, and several necessary preparations for this great event are still wanting. However, we ourselves can sadly imagine that this certain conjuncture is not at a vast distance from us, considering the frequent and surprizing vicissitudes and revolutions, in the course of human affairs, which have lately happened in a very short period of time.

For, (to conclude these remarks,) if the use of printing became established, and, of consequence, ingenuity and freedom of inquiry gained ground, in the vast Turkish empire,—and both were thence transferred to other Mahometan states;—and if those Christians who are conversant with infidel nations would behave towards them with justice and generosity, and treat them like men, and not, as if they were of an inferior species, like brutes, or SLAVES if they would cease from corrupting the morals of the Mahometan or of the Pagan idolater, while they were persuading him to turn to their holy religion; if they would give substantial and shining proofs that they were not wholly intent on worldly gain,—not influenced by a rapacious ambition, nor fond of luxury, nor devoted to intemperance: if, on the contrary, they honoured their profession, through the grace of God, by the practice of those engaging graces and virtues which the gospel inculcates; and, above all, if God were pleased (as I doubt not but he soon will be) to open the way in those countries for ministers of the gospel after his own heart, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost—then we might justly apprehend that the time was drawing very nigh when, over ALL the earth, as the prophet had foretold, there shall be ONE Lord, and his NAME one; (Zechariah 14:9.) or, in the language of St. Paul, when the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in, and ALL Israel shall be saved. Romans 11:25-26.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The Apostle had hinted before that the state of those who were under the law was a kind of minority. He here enlarges on that subject, shewing the vast superiority of the gospel above the legal dispensation.

1. Before Christ came, they were in a state of nonage. Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all, entitled to the inheritance; but is under tutors and governors, until the time appointed of the father, when he should be declared of age, and enter upon the management of his own affairs. Even so we, and all the people of God under the old Testament, when we were children, in the infantile state of the church, were in bondage under the elements of the world, subject to the law, with all the carnal ordinances, which were, as the first letters of the alphabet, designed to lead us on to higher attainments, and kept us, during this time of non-age, in a state of bondage. But,

2. Under the gospel dispensation our condition is much happier. When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, his only begotten, one in the same divine nature and essence, born of a woman, that he might be manifested in the flesh, made under the law, appointed both to endure the penalty due to our transgressions, and to fulfil the broken Adamic covenant of immaculate obedience; that he might thereby redeem them that were under the law; under its bondage and curse, that we, who believe in him, might receive the adoption of sons, admitted to that high privilege, and, if faithful unto death, blessed with all its happy consequences. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, through the glorified Redeemer, who hath all fulness of the Spirit to bestow on his believing people, and forms their hearts, by his divine operations, to the temper becoming the high dignity and relation with which they are honoured; so that, through the effectual working of the Holy Ghost, we are enabled, with fiducial dependance, filial love, and sacred joy, to approach a throne of grace, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore, wherever this Spirit is given, thou art no more a servant, but a son, admitted to that honourable place in God's family; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ, and entitled, if perseveringly faithful, to everlasting blessedness: so that, to return to the law for acceptance with God, is absurd and needless. Note; (1.) God manifest in the flesh is the foundation of every hope to the sinner. (2.) If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his; the grace of adoption always accompanies the privilege of adoption. (3.) That soul is happy, which is enabled, with humble and holy boldness, to approach our gracious God, crying, Abba, Father; and claiming this kindred with him, which he will not disown.

2nd, To shew them the glaring folly of their having recourse to the law for justification, he reminds them,

1. Of their former state of Gentilism. Howbeit, then when ye knew not God, grossly ignorant of his Being, perfections, and attributes, and, in fact, without God in the world, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods, worshipping senseless idols, and ascribing divinity to stocks and stones. In this state of horrid ignorance and guilt did the Apostle find them, and called them out of darkness into marvellous light.

2. How absurd then was their defection from the truth which they had received! But now after that ye have known God, through the gospel of his dear Son, or rather are known of God, approved and accepted of him in the Redeemer, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? What infatuation has seized you, to leave the gospel dispensation of light, love, and liberty, for the bondage, darkness, and fear of the Mosaical institutions, weak, and insufficient to cleanse the soul from guilt, or to obtain acceptance with God; and beggarly, when compared with the superior riches of gospel grace. Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years, placing dependance on the ceremonial ordinances of the Jewish ritual, as essential to your justification before God. And where this is the case, I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain, and that, departing thus from the fundamentals of the gospel, notwithstanding all our preaching, you should finally perish. Note; (1.) Many who make, for a while, fair professions, prove, in the end, foul apostates. (2.) Nothing more effectually destroys the soul, than a departure from that fundamental point of the gospel, justification by faith alone. (3.) It is a deep concern to the true ministers of Christ, when they, in whom they had hoped to see the fruit of their labours, disappoint their expectations.

3rdly, The Apostle,

1. With affectionate address, desires to win upon them. Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am, united with me in affection as I am to you, and imitate my example, leaving these Jewish rites, and cleaving to Christ alone for justification before God; for I am as ye are, one with you in fervent charity, and we are equally entitled to the privileges of the gospel: ye have not injured me at all; the injury you do is to Christ, and your own souls; and what I say proceeds not from any private resentment, but purely from a zeal for his glory, and your good; and if any disrespect may have been cast on me, I entirely overlook it. Note; The rebuke, which is tempered with love, will always be most effectual.

2. He reminds them of the former affection and esteem which they had shewn him. Ye know, how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation in the flesh; (whether his sufferings; weakness of body, or ungraceful appearance, they knew what he meant, though we do not, for certain; but whatever it was, he could say) ye despised not, nor rejected; did not therefore slight my ministry, nor treat my person with contempt, but received me as an angel of God, with all veneration and regard, as a messenger sent from heaven, yea, even as Christ Jesus: had he himself appeared in the flesh among you, religious adoration excepted, ye could hardly have paid him greater respect. Where is then the blessedness you spake of? those ardent wishes for my happiness, and the delight you expressed in the gospel which I preached unto you? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me, counting nothing too great to testify the sense of your gratitude towards me. Note; many, in their first love, are all on fire for Christ, and never think they can enough testify their regard to the ministers of their conversion, who by and by grow cold or perverted from the truth, and treat with contempt those whom they once respected as almost angelical.

3. He expostulates with them on the strange alteration which now appeared. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth, and kindly warn you of the deadly consequences of your defection from the purity of the gospel? Note; (1.) Truth, honestly spoken, often creates us enemies. (2.) Ministers may expect that their fidelity will offend. (3.) Whether men will hear or forbear, we must speak, nor fear any consequences.

4thly, St. Paul knew the spirit and temper with which the Judaizing teachers acted; and he,

1. Warns the Galatians of it. They zealously affect you, and pretend great zeal for you, but not well; their professions are dissembled, and their designs crafty; yea, they would exclude you from me and your true friends, who preach the pure gospel to you, that you might affect them, and yield your consciences up to their direction. Note; All is not gold which glitters; we should try before we trust: hypocrisy, for selfish ends, can put on the fairest guise of truth.

2. He points out to them the rule which they should follow. But it is good, and the proof of an excellent spirit, to be zealously affected always in a good thing, or to a good man, and not only when I am present with you; whilst, on the contrary, an unsteady, wavering conduct shews that the heart is not well grounded in the truth, and discovers a dishonourable levity and inconstancy.

5thly, To engage their hearts, and prevail on them to return from their sad defection from the truth,

1. He expresses his tender affection towards them. My little children, dear to me as such, amidst all the weakness you discover; of whom I travail in birth again, with such agonies of spirit, longing for your present recovery, as when I first desired to turn you from your foul idolatry; until Christ be formed in you, your souls effectually brought under the influence of his gospel, and his image stamped upon your hearts, I desire to be present with you, that I may more fully enter upon the subject, confound the gainsayers, and defend the fundamental articles of Christianity, from which you have swerved; and, if it so pleased the Lord to make my preaching effectual to your conversion, to change my voice from rebuke to consolation; for I own, at present I stand in doubt of you, whether you may not yet be cast away. Note; (1.) Ministers travail in birth for immortal souls; and feel an affection for those whom they have begotten in the gospel, like the tender mother's sensibility towards her infant offspring. (2.) Christ is not formed in that heart where self-righteousness and self-dependance still prevail. (3.) 'Tis no charity to think well, when we see evidently what is evil; though we wish to change our voice, and to behold a happy reformation.

2. He expostulates with the Judaizers, who sought justification by the deeds of the law. Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? If you attentively considered the history of Abraham, you would see the folly of your attempt. For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bond-maid, Agar, an Egyptian, the other by a free-woman, Sarah: and he who was of the bond-maid, Ishmael, was born after the flesh, in the ordinary course of nature: but he of the free-woman, Isaac, was by promise, given of God, when both his parents were naturally incapable of issue. Which things are an allegory, or allegorized, and have a spiritual meaning beyond the mere letter of the words; for these, Hagar and Sarah, are the figures of the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, begetting a slavish spirit, and leaving the soul under condemnation, which is Agar, and represented by her. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia; and her being cast out with her son, is a lively figure of the rejection of those, who, to the neglect of the Saviour, will live in bondage under the law, which was delivered on that mountain; and this bond-woman answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children, abandoned for their infidelity, and excluded from all the blessings of the covenant. But Jerusalem which is above, the church of genuine believers, who, by faith in Christ, look for glory and immortality, is free from all the condemnation of sin in the law; of which Sarah is the type, and may be considered as the mother of us all, whether Jews or Gentiles, who, like her son Isaac, are entitled, through persevering faith in the Redeemer, to all the promised blessings. For it is written, with particular reference to Sarah, Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not; break forth and cry thou that travailest not; thou Gentile land, which, like Sarah, hast long been spiritually barren, now exult in this vast progeny; for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband, more converts springing from among the heathen, where all hope of such a seed was despaired of, than are to be found among those, who, under the Sinai covenant, were, during so many hundreds of years, espoused to the Lord as their husband. Now we, brethren, who through grace are joined to Christ by faith, as Isaac was, are the children of the promise, born of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. But as then he that was born after the flesh (Ishmael) persecuted, with mockery and reproaches, him that was born after the Spirit; namely, Isaac, the child of the promise; even so it is now, the carnal Jews, who contend for justification by the works of the law, deride and persecute us, who maintain that justification is by faith alone. Nevertheless, what saith the scripture? Cast out the bond-woman and her son: for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman; and so surely will they be excluded from the heavenly inheritance, who seek it by the deeds of the law. So then we, brethren, who expect justification by faith only, are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free, and shall, if we continue to cleave to Christ in the liberty of the gospel, inherit that eternal life, from which they who are of the law, and depend upon their own doings for their acceptance with God, must be for ever excluded. Note; (1.) To understand the scriptures, we must look further than the letter. (2.) Reproach and ridicule are, in God's account, persecution; and this, at least, all who live godly in Christ Jesus must endure, till the great Milennium rushes in upon the world.

 


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

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Thursday, December 12th, 2019
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