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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Galatians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-7

Chapter 16

THE HEIR’S COMING OF AGE.

Galatians 4:1-7

THE main thesis of the Epistle is now established. Gentile Christians, Paul has shown, are in the true Abrahamic succession of faith. And this devolution of the Promise discloses the real intent of the Mosaic law, as an intermediate and disciplinary system. Christ was the heir of Abraham’s testament; He was therefore the end of Moses’ law. And those who are Christ’s inherit the blessings of the Promise, while they escape the curse and condemnation of the Law. The remainder of the Apostle’s polemic, down to Galatians 5:12, is devoted to the illustration and enforcement of this position.

In this, as in the previous chapter, the pre-Christian state is assigned to the Jew, who was the chief subject of Divine teaching in the former dispensation; it is set forth under the first person (Galatians 4:3), in the language of recollection. Describing the opposite condition of sonship, the Apostle reverts from the first to the second person, identifying his readers with himself. {comp. Galatians 3:25-26} True, the Gentiles had been in bondage (Galatians 4:7-8). This goes without saying. Paul’s object is to show that Judaism is a bondage. Upon this he insists with all the emphasis he can command. Moreover, the legal system contained worldly, unspiritual elements, crude and childish conceptions of truth, marking it, in comparison with Christianity, as an inferior religion. Let the Galatians be convinced of this, and they will understand what Paul is going to say directly; they will perceive that Judaic conformity is for them a backsliding in the direction of their former heathenism (Galatians 4:8-10). But the force of this latter warning is discounted and its effect weakened when he is supposed, as by some interpreters, to include Gentile along with Jewish "rudiments" already in Galatians 4:3. His readers could not have suspected this. The "So we also" and the "held in bondage" of this verse carry them back to Galatians 3:23. By calling the Mosaic ceremonies "rudiments of the world" he gives Jewish susceptibilities just such a shock as prepares for the declaration of Galatians 4:9, which put them on a level with heathen rites.

The difference between Judaism and Christianity, historically unfolded in chap. 3, is here restated in graphic summary. We see, first, the heir of God in his minority; and again, the same heir in possession of his estate.

I. One can fancy the Jew replying to Paul’s previous argument in some such style as this. "You pour contempt," he would say, "on the religion of your fathers. You make them out to have been no better than slaves. Abraham’s inheritance, you pretend, under the Mosaic dispensation lay dormant, and is revived in order to be taken from his children and conferred on aliens." No, Paul would answer: I admit that the saints of Israel were sons of God; I glory in the fact-"who are Israelites, whose is the adoption of sons and the glory and the covenants and the law-giving and the promises, whose are the fathers" [Romans 9:4-5] -But they were sons in their minority. "And I say that as long as the heir is [legally] an infant, he differs in nothing from a slave, though [by title] lord of all."

The man of the Old Covenant was a child of God in posse, not in esse, in right but not in fact. The "infant" is his father’s trueborn son. In time he will be full owner. Meanwhile he is as subject as any slave on the estate. There is nothing he can command for his own. He is treated and provided for as a bondman might be; put "under stewards" who manage his property, "and guardians" in charge of his person, "until, the day fore appointed of the father." This situation does not exclude, it implies fatherly affection and care on the one side, and heirship on the other. But it forbids the recognition of the heir, his investment with filial rights. It precludes the access to the father and acquaintance with him, which the boy will gain in after-years. He sees him at a distance and through others, under the aspect of authority rather than of love. In this position he does not yet possess the spirit of a son. Such was in truth the condition of Hebrew saints-heirs of God, but knowing it not.

This illustration raises in Galatians 4:2 an interesting legal question, touching the latitude given by Roman or other current law to the father in dealing with his heirs. Paul’s language is good evidence for the existence of the power he refers to. In Roman and in Jewish law the date of civil majority was fixed. Local usage may have been more elastic. But the case supposed, we observe, is not that of a dead father, into whose place the son steps at the proper age. A grant is made by a father still living, who keeps his son in pupilage, till he sees fit to put him in possession of the promised estate. There is nothing to show that paternal discretion was limited in these circumstances, any more than it is in English law. The father might fix eighteen, or twenty-one, or thirty years as the age at which he would give his son a settlement, just as he thought best.

This analogy, like that of the "testament" in chap. 3, is not complete at all points; nor could any human figure of these Divine things be made so. The essential particulars involved in it are first, the childishness of the infant heir; secondly, the subordinate position in which he is placed for the time; and thirdly, the right of the father to determine the expiry of his infancy.

1. "When we were children," says the Apostle. This implies, not a merely formal and legal bar, but an intrinsic disqualification. To treat the child as a man is preposterous. The responsibilities of property are beyond his strength and his understanding. Such powers in his hands could only be instruments of mischief, to himself most of all. In the Divine order, calling is suited to capacity, privilege to age. The coming of Christ was timed to the hour. The world of the Old Testament, at its wisest and highest, was unripe for His gospel. The revelation made to Paul could not have been received by Moses, or David, or Isaiah. His doctrine was only possible after-and in consequence of theirs. There was a training of faculty, a deepening of conscience, a patient course of instruction and chastening to be carried out, before the heirs of the promise were fit for their heritage. Looking back to his own youthful days, the Apostle sees in them a reflex of the discipline which the people of God had required. The views he then held of Divine truth appear to him low and childish, in comparison with the manly freedom of spirit, the breadth of knowledge, the fulness of joy which he has attained as a son of God through Christ.

2. But what is meant by the "stewards and guardians" of this Jewish period of infancy? Galatians 4:3 tells us this, in language, however, somewhat obscure: "We were held in bondage under the rudiments (or elements) of the world" - a phrase synonymous with the foregoing "under law". [Galatians 3:23] The "guard" and "tutor" of the previous section reappears, with these "rudiments of the world" in his hand. They form the system under which the young heir was schooled, up to the time of his majority. They belonged to "the world" inasmuch as they were, in comparison with Christianity, unspiritual in their nature, uninformed by "the Spirit of God’s Son" (Galatians 4:6). The language of Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:10 explains this phrase: "The first covenant had a worldly sanctuary," with "ordinances of flesh, imposed-till the time of rectification." The sensuous factor that entered into the Jewish revelation formed the point of contact with Paganism which Paul brings into view in the next paragraph. Yet, rude and earthly as the Mosaic system was in some of its features, it was Divinely ordained and served an essential purpose in the progress of revelation. It shielded the Church’s infancy. It acted the part of a prudent steward, a watchful guardian. The heritage of Abraham came into possession of his heirs enriched by their long minority. Mosaism therefore, while spiritually inferior to the Covenant of grace in Christ, has rendered invaluable service to it (comp. Galatians 4:24; chapter 14).

3. The will of the Father determined the period of this guardianship. However it may be in human law, this right of fore-ordination resides in the Divine Fatherhood. In His unerring foresight He fixed the hour when His sons should step into their filial place. All such "times and seasons," Christ declared, "the Father hath appointed on His own authority". [Acts 1:7] He imposed the law of Moses, and annulled it, when He would. He kept the Jewish people, for their own and the world’s benefit, tied to the legal "rudiments," held in the leading-strings of Judaism. It was His to say when this subjection should cease, when the Church might receive the Spirit of His Son. If this decree appeared to be arbitrary, if it was strange that the Jewish fathers-men so noble in faith and character-were kept in bondage and fear, we must remind ourselves that "so it seemed good in the Father’s sight." Hebrew pride found this hard to brook. To think that God had denied this privilege in time past to His chosen people to bestow it all at once and by mere grace on Gentile sinners, making them at "the eleventh hour" equal to those who had borne for so long the burden and heat of the day! that the children of Abraham had been, as Paul maintains, for centuries treated as slaves, and now these heathen aliens are made sons just as much as they! But this was God’s plan; and it must be right. "Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?"

II. However, the nonage of the Church has passed. God’s sons are now to be owned for such. It is Christ’s mission to constitute men sons of God (Galatians 4:4-5).

His advent was the turning-point of human affairs, "the fulness of time." Paul’s glance in these verses takes in a vast horizon. He views Christ in His relation both to God and to humanity, both to law and redemption. The appearance of "the Son of God, woman-born,’" completes the previous Course of time; it is the goal of antecedent revelation, unfolding "the mystery kept secret through times eternal," but now "made known to all the nations". [Romans 16:25-26] Promise and Law both looked forward to this hour. Sin has been "passed by" in prospect of it, receiving hitherto a partial and provisional forgiveness. The aspirations excited, the needs created by earlier religion demanded their satisfaction. The symbolism of type and ceremony, with their rude picture-writing, waited for their Interpreter. The prophetic soul of "the wide world, dreaming of things to come," watched for this day. They that looked-for Israel’s redemption, the Simeons and Annas of the time, the authentic heirs of the promise, knew by sure tokens that it was near. Their aged eyes in the sight of the infant Jesus descried its rising. The set time had come, to which all times looked since Adam’s fall and the first promise. At the moment when Israel seemed farthest from help and hope, the "horn of salvation was raised up in the house of David," - God sent forth His Son.

1. The sending of the Son brought the world’s servitude to an end. "Henceforth," said Jesus, "I call you not servants". [John 15:15] Till now "servants of God" had been the highest title men could wear. The heathen were enslaved to false gods (Galatians 4:8). And Israel, knowing the true God, knew Him at a distance, serving too often in the spirit of the elder son of the parable, who said, "Lo these many years do I slave for thee." [Luke 15:29] None could with free soul lift his eyes to heaven and say, "Abba, Father." Men had great thoughts about God, high speculations. They had learnt imperishable truths concerning His unity, His holiness, His majesty as Creator and Lawgiver. They named him the "Lord," the "Almighty," the "I Am." But His Fatherhood, as Christ revealed it, they had scarcely guessed. They thought of Him as humble bondmen of a revered and august master, as sheep might of a good shepherd. The idea of a personal Sonship toward the Holy One of Israel was inconceivable, till Christ brought it with Him into the world, till God sent forth His Son.

He sent Him as "His Son." To speak of Christ, with the mystical Germans, as the ideal Urmensch- the ideal Son of man, the foretype of humanity - is to express a great truth. Mankind was created in Christ, who is "the image of God, firstborn of all creation." But this is not what Paul is saying here. The doubly compounded Greek verb at the head of this sentence (repeated with like emphasis in Galatians 4:6) signifies "sent forth from" Himself: He came in the character of God’s Son, bringing His sonship with Him. He was the Son of God before He was sent out. He did not become so in virtue of His mission to mankind. His relations with men, in Paul’s conception, rested upon His pre-existing relationship to God. "The Word" who "became flesh, was with God, was God in the beginning." "He called God His own Father, making Himself equal with God": [John 5:18] so the Jews had gathered from His own declarations. Paul admitted the claim when "God revealed His Son" to him, and affirms it here unequivocally.

"The Son of God," arriving "in the fulness of time," enters human life. Like any other son of man, He is born of a woman, born under law. Here is the kenosis, the emptying of Divinity, of which the Apostle speaks in Philippians 2:5-8. The phrase "born of woman," does not refer specifically to the virgin-birth; this term describes human origin on the side of its weakness and dependence. [Job 14:1; Matthew 11:11] Paul is thinking not of the difference, but of the identity of Christ’s birth and our own. We are carried back to Bethlehem. We see Jesus a babe lying in His mother’s arms-God’s Son a human infant, drawing His life from a weak woman! {Comp. Romans 1:3-4; Romans 9:5; 2 Corinthians 13:4; Ephesians 4:9-10; Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16}

Nor is "born under law" a distinction intended to limit the previous term, as though it meant a born Jew, and not a mere woman’s son. This expression, to the mind of the reader of chap. 3, conveys the idea of subjection, of humiliation rather than eminence. "Though He was (God’s) Son," Christ must needs "learn His obedience". [Hebrews 5:8] The Jewish people experienced above all others the power of the law to chasten and humble. Their law was to them more sensibly what the moral law is in varying degree to the world everywhere, an instrument of condemnation. God’s Son was now put under its power. As a man He was "under law"; as a Jew He came under its most stringent application. He declined none of the burdens of His birth. He submitted not only to the general moral demands of the Divine law for men, but to all the duties and proprieties incident to His position as a man, even to those ritual ordinances which His coming was to abolish. He set a perfect example of loyalty. "Thus it becometh us," He said, "to fulfil all righteousness."

The Son of God who was to end the legal bondage was sent into it Himself. He wore the legal yoke that He might break it. He took "the form of a servant," to win our enfranchisement. "God sent forth His son, human, law-bound-that He might redeem those under law."

Redemption was Christ’s errand. We have learned already how "He redeemed us from the curse of the law," by the sacrifice of the cross. [Galatians 3:13] This was the primary object of His mission: to ransom men from the guilt of past sin. Now we discern its further purpose-the positive and constructive side of the Divine counsel. Justification, is the preface to adoption. The man under law is not only cursed by his failure to keep it; he lives in a servile state, debarred from filial rights. Christ "bought us out" of this condition. While the expiation rendered in His death clears off the entail of human guilt, His incarnate life and spiritual union with believing men sustain that action, making the redemption complete and permanent. As enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son; now "reconciled, we shall be saved by His life". [Romans 5:10] Salvation is not through the death of Christ alone. The Babe of Bethlehem, the crowned Lord of glory, is our Redeemer, as well as the Man of Calvary. The cross is indeed the centre of His redemption; but it has a vast circumference. All that Christ is, all that He has done and is doing as the Incarnate Son, the God-man, helps to make men sons of God. The purpose of His mission is therefore stated a second time and made complete in the words of ver. 5b: "that we might receive the adoption of sons." The sonship carries everything else with it-"if children, then heirs" (Galatians 4:7). There is no room for any supplementary office of Jewish ritual. That is left behind with our babyhood.

2. So much for the ground of sonship. Its proof lay in the sending forth of the Spirit of the Son.

The mission of the Son and that of the Spirit are spoken of in Galatians 4:3-6 in parallel terms: "God sent forth His Son-sent forth the Spirit of His Son," the former into the world of men, the latter "into" their individual "hearts." The second act matches the first, and crowns it. Pentecost is the sequel of the Incarnation. [John 2:21; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20] And Pentecost is repeated in the heart of every child of God. The Apostle addresses himself to his readers’ experience ("because ye are sons") as in Galatians 3:3-6, and on the same point. They had "received the Spirit": this marked them indubitably as heirs of Abraham [Galatians 3:14] -and what is more, sons of God. Had not the mystic cry, Abba, Father, sounded in their hearts? The filial consciousness was born within them, supernaturally inspired. When they believed in Christ, when they saw in Him the Son of God, their Redeemer, they were stirred with a new, ecstatic impulse; a Divine glow of love and joy kindled in their breasts; a voice not their own spoke to their Spirit-their soul leaped forth upon their lips, crying to God, "Father, Father!" They were children of God, and knew it. "The Spirit Himself bore them witness". [Romans 8:15]

This sentiment was not due to their own reflection, not the mere opening of a buried spring of feeling in their nature. God sent it into their hearts. The outward miracles which attended the first bestowment of this gift, showed from what source it came. [Galatians 3:5] Nor did Christ personally impart the assurance. He had gone, that the Paraclete might come. Here was another Witness, sent by a second mission from the Father. [John 16:7] His advent is signalised in clear distinction from that of the Son. He comes in the joint name of Father and of Son. Jesus called Him "the Spirit of the Father"; [Matthew 10:20; Luke 11:13; Acts 1:4-5] the Apostle, "the Spirit of God’s Son."

To us He is "the Spirit of adoption," replacing the former "spirit of bondage unto fear." For by His indwelling we are "joined to the Lord" and made "one spirit" with Him, so that Christ lives in us. [Galatians 2:20] And since Christ is above all things the Son, His Spirit is a spirit of sonship; those who receive Him are sons of God. Our sonship is through the Holy Spirit derived from His. Till Christ’s redemption was effected, such adoption was in the nature of things impossible. This filial cry of Gentile hearts attested the entrance of a Divine life into the world. The Spirit of God’s Son had become the new spirit of mankind.

Abba, the Syrian vocative for father, was a word familiar to the lips of Jesus. The instance of its use recorded in Mark 14:36, was but one of many such. No one had hitherto approached God as He did. His utterance of this word, expressing the attitude of His life of prayer and breathing the whole spirit of His religion, profoundly affected His disciples. So that the Abba of Jesus became a watchword of His Church, being the proper name of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Gentile believers pronounced it, conscious that in doing so they were joined in spirit to the Lord who said, "My Father, and your Father!" Greek-speaking Christians supplemented it by their own equivalent, as we by the English Father. This precious vocable is carried down the ages and round the whole world in the mother-tongue of Jesus, a memorial of the hour when through Him men learned to call God Father.

"Because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit," with this cry. The witness of sonship follows on the adoption, and seals it. The child is born, then cries; the cry is the evidence of life. But this is not the first office of the Holy Spirit to the regenerate soul. Many a silent impulse has He given, frequent and long-continued may have been His visitations, before His presence reveals itself audibly. From the first the new life of grace is implanted by His influence. "That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit." "He dwelleth with you, and is in you, " said Jesus to His disciples, before the Pentecostal effusion. Important and decisive as the witness of the Holy Spirit to our sonship is, we must not limit His operation to this event. Deeply has He wrought already on the soul in which His work reaches this issue; and when it is reached, He has still much to bestow, much to accomplish in us. All truth, all holiness, all comfort are His; and into these He leads the children of God. Living by the Spirit, in Him we proceed to Galatians 5:25.

The interchange of person in the subject in Galatians 4:5-8 is very noticeable. This agitated style betrays high strung emotion. Writing first, in Galatians 4:3 in the language of Jewish experience, in Galatians 4:6 Paul turns upon his readers and claims them for witnesses to the same adoption which Jewish believers in Christ (Galatians 4:5) had received. Instantly he falls back into the first person; it is his own joyous consciousness that breaks forth in the filial cry of ver. 6b. In the more calm concluding sentence the second person is resumed; and now in the individualising singular, as though he would lay hold of his readers one by one, and bid them look each into his own heart to find the proof of sonship, as he writes: "So that thou art no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, also an heir through God."

An heir through God- this is the true reading. and is greatly to the point. It carries to a climax the emphatic repetition of "God" observed in Galatians 4:4; Galatians 4:6. "God sent His Son" into the world; "God sent" in turn "His Son’s Spirit into your hearts." God then, and no other, has bestowed your inheritance. It is yours by His fiat. Who dares challenge it? {Comp. Romans 8:31-35; Acts 11:17} Words how suitable to reassure Gentile Christians, browbeaten by arrogant Judaism! Our reply is the same to those who at this day deny our Christian and churchly standing, because we reject their sacerdotal claims.

What this inheritance includes in its final attainment, "doth not yet appear." Enough to know that "now are we children of God." The redemption of the body, the deliverance of nature from its sentence of dissolution, the abolishment of death-these are amongst its certainties. Its supreme joy lies in the promise of being with Christ, to witness and share His glory. "Heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ"-a destiny like this overwhelms thought and makes hope a rapture. God’s sons may be content to wait and see how their heritage will turn out. Only let us be sure that we are His sons. Doctrinal orthodoxy, ritual observance, moral propriety do not impart, and do not supersede, "the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." The religion of Jesus the Son of God is the religion of the filial consciousness.


Verses 8-11

Chapter 17

THE RETURN TO BONDAGE.

Galatians 4:8-11

"Sons of God, whom He made His heirs in Christ, how are you turning back to legal bondage!" Such is the appeal with which the Apostle follows up his argument. "Foolish Galatians," we seem to hear him say again, "who has bewitched you into this?" They forget the call of the Divine grace; they turn away from the sight of Christ crucified; nay, they are renouncing their adoption into the family of God. Paul knew something of the fickleness of human nature; but he was not prepared for this. How can men who have tasted liberty prefer slavery, or full-grown sons desire to return to the "rudiments" of childhood? After knowing God as He is in Christ, is it possible that these Galatians have begun to dote on ceremonial, to make a religion of "times and seasons"; that they are becoming devotees of Jewish ritual? What can be more frivolous, more irrational than this? On such people Paul’s labours seem to be thrown away. "You make me fear," he says, "that I have toiled for you in vain."

In this expostulation two principles emerge with especial prominence.

1. First, that knowledge of God, bringing spiritual freedom, lays upon us higher responsibilities. "Then indeed," he says, "not knowing God, you were in bondage to false gods. Your heathen life was in a sense excusable. But now something very different is expected from you, since you have come to know God."

We are reminded of the Apostle’s memorable words spoken at Athens: "The times of ignorance God overlooked". [Acts 17:1-34] "Ye say, We see," said Jesus; "your sin remaineth". [John 9:41] Increased light brings stricter judgment. If this was true of men who had merely heard the message of Christ, how much more of those who had proved its saving power. Ritualism was well enough for Pagans, or even for Jews before Christ’s coming and the outpouring of His Spirit-but for Christians! For those into whose hearts God had breathed the Spirit of His Son, who had learned to "worship God in the Spirit and to have no confidence in the flesh"-for Paul’s Galatians to yield to the legalist "persuasion" was a fatal relapse. In principle, and in its probable issue, this course was a reverting toward their old heathenism.

The Apostle again recalls them, as he does so often his children in Christ, to the time of their conversion. They had been, he reminds them, idolaters; ignorant of the true God, they were "enslaved to things that by nature are no gods." Two definitions Paul has given of idolatry: "There is no idol in the world"; and again, "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God". [1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 10:20] Half lies, half devilry: such was the popular heathenism of the day. "Gods many and lords many" the Galatian Pagans worshipped-a strange Pantheon. There were their old, weird Celtic deities, before whom our British forefathers trembled. On this ancestral faith had been superimposed the frantic rites of the Phrygian Mother, Cybele, with her mutilated priests; and the more genial and humanistic cultus of the Greek Olympian gods. But they were gone, the whole "damned crew," as Milton calls them; for those whose eyes had seen the glory in the face of Jesus Christ, their spell was broken; heaven was swept clear and earth pure of their foul presence. The old gods are dead. No renaissance of humanism, no witchcraft of poetry can reanimate them, To us after these eighteen centuries, as to the Galatian believers, "there is one God the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him." A man who knew the Old Testament, to say nothing of the teaching of Christ, could never sacrifice to Jupiter and Mercurius any more, nor shout "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." They were painted idols, shams; he had seen through them. They might frighten children in the dark; but the sun was up. Christianity destroyed Paganism as light kills darkness. Paul did not fear that his readers would slide back into actual heathenism. That was intellectually impossible. There are warnings in his Epistles against the spirit of idolatry, and against conformity with its customs; but none against return to its beliefs.

The old heathen life was indeed a slavery, full of fear and degradation. The religious Pagan could never be sure that he had propitiated his gods sufficiently, or given to all their due. They were jealous and revengeful, envious of human prosperity, capable of infinite wrong-doing. In the worship of many of them acts were enjoined revolting to the conscience. And this is true of Polytheism all over the world. It is the most shameful bondage ever endured by the soul of man.

But Paul’s readers had "come to know God." They had touched the great Reality. The phantoms had vanished; the Living One stood before them. His glory shone into their hearts "in the face of Jesus Christ." This, whenever it takes place, is for any man the crisis of his life-when he comes to know God, when the God-consciousness is born in him. Like the dawn of self-consciousness, it may be gradual. There are those, the happy few, who were "born again" so soon as they were born to thought and choice; they cannot remember a time when they did not love God, when they were not sensible of being "known of Him." But with others, as with Paul, the revelation was made at an instant, coming like a lightning-flash at midnight. But unlike the lightning it remained. Let the manifestation of God come how or when it may, it is decisive. The man into whose soul the Almighty has spoken His I Am, can never be the same afterwards. He may forget; he may deny it: but he has known God; he has seen the light of life. If he returns to darkness, his darkness is blacker and guiltier than before. On his brow there rests in all its sadness "Sorrow’s crown of sorrow, remembering happier things."

Offences venial, excusable hitherto, from this time assume a graver hue. Things that in a lower stage of life were innocent, and even possessed religious value, may now be unlawful, and the practice of them a declension, the first step in apostasy. What is delightful in a child becomes folly in a grown man. The knowledge of God in Christ has raised us in the things of the spirit to man’s estate, and it requires that we should "put away childish things," and amongst them ritual display and sacerdotal officiations, Pagan, Jewish, or Romish. These things form no part of the knowledge of God, or of the "true worship of the Father."

The Jewish "rudiments" were designed for men who had not known God as Christ declares Him, who had never seen the Saviour’s cross. Jewish saints could not worship God in the Spirit of adoption. They remained under the spirit of servitude and fear; their conceptions were so far "weak and poor" that they supposed the Divine favour to depend on such matters as the "washing of cups and pots," and the precise number of feet that one walked on the Sabbath. These ideas belonged to a childish stage of the religious life. Pharisaism had developed to the utmost this lower element of the Mosaic system, at the expense of everything that was spiritual in it. Men who had been brought up in Judaism might indeed, after conversion to Christ, retain their old customs as matters of social usage or pious habit, without regarding them as vital to religion. With Gentiles it was otherwise. Adopting Jewish rites de novo, they must do so on grounds of distinct religious necessity. For this very reason the duty of circumcision was pressed upon them. It was a means, they were told, essential to their spiritual perfection, to the attainment of full Christian privileges. But to know God by the witness of the Holy Spirit of Christ, as the Galatians had done, was an experience sufficient to show that this "persuasion" was false. It did not "come of Him that called them." It introduced them to a path the opposite of that they had entered at their conversion, a way that led downwards and not upwards, from the spiritual to the sensuous, from the salvation of faith to that of self-wrought work of law.

"Known God," Paul says, -"or rather were known of God." He hastens to correct himself. He will not let an expression pass that seems to ascribe anything simply to human acquisition. "Ye have not chosen Me," said Jesus; "I have chosen you." So the Apostle John: "Not that we loved God, but that He loved us." This is true through the entire range of the Christian life. "We apprehend that for which we were apprehended by Christ Jesus." Our love, our knowledge-what are they but the sense of the Divine love and knowledge in us? Religion is a bestowment, not an achievement. It is "God working in us to will and work for the sake of His good pleasure." In this light the gospel presented itself at first to the Galatians. The preaching of the Apostle, the vision of the cross of Christ, made them sensible of God’s living presence. They. felt the gaze of an infinite purity and compassion, of an All-wise, All-pitiful Father, fixed upon them. He was calling them, slaves of idolatry and sin, "into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ." The illuminating glance of God pierced to their inmost being. In that light God and the soul met, and knew each other.

And now, after this profound, transforming revelation, this sublime communion with God, will they turn back to a life of puerile formalities, of slavish dependence and fear? Is the strength of their devotion to be spent, its fragrance exhaled in the drudgery of legal service? Surely they know God better than to think that He requires this. And He who knew them, as they have proved, and knows what was right and needful for them, has imposed no such burden. He granted them the rich gifts of His grace-the Divine sonship, the heavenly heirship-on terms of mere faith in Christ, and without legal stipulation of any kind. Is it not enough that God knows them, and counts them for His children!

So knowing, and so known, let them be content. Let them seek only to keep themselves in the love of God, and in the comfort of His Spirit. Raised to this high level, they must not decline to a lower. Their heathen "rudiments" were excusable before; but now even Jewish "rudiments" are things to be left behind.

2. It further appears that the Apostle saw an element existing in Judaism common to it with the ethnic religions. For he says that his readers, formerly "enslaved to idols," are "now turning back to the weak and beggarly rudiments, to which they would fain be in bondage over again."

"The rudiments" of Galatians 4:9 cannot, without exegetical violence, be detached from "the rudiments of the world" of Galatians 4:3. And these latter plainly signify the Judaic rites (see chapter 16.). The Judaistic practices of the Galatians were, Paul declares, a backsliding toward their old idolatries. We can only escape this construction of the passage at the cost of making the Apostle’s remonstrance inconsequent and pointless. The argument of the letter hitherto has been directed with concentrated purpose against Judaic conformity. To suppose that just at this point, in making its application, he turns aside without notice or explanation to an entirely different matter, is to stultify his reasoning. The only ground for referring the "days and seasons" of Galatians 4:10 to any other than a Jewish origin, lies in the apprehension that such reference disparages the Christian Sabbath.

But how, we ask, was it possible for Paul to use language which identifies the revered law of God with rites of heathenism, which he accounted a "fellowship with demons"? Bishop Lightfoot has answered this question in words: "we cannot do better than quote." The Apostle regards the higher element in heathen religion as corresponding, however imperfectly, to the lower in the Mosaic law. For we may consider both the one and the other as made up of two component parts, the spiritual and the ritualistic. Now viewed in their spiritual aspect, there is no comparison between the one and the other. In this respect the heathen religions, so far as they added anything of their own to that sense of dependence on God which is innate in man and which they could not entirely crush, were wholly bad. On the contrary, in the Mosaic law the spiritual element was most truly divine. But this does not enter into our reckoning here. For Christianity has appropriated all that was spiritual in its predecessor…The ritualistic element alone remains to be considered, and here is the meeting-point of Judaism and Heathenism. In Judaism this was as much lower than its spiritual element, as in Heathenism it was higher. Hence the two systems approach within such a distance that they can, under certain limitations, be classed together. They have at least so much in common that a lapse into Judaism can be regarded as a relapse into the position of unconverted Heathenism. Judaism was a system of bondage like Heathenism. Heathenism had been a disciplinary training like Judaism" (Commentary in loc.).

This line of explanation may perhaps be carried a step further. Judaism was rudimentary throughout. A religion so largely ritualistic could not but be spiritually and morally defective. In its partial apprehension of the Divine attributes, its limitation of God’s grace to a single people, its dim perception of immortality, there were great deficiencies in the Jewish creed. Its ethical code, moreover, was faulty; it contained "precepts given for the hardness of men’s hearts"-touching, for example, the laws of marriage, and the right, of revenge. There was not a little in Judaism, especially in its Pharisaic form, that belonged to a half-awakened conscience, to a rude and sensuous religious faculty. Christ came to "fulfil the law"; but in that fulfilment He did not shrink from correcting it. He emended the letter of its teaching, that its true spirit might be elicited. For an enlightened Christian who had learned of Jesus the "royal law, the law of liberty," to conform to Judaism was unmistakably to "turn back." Moreover, it was just the weakest and least spiritual part of the system of Moses that the legalist teachers inculcated on Gentile Christians; while their own lives fell short of its moral requirements. [Galatians 6:12]

Mosaism had been in the days of its inspiration and creative vigour the great opponent of idolatry. It was the Lord’s witness throughout long centuries of heathen darkness and oppression, and by its testimony has rendered splendid service to God and man. But from the standpoint of Christianity a certain degree of resemblance begins to be seen underlying this antagonism. The faith of the Israelitish people combated idolatry with weapons too much like its own. A worldly and servile element remained in it. To one who has advanced in front, positions at an earlier stage of his progress lying apart and paths widely divergent now assume the same general direction. To resort either to Jewish or heathen rites meant to turn back from Christ. It was to adopt principles of religion obsolete and unfit for those who had known God through Him. What in its time and for its purpose was excellent-nay, indispensable-in doctrine and in worship in time also had "decayed and waxed old." To tie the living spirit of Christianity to dead forms is to tie it to corruption.

"Weak and beggarly rudiments"-it is a hard sentence; and yet what else were Jewish ceremonies and rules of diet, in comparison with "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost"? What was circumcision, "now that there was no longer Jew and Greek"? What was there in Saturday more than in any other day of the week, if it ceased to be a sign between the Lord of the Sabbath and His people? These things were, as Paul saw them, the cast-clothes of religion. For Gentile Christians the history of the Jewish ordinances had much instruction; but their observance was no where more binding than that of heathen ceremonies. Even in the ancient times God valued them only as they were the expression of a devout, believing spirit. "Your new moons and your appointed feasts," He had said to an ungodly generation, "My soul hateth". [Isaiah 1:14] And was He likely to accept them now, when they were enforced by ambition and party-spirit, at the expense of His Church’s peace; when their observance turned men’s thoughts away from faith in His Son, and in the power of His life-giving Spirit? There is nothing too severe, too scornful for Paul to say of these venerable rites of Israel, now that they stand in the way of a living faith and trammel the freedom of the sons of God. He tosses them aside as the swaddling-bands of the Church’s infancy-childish fetters too weak to hold the limbs of grown men. "He brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for the children of Israel did burn incense to it; and he called it Nehushtan-a piece of brass." [2 Kings 18:4] Brave Hezekiah! Paul does the same with the whole ceremonial of Moses. "Beggarly rudiments," he says. What divine refreshment there is in a blast of wholesome scorn! It was their traditions, their ritual that the Judaists worshipped, not the Holy One of Israel. "They would compass sea and land to make one proselyte," and then "make him twofold more the child of hell than themselves." This was the only result that the success of the Judaistic agitation could have achieved.

In thus decrying Jewish ordinances, the Apostle by implication allows a certain value to the rites of Paganism. The Galatians were formerly in bondage to "them that are no gods." Now, he says, they are turning again to the like servitude by conforming to Mosaic legalism. They wish to come again under subjection to "the weak and poor rudiments." In Galatian heathenism Paul appears to recognise "rudiments" of truth and a certain preparation for Christianity. While Judaic rites amounted to no more than rudiments of a spiritual faith, there were influences at work in Paganism that come under the same category. Paul believed that "God had not left Himself without witness to any." He never treated heathen creeds with indiscriminate contempt, as though they were utterly corrupt and worthless. Witness his address to the "religious" Athenians, and to the wild people of Lycaonia. [Acts 14:15-17; Acts 17:22-31] He finds his text in "certain of your own (heathen) poets." He appeals to the sense of a Divine presence "not far from any one of us"; and declares that though God was "unknown" to the nations, they were under His guidance and were "feeling after Him." To this extent Paul admits a Preparatio evangelica in the Gentile world; he would have been prepared, with Clement of Alexandria and Origen, and with modern students of comparative religion, to trace in the poets and wise men of Greece, in the lawgivers of Rome, in the mystics of the East, presentiments of Christianity, ideas and aspirations that pointed to it as their fulfilment. The human race was not left in total darkness beyond the range of the light shining on Zion’s hill. The old Pagans, "suckled in a creed outworn," were not altogether God-forsaken. They too, amid darkness like the shadow of death, had "glimpses that might make them less forlorn." And so have the heathen still. We must not suppose either that revealed religion was perfect from the beginning; or that the natural religions were altogether without fragments and rudiments of saving truth.

"Days you are scrupulously keeping, and months, and seasons, and years,"-the weekly sabbath, the new moon, the annual festivals, the sacred seventh year, the round of the Jewish Calendar. On these matters the Galatians had, as it seems, already fallen in with the directions of the Jewish teachers. The word by which the Apostle describes their practice, παρατηρεισθε, denotes, besides the fact, the manner and spirit of the observance-an assiduous, anxious attention, such as the spirit of legal exaction dictated. These prescriptions the Galatians would the more readily adopt, because in their heathen life they were accustomed to stated celebrations. The Pagan Calendar was crowded with days sacred to gods and divine heroes. This resemblance justified Paul all the more in taxing them with relapsing towards heathenism.

The Church of later centuries, both in its Eastern and Western branch, went far in the same direction. It made the keeping of holy days a prominent and obligatory part of Christianity; it has multiplied them superstitiously and beyond all reason. Amongst the rest it incorporated heathen festivals, too little changed by their consecration.

Paul’s remonstrance condemns in principle the enforcement of sacred seasons as things essential to salvation, in the sense in which the Jewish Sabbath was the bond of the ancient covenant. We may not place even the Lord’s Day upon this footing. Far different from this is the unforced and grateful celebration of the First Day of the week, which sprang up in the Apostolic Church, and is assumed by the Apostles Paul and John. [1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10] The rule of the seventh day’s rest has so much intrinsic fitness, and has brought with it so many benefits, that after it had been enforced by strict law in the Jewish Church for so long, its maintenance could now be left, without express re-enactment, as a matter of freedom to the good sense and right feeling of Christian believers, "sons of the resurrection." Its legislative sanction rests on grounds of public propriety and national well-being, which need not to be asserted here. Wherever the "Lord of the Sabbath" rules, His Day will be gladly kept for His sake.

The Apostle in protecting Gentile liberties is no enemy to order in worship and outward life. No one can justly quote his authority in opposition to such appointments as a Christian community may make, for reasons of expediency and decorum, in the regulation of its affairs. But he teaches that the essence of Christianity does not lie in things of this kind, not in questions of meat and drink, nor of time and place. To put these details, however important in their own order, on a level with righteousness, mercy, and faith, is to bring a snare upon the conscience; it is to introduce once more into the Church the leaven of justification by works of law.

"Weak and poor" the best forms of piety become, without inward knowledge of God. Liturgies, creeds and confessions, church music and architecture, Sundays, fasts, festivals, are beautiful things when they are the transcript of a living faith. When that is gone, their charm, their spiritual worth is gone. They no longer belong to religion; they have ceased to be a bond between the souls of men and God. "According to our faith"-our actual, not professional or "confessional" faith-"it shall be done unto us": such is the rule of Christ. To cling to formularies which have lost their meaning and to which the Spirit of truth gives no present witness, is a demoralising bondage.

But this is not the only, nor the commonest way in which the sons of God are tempted to return to bondage. "Whosoever committeth sin, " Christ said, "is the servant of sin." And the Apostle will have to warn his readers that by their abuse of liberty, by their readiness to make it "an occasion to the flesh," they were likely to forfeit it. "They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh". [Galatians 5:24] This warning must be balanced against the other. Our liberty from outward constraint should be still more a liberty from the dominion of self, from pride and desire and anger; or it is not the liberty of God’s children. Inward servitude is, after all, the vilest and worst.

"You make me afraid," at last the Apostle is compelled to say, "that I have laboured in vain." His enemies had caused him no such fear. While his children in the faith were true to him, he was afraid of nothing. "Now we live," he says in one of his Epistles, "if ye stand fast in the Lord! "But if they should fall away? He trembles for his own work, for these wayward children who had already caused him so many pangs. It is in a tone of the deepest solicitude that he continues his expostulation in the following paragraph.


Verses 12-20

Chapter 18

PAUL’S ENTREATY.

Galatians 4:12-20

THE reproof of the last paragraph ended in a sigh. To see Christ’s freemen relapsing into bondage, and exchanging their Divine birthright for childish toys of ceremonial, what can be more saddening and disappointing than this? Their own experience of salvation, the Apostle’s prayers and toils on their behalf, are, to all appearance, wasted on these foolish Galatians. One resource is still left him. He has refuted and anathematised the "other gospel." He has done what explanation and argument can do to set himself right with his readers, and to destroy the web of sophistry in which their minds had been entangled. He will now try to win them by a gentler persuasion. If reason and authority fail, "for love’s sake he will rather beseech" them.

He had reminded them of their former idolatry; and this calls up to the Apostle’s mind the circumstances of his first ministry in Galatia. He sees himself once more a stranger amongst this strange people, a traveller fallen sick and dependent on their hospitality, preaching a gospel with nothing to recommend it in the appearance of its advocate, and which the sickness delaying his journey had compelled him, contrary to his intention, to proclaim amongst them. Yet with what ready and generous hospitality they had received the infirm Apostle! Had he been an angel from heaven-nay, the Lord Jesus Himself, they could scarcely have shown him more attention than they did. His physical weakness, which would have moved the contempt of others, called forth their sympathies. However severely he may be compelled to censure them, however much their feelings toward him have changed, he will never forget the kindness he then received. Surely they cannot think him their enemy, or allow him to be supplanted by the unworthy rivals who are seeking their regard. So Paul pleads with his old friends, and seeks to win for his arguments a way to their hearts through the affection for himself which he fain hopes is still lingering there.

Hoc prudentis est pastoris, Calvin aptly says. But there is more in this entreaty than a calculated prudence. It is a cry of the heart. Paul’s soul is in the pangs of travail (Galatians 4:19). We have seen the sternness of his face relax while he pursues his mighty argument. As he surveys the working of God’s counsel in past ages, the promise given to Abraham for all nations, the intervening legal discipline, the coming of Christ in the fulness of time, the bursting of the ancient bonds, the sending forth of the Spirit of adoption-and all this for the sake of these Galatian Gentiles, and then thinks how they are after all declining from grace and renouncing their Divine inheritance, the Apostle’s heart aches with grief. Foolish, fickle as they have proved, they are his children. He will "travail over them in birth a second time," if "Christ may yet be formed in them." Perhaps he has written too harshly. He half repents of his severity. Comp. 2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:8. Fain would he "change his voice." If he could only "be with them," and see them face to face, haply his tears, his entreaties, would win them back. A rush of tender emotion wells up in Paul’s soul. All his relentings are stirred. He is no longer the master in Christ rebuking unfaithful disciples; he is the mother weeping over her misguided sons.

There are considerable difficulties in the exegesis of this passage. We note them in succession as they arise:-

(1) In Galatians 4:12 we prefer, with Meyer and Lightfoot, to read, "Be as I, for I became (rather than am) as you-brethren, I beseech you." The verses preceding and following both suggest the past tense in the ellipsis. Paul’s memory is busy. He appeals to the "auld lang syne." He reminds the Galatians of what he "had been amongst them for their sake," {Comp. 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8} how he then behaved in regard to the matters in dispute. He assumed no airs of Jewish superiority. He did not separate himself from his Gentile brethren by any practice in which they could not join. He "became as they," placing himself by their side on the ground of a common Christian faith. He asks for reciprocity, for a recompense in like kind 2 Corinthians 6:13. Are they going to set themselves above their Apostle, to take their stand on that very ground of Mosaic privilege which he had abandoned for their sake? He implores them not to do this thing. The beseechment, in the proper order of the words, comes in at the close of the sentence, with a pathetic emphasis. He makes himself a suppliant. "I beg you," he says, "by our old affection, by our brotherhood in Christ, not to desert me thus."

(2) Suddenly Paul turns to another point, according to his wont in this emotional mood: "There is nothing in which you have wronged me." Is he contradicting some allegation which had helped to estrange the Galatians? Had some one been saying that Paul was affronted by their conduct, and was actuated by personal resentment? In that case we should have looked for a specific explanation and rebutment of the charge. Rather he is anticipating the thought that would naturally arise in the minds of his readers at this point. "Paul is asking us," they would say, to let bygones be bygones, to give up this Judaistic attachment for his sake, and to meet him frankly on the old footing. But supposing we try to do so, he is very angry with us, as this letter shows; he thinks we have treated him badly; he will always have a grudge against us. Things can never be again as they were between ourselves and him.

Such feelings often arise upon the breach of an old friendship, to prevent the offending party from accepting the proffered hand of reconciliation. Paul’s protest removes this hindrance. He replies, "I have no sense of injury, no personal grievance against you. It is impossible I should cherish ill-will toward you. You know how handsomely you treated me when I first came amongst you. Nothing can efface from my heart the recollection of that time. You must not think that I hate you, because I tell you the truth" (Galatians 4:16).

(3) "Because of an infirmity of the flesh" (physical weakness), is the truer rendering of Galatians 4:13; and "your temptation in my flesh" the genuine reading of Galatians 4:14, restored by the Revisers. Sickness had arrested the Apostle’s course during his second missionary tour, and detained him in the Galatic country. So that he had not only "been with" the Galatians "in weakness," as afterwards when during the same journey he preached at Corinth; [1 Corinthians 2:3] but actually "because of weakness." His infirmities gave him occasion to minister there, when he had intended to pass them by.

Paul had no thought of evangelising Galatia; another goal was in view. It was patent to them-indeed he confessed as much at the time-that if he had been able to proceed, he would not have lingered in their country. This was certainly an unpromising introduction. And the Apostle’s state of health made it at that time a trial for any one to listen to him. There was something in the nature of his malady to excite contempt, even loathing for his person. "That which tried you in my flesh ye did not despise, nor spit out": such is Paul’s vivid phrase. How few men would have humility enough to refer to a circumstance of this kind; or could do so without loss of dignity. He felt that the condition of the messenger might well have moved this Galatian people to derision, rather than to reverence for his message.

At the best Paul’s appearance and address were none of the most prepossessing. [1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 10:1; 2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 11:6] The "ugly little Jew" M. Renan calls him, repeating the taunts of his Corinthian contemners. His sickness in Galatia, connected, it would appear, with some constitutional weakness, from which he suffered greatly during his second and third missionary tours, assumed a humiliating as well as a painful form. Yet this "thorn in the flesh," a bitter trial assuredly to himself had proved at once a trial and a blessing to his unintended hearers in Galatia.

(4) So far from taking offence at Paul’s unfortunate condition, they welcomed him with enthusiasm. They "blessed themselves" that he had come (Galatians 4:15). They said one to another, "How fortunate we are in having this good man amongst us! What a happy thing for us that Paul’s sickness obliged him to stay and give us the opportunity of hearing his good news!" Such was their former "gratulation." The regard they conceived for the sick Apostle was unbounded. "For I bear you witness," he says, "that if possible, you would have dug out your eyes and given them me!"

Is this no more than a strong hyperbole, describing the almost extravagant devotion which the Galatians expressed to the Apostle? Or are we to read the terms more literally? So it has been sometimes supposed. In this expression some critics have discovered a clue to the nature of Paul’s malady. The Galatians, as they read the sentence, wish they could have taken out their own eyes and given them to Paul, in place of his disabled ones. This hypothesis, it is argued, agrees with other circumstances of the ease and gives shape to a number of scattered intimations touching the same subject. Infirmity of the eyes would explain the "large characters" of Paul’s handwriting [Galatians 6:11] and his habit of using an amanuensis. It would account for his ignorance of the person of the High Priest at his trial in Jerusalem. [Acts 23:2-5] The blindness that struck him on the way to Damascus may have laid the foundation of a chronic affection of this kind, afterwards developed and aggravated by the hardships of his missionary life. And such an affliction would correspond to what is said respecting the "thorn" of 2 Corinthians 12:7, and the "temptation" of this passage. For it would be excessively painful, and at the same time disabling and disfiguring in its effects.

This conjecture has much to recommend it. But it finds a very precarious support in the text. Paul does not say, "You would have plucked out your own (A.V) eyes and given them me," as though he were thinking of an exchange of eyes; but, "You would have plucked out your eyes and given them me"-as much as to say, "You would have done anything in the world for me then, -even taken out your eyes and given them to me." [Matthew 18:9] In the phrase "dug out" we may detect a touch of irony. This was the genuine Galatian style. The Celtic temperament loves to launch itself out in vehemencies and flourishes of this sort. These ardent Gauls had been perfectly enraptured with Paul. They lavished upon him their most exuberant metaphors. They said these things in all sincerity; he "bears them record" to this. However cool they have become since, they were gushing enough and to spare in their affection towards him then. And now have they "so quickly" turned against him? Because he crosses their new fancies and tells them unwelcome truths, they rush to the opposite extreme and even think him their enemy!

(5) Suddenly the Apostle turns upon his opposers (Galatians 4:17). The Judaisers had disturbed his happy relations with his Galatian flock; they had made them half believe that he was their enemy. The Galatians must choose between Paul and his traducers. Let them scrutinise the motives of these new teachers. Let them call to mind the claims of their father in Christ. "They are courting you," he says, -"these present suitors for your regard - dishonourably; they want to shut you out and have you to themselves, that you may pay court to them." They pretend to be zealous for your interests; but it is their own they seek. [Galatians 6:12]

So far the Apostle’s meaning is tolerably clear. But Galatians 4:18 is obscure. It may be construed in either of two ways, as Paul or the Galatians are taken for the subject glanced at in the verb to be courted in its first clause: "But it is honourable to be courted always in an honourable way, and not only when I am present with you." Does Paul mean that he has no objection to the Galatians making other friends in his absence? or, that he thinks they ought not to forget him in his absence? The latter, as we think. The Apostle complains of their inconstancy towards himself. This is a text for friends and lovers. Where attachment is honourable, it should be lasting. "Set me as a seal upon thine heart," says the Bride of the Song of Songs. With the Galatians it seemed to be, "Out of sight, out of mind." They allowed Paul to be pushed out by scheming rivals. He was far away; they were on the spot. He told them the truth; the Judaisers flattered them. So their foolish heads were turned. They were positively "bewitched" by these new admirers; and preferred their sinister and designing compliments to Paul’s sterling honour and proved fidelity.

The connection of Galatians 4:17-18 turns on the words honourable and court, each of which is thrice repeated. There is a kind of play on the verb ζηλοω. In ver. 18 it implies a true, in Galatians 4:17 a counterfeit affection (an affectation). Paul might have said, "It is good one should be loved, followed with affection, always, " but for the sake of the verbal antithesis. In ver. 17 he taxes his opponents with unworthily courting the favour of the Galatians; in Galatians 4:18 he intimates his grief that he himself in his absence is no longer courted by them.

(6) In the next verse this grief of wounded affection, checked at first by a certain reserve, breaks out uncontrollably: "My children, for whom again I am in travail, till Christ be formed in you!" This outcry is a pathetic continuance of his expostulation. He cannot bear the thought of losing these children of his heart. He stretches out his arms to them. Tears stream from his eyes. He had been speaking in measured, almost playful terms, in comparing himself with his supplanters. But the possibility of their success, the thought of the mischief going on in Galatia and of the little power he has to prevent it, wrings his very soul. He feels a mother’s pangs for his imperilled children, as he writes these distressful words.

There is nothing gained by substituting "little children" (John’s phrase) for "children," everywhere else used by Paul, and attested here by the best witnesses. The sentiment is that of 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8; 1 Corinthians 4:14-16. The Apostle is not thinking of the littleness or feebleness of the Galatians, but simply of their relation to himself. His sorrow is the sorrow of bereavement. "You have not many mothers, " he seems to say: "I have travailed over you in birth, and now a second time you bring on me a mother’s pains, which I must endure until Christ is formed in you and His image is renewed in your souls."

Paul stands before us as an injured friend, a faithful minister of Christ robbed of his people’s love. He is wounded in his tenderest affections. For the sake of the Gentile Churches he had given up everything in life that he prized; [Galatians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 9:20] he had exposed himself to the contempt and hatred of his fellow-countrymen-and this is his reward, "to be loved the less, the more abundantly he loves"! [2 Corinthians 12:15]

But if he is grieved at this defection, he is equally perplexed. He cannot tell what to make of the Galatians, or in what tone to address them. He has warned, denounced, argued, protested, pleaded as a mother with her children; still he doubts whether he will prevail. If he could only see them and meet them as in former days, laying aside the distance, the sternness of authority which he has been forced to assume, he might yet reach their hearts. At least he would know how matters really stand, and in what language he ought to speak. So his entreaty ends: "I wish I could only be present with you now, and speak in some different voice. For I am at a loss to know how to deal with you."

This picture of estrangement and reproach tells its own tale, when its lines have once been clearly marked. We may dwell, however, a little longer on some of the lessons which it teaches:-

I. In the first place, it is evident that strong emotions and warm affections are no guarantee for the permanence of religious life.

The Galatians resembled the "stony ground" hearers of our Lord’s parable, -"such as hear the word, and immediately with joy receive it; but they have no root in themselves; they believe for a time." It was not "persecution" indeed that "offended" them; but flattery proved equally effectual. They were of the same fervid temper as Peter on the night of the Passion, when he said, "Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee in anywise,"-within a few hours thrice denying his Master, with "oaths and curses." They lacked seriousness and depth. They had fine susceptibilities and a large fund of enthusiasm; they were full of eloquent protestations; and under excitement were capable of great efforts and sacrifices. But there was a flaw in their nature. They were creatures of impulse-soon hot, soon cold. One cannot help liking such people-but as for trusting them, that is a different matter.

Nothing could be more delightful or promising than the appearance these Churches presented in the early days of their conversion. They heard the Apostle’s message with rapt attention; they felt its Divine power, so strangely contrasting with his physical feebleness. They were amazingly wrought upon. The new life in Christ kindled all the fervour of their passionate nature. How they triumphed in Christ! How they blessed the day when the gospel visited their land! They almost worshipped the Apostle. They could not do enough for him. Their hearts bled for his sufferings. Where are all these transports now? Paul is far away. Other teachers have come, with "another gospel." And the cross is already forgotten! They are contemplating circumcision; they are busy studying the Jewish ritual, making arrangements for feast-days and "functions," eagerly discussing points of ceremony. Their minds are poisoned with mistrust of their own Apostle, whose heart is ready to break over their folly and frivolity. All this for the want of a little reflection, for want of the steadiness of purpose without which the most genial disposition and the most ardent emotions inevitably run to waste. Their faith had been too much a matter of feeling, too little of principle.

II. Further, we observe how prone are those who have put themselves in the wrong to fix the blame on others.

The Apostle was compelled in fidelity to truth to say hard things to his Galatian disciples. He had previously, on his last visit, given them a solemn warning on account of their Judaic proclivities. [Galatians 1:9] In this Epistle he censures them roundly. He wonders at them; he calls them "senseless Galatians"; he tells them they are within a step of being cut off from Christ. [Galatians 5:4] And now they cry out, "Paul is our enemy! If he cared for ms, how could he write so cruelly! We were excessively fond of him once, we could not do too much for him; but that is all over now. If we had inflicted on him some great injury, he could scarcely treat us more roughly." Thoughtless and excitable people commonly reason in this way. Personalities with them take the place of argument and principle. The severity of a holy zeal for truth is a thing they can never understand. If you disagree with them and oppose them, they put it down to some petty animosity. They credit you with a private grudge against them; and straightway enroll you in the number of their enemies, though you may be in reality their best friend. Flatter them, humour their vanity, and you have them at your bidding. Such men it is the hardest thing in the world honestly to serve. They will always prefer "the kisses of an enemy" to the faithful "wounds of a friend."

III. Men of the Galatian type are the natural prey of self-seeking agitators. However sound the principles in which they were trained, however true the friendships they have enjoyed, they must have change. The accustomed palls upon them. Giddy Athenians, they love nothing so much as "to hear and tell some new thing." They ostracise Aristides, simply because they are "tired of hearing him always called the Just." To hear "the same things," however "safe" it may be, even from an Apostle’s lips is to them intolerably "grievous." They never think earnestly and patiently enough to find the deeper springs, the fresh delight and satisfaction lying hidden in the great unchanging truths. These are they who are "carried about with divers and strange doctrines," who run after the newest thing in ritualistic art, or sensational evangelism, or well-spiced heterodoxy. Truth and plain dealing, apostolic holiness and godly sincerity, are outmatched in dealing with them by the craft of worldly wisdom. A little judicious flattery, something to please the eye and catch the fancy-and they are persuaded to believe almost anything, or to deny what they have most earnestly believed.

What had the legalists to offer compared with the gifts bestowed on these Churches through Paul? What was there that could make them rivals to him in character or spiritual power? And yet the Galatians flock around the Judaist teachers, and accept without inquiry their slanders and perversions of the gospel; while the Apostle, their true friend and father, too true to spare their faults, stands suspected, almost deserted. He must forsooth implore them to come down from the heights of their would-be legal superiority, and to meet him on the common ground of grace and saving faith. The sheep will not hear their shepherd’s voice; they follow strangers, though they be thieves and hirelings. "O foolish Galatians!"

Whether the Apostle’s entreaty prevailed to recall them or did not, we cannot tell. From the silence with which these Churches are passed over in the Acts of the Apostles, and the little that is heard of them afterwards, an unfavourable inference appears probable. The Judaistic leaven, it is to be feared, went far to leaven the whole lump. Paul’s apprehensions were only too well-grounded. And these hopeful converts who had once "run well," were fatally "hindered" and fell far behind in the Christian race. Such, in all likelihood, was the result of the departure from the truth of the gospel into which the Galatians allowed themselves to be drawn.

Whatever was the sequel to this story, Paul’s protest remains to witness to the sincerity and tenderness of the great Apostle’s soul, and to the disastrous issues of the levity of character which distinguished his Galatian disciples.


Verses 21-31

Chapter 19

THE STORY OF HAGAR.

Galatians 4:21-31 - Galatians 5:1

THE Apostle wishes that he could "change his voice" (Galatians 4:20). Indeed he has changed it more than once. "Any one who looks closely may see that there is much change and alteration of feeling in what the Apostle has previously written" (Theodorus). Now he will try another tone; he proceeds in fact to address his readers in a style which we find nowhere else in his Epistles. He will tell his "children" a story! Perhaps he may thus succeed better than by graver argument. Their quick fancy will readily apprehend the bearing of the illustration; it may bring home to them the force of his doctrinal contention, and the peril of their own position, as he fears they have not seen them yet. And so, after the pathetic appeal of the last paragraph, and before he delivers his decisive, official protest to the Galatians against their circumcision, he interjects this "allegory" of the two sons of Abraham.

Paul cites the history of the sons of Abraham. No other example would have served his purpose. The controversy between himself and the Judaisers turned on the question, Who are the true heirs of Abraham? [Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:16; Galatians 3:29] He made faith in Christ, they circumcision and law-keeping, the ground of sonship. So the inheritance was claimed in a double sense. But now, if it should appear that this antithesis existed in principle in the bosom of the patriarchal family, if we should find that there was an elder son of Abraham’s flesh opposed to the child of promise, how powerfully will this analogy sustain the Apostle’s position. Judaism will then be seen to be playing over again the part of Ishmael; and "the Jerusalem that now is" takes the place of Hagar, the slave-mother. The moral situation created by the Judaic controversy had been rehearsed in the family life of Abraham.

"Tell me," the Apostle asks, "you that would fain be subject to the law, do you not know what it relates concerning Abraham? He had two sons, one of free, and the other of servile birth. Do you wish to belong to the line of Ishmael, or Isaac?" In this way Paul resumes the thread of his discourse dropped in Galatians 4:7. Faith, he had told his readers, had made them sons of God. They were, in Christ, of Abraham’s spiritual seed, heirs of his promise. God had sent His Son to redeem them, and the Spirit of His Son to attest their adoption. But they were not content. They were ambitious of Jewish privileges. The Legalists persuaded them that they must be circumcised and conform to Moses, in order to be Abraham’s children in full title. "Very well," the Apostle says, "you may become Abraham’s sons in this fashion. Only you must observe that Abraham had two sons. And the Law will make you his sons by Hagar, whose home is Sinai-not Israelites, but Ishmaelites!"

Paul’s Galatian allegory has greatly exercised the minds of his critics. The word is one of ill repute in exegesis. Allegory was the instrument of Rabbinical and Alexandrine Scripturists, an infallible device for extracting the predetermined sense from the letter of the sacred text. The "spiritualising" of Christian interpreters has been carried, in many instances, to equal excess of riot. For the honest meaning of the word of God anything and everything has been substituted that lawless fancy and verbal ingenuity could read into it. The most arbitrary and grotesque distortions of the facts of Scripture have passed current under cover of the clause, "which things are an allegory." But Paul’s allegory, and that of Philo and the Allegorical school, are very different things, as widely removed as the "words of truth and soberness" from the intoxications of mystical idealism.

With Paul the spiritual sense of Scripture is based on the historical, is in fact the moral content and import thereof; for he sees in history a continuous manifestation of God’s will. With the Allegorists the spiritual sense, arrived at by a priori means, replaces the historical, destroyed to make room for it. The Apostle points out in the story of Hagar a spiritual intent, such as exists in every scene of human life if we had eyes to see it, something other than the literal relation of the facts, but nowise alien from it. Here lies the difference between legitimate and illegitimate allegory. The utmost freedom may be given to this employment of the imagination, so long as it is true to the moral of the narrative which it applies. In principle the Pauline allegory does not differ from the type. In the type the correspondence of the sign and thing signified centres in a single figure or event; in such an allegory as this it is extended to a group of figures and a series of events. But the force of the application depends on the actuality of the original story, which in the illicit allegory is matter of indifference.

"Which things are allegorized"-so the Apostle literally writes in Galatians 4:24 -made matters of allegory. The phrase intimates, as Bishop Lightfoot suggests, that the Hagarene episode in Genesis [Genesis 16:1-16; Genesis 21:1-21] was commonly interpreted in a figurative way. The Galatians had heard from their Jewish teachers specimens of this popular mode of exposition. Paul will employ it too; and will give his own reading of the famous story of Ishmael and Isaac. Philo of Alexandria, the greatest allegorist of the day, has expounded the same history. These eminent interpreters both make Sarah the mother of the spiritual, Hagar of the worldly offspring; both point out how the barren is exalted over the fruitful wife. So far, we may imagine, Paul is moving on the accepted lines of Jewish exegesis. But Philo knows nothing of the correspondence between Isaac and Christ, which lies at the back of the Apostle’s allegory. And there is this vital difference of method between the two divines, that whereas Paul’s comparison is the illustration of a doctrine proved on other grounds-the painting which decorates the house already built (Luther)-with the Alexandrine idealist it forms the substance and staple of his teaching.

Under this allegorical dress the Apostle expounds once more his doctrine, already inculcated, of the difference between the Legal and Christian state. The former constitutes, as he now puts the matter, a bastard sonship like that of Ishmael, conferring only an external and provisional tenure in the Abrahamic inheritance. It is contrasted with the spiritual sonship of the true Israel in the following respects:-It is a state of nature as opposed to grace; of bondage as opposed to freedom; and further, it is temporary and soon to be ended by the Divine decree.

I. "He who is of the maid-servant is after the flesh; but he that is of the free-woman is through promise…Just as then he that was after the flesh persecuted him that was after the Spirit, So now" (Galatians 4:23; Galatians 4:29). The Apostle sees in the different parentage of Abraham’s sons the ground of a radical divergence of character. One was the child of nature, the other was the son of a spiritual faith.

Ishmael was in truth the fruit of unbelief; his birth was due to a natural but impatient misreading of the promise. The patriarch’s union with Hagar was ill-assorted and ill-advised. It brought its natural penalty by introducing an alien element into his family, life. The low-bred insolence which the serving-woman, in the prospect of becoming a mother, showed toward the mistress to whom she owed her preferment, gave a foretaste of the unhappy consequences. The promise of posterity made to Abraham with a childless wife, was expressly designed to try his faith; and he had allowed it to be overborne by the reasonings of nature. It was no wonder that the son of the Egyptian slave, born under such conditions, proved to be of a lower type, and had to be finally excluded from the house.

In Ishmael’s relation to his father there was nothing but the ordinary play of human motives. "The son of the handmaid was born after the flesh." He was a natural son. But Ishmael was not on that account cut off from the Divine mercies. Nor did his father’s prayer, "O that Ishmael might live before Thee," [Genesis 17:18] remain unanswered. A great career was reserved by Divine Providence for his race. The Arabs, the fiery sons of the desert, through him claim descent from Abraham. They have carved their name deeply upon the history and the faith of the world. But sensuousness and lawlessness are everywhere the stamp of the Ishmaelite. With high gifts and some generous qualities, such as attracted to his eldest boy the love of Abraham, their fierce animal passion has been the curse of the sons of Hagar. Mohammedanism is a bastard Judaism; it is the religion of Abraham sensualised. Ishmael stands forth as the type of the carnal man. On outward grounds of flesh and blood he seeks inheritance in the kingdom of God; and with fleshly weapons passionately fights its battles.

To a similar position Judaism, in the Apostle’s view, had now reduced itself. And to this footing the Galatian Churches would be brought if they yielded to the Judaistic solicitations. To be circumcised would be for them to be born again after the flesh, to link themselves to Abraham in the unspiritual fashion of Hagar’s son. Ishmael was the first to be circumcised. [Genesis 17:23; Genesis 17:26] It was to renounce salvation by faith and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. This course could only have one result. The Judaic ritualism they were adopting would bear fruit after its kind, in a worldly, sensuous life. Like Ishmael they would claim kinship with the Church of God on fleshly grounds; and their claims must prove as futile as did his.

The persecution of the Church by Judaism gave proof of the Ishmaelite spirit, the carnal animus by which it was possessed. A religion of externalism naturally becomes repressive. It knows not "the demonstration of the Spirit"; it has "confidence in the flesh." It relies on outward means for the propagation of its faith; and naturally resorts to the secular arm. The Inquisition and the Auto-da-fe are a not unfitting accompaniment of the gorgeous ceremonial of the Mass. Ritualism and priestly autocracy go hand in hand. "So now," says Paul, pointing to Ishmael’s "persecution" of the infant Isaac, hinted at in Genesis 21:8-10.

The laughter of Hagar’s boy at Sarah’s weaning-feast seems but a slight offence to be visited with the punishment of expulsion; and the incident one beneath the dignity of theological argument. But the principle for which Paul contends is there; and it is the more easily apprehended when exhibited on this homely scale. The family is the germ and the mirror of society. In it are first called into play the motives which determine the course of history, the rise and fall of empires or churches. The gravamen of the charge against Ishmael lies in the last word of Genesis 21:9, rendered in the Authorised Version mocking, and by the Revisers playing, after the Septaguint and the Vulgate. This word in the Hebrew is evidently a play on the name Isaac, i.e., laughter, given by Sarah to her boy with genial motherly delight (Galatians 4:6-7). Ishmael, now a youth of fourteen, takes up the child’s name and turns it, on this public and festive occasion, into ridicule. Such an act was not only an insult to the mistress of the house and the young heir at a most untimely moment, it betrayed a jealousy and contempt on the part of Hagar’s son towards his half-brother which gravely compromised Isaac’s future. "The wild, ungovernable and pugnacious character ascribed to his descendants began to display itself in Ishmael, and to appear in language of provoking insolence; offended at the comparative indifference with which he was treated, he indulged in mockery, especially against Isaac, whose very name furnished him with satirical sneers." Ishmael’s jest cost him dear. The indignation of Sarah was reasonable; and Abraham was compelled to recognise in her demand the voice of God (Galatians 4:10-12). The two boys, like Esau and Jacob in the next generation, represented opposite principles and ways of life, whose counter-working was to run through the course of future history. Their incompatibility was already manifest.

The Apostle’s comparison must have been mortifying in the extreme to the Judaists. They are told in plain terms that they are in the position of outcast Ishmael; while uncircumcised Gentiles, without a drop of Abraham’s blood in their veins, have received the promise forfeited by their unbelief. Paul could not have put his conclusion in a form more unwelcome to Jewish pride. But without this radical exposure of the legalist position it was impossible for him adequately to vindicate his gospel and defend his Gentile children in the faith.

II. From this contrast of birth "according to flesh" and "through promise" is deduced the opposition between the slave-born and free-born sons. "For these (the slave-mother and the free-woman) are two covenants, one indeed bearing children unto bondage-which is Hagar" (Galatians 4:24). The other side of the antithesis is not formally expressed; it is obvious. Sarah the princess, Abraham’s true wife, has her counterpart in the original covenant of promise renewed in Christ, and in "the Jerusalem above, which is our mother" (Galatians 4:26). Sarah is the typical mother, {Comp. Hebrews 11:11-12; 1 Peter 3:6} as Abraham is the father of the children of faith. In the systoichia, or tabular comparison, which the Apostle draws up after the manner of the schools, Hagar and the Mosaic covenant, Sinai and the Jerusalem that now is stand in one file and "answer to" each other; Sarah and the Abrahamic covenant, Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem succeed in the same order, opposite to them. "Zion" is wanting in the second file; but "Sinai and Zion" form a standing antithesis; [Hebrews 12:18-22] the second is implied in the first. It was to Zion that the words of Isaiah cited in Galatians 4:27 were addressed.

The first clause of Galatians 4:25 is best understood in the shorter, marginal reading of the R. V, also preferred by Bishop Lightfoot ( το γαρ σινα ορος εστιν k.t.l.). It is a parenthesis-"for mount Sinai is in Arabia"-covenant running on in the mind from Galatians 4:24 as the continued subject of ver. 25b: "and it answereth to the present Jerusalem." This is the simplest and most consistent construction of the passage. The interjected geographical reference serves to support the identification of the Sinaitic covenant with Hagar, Arabia being the well-known abode of the Hagarenes. Paul had met them in his wanderings there. Some scholars have attempted to establish a verbal agreement between the name of the slave-mother and that locally given to the Sinaitic range; but this explanation is precarious, and after all unnecessary. There was a real correspondence between place and people on the one hand, as between place and covenant on the other. Sinai formed a visible and imposing link between the race of Ishmael and the Mosaic law-giving. That awful, desolate mountain, whose aspect, as we can imagine, had vividly impressed itself on Paul’s memory, [Galatians 1:17] spoke to him of bondage and terror. It was a true symbol of the working of the law of Moses, exhibited in the present condition of Judaism. And round the base of Sinai Hagar’s wild sons had found their dwelling.

Jerusalem was no longer the mother of freemen. The boast, "we are Abraham’s sons; we were never in bondage," [John 8:33] was anunconscious irony. Her sons chafed under the Roman yoke. They were loaded with self-inflicted legal burdens. Above all, they were, notwithstanding their professed law-keeping, enslaved to sin, in servitude to their pride and evil lusts. The spirit of the nation was that of rebellious, discontented slaves. They were Ishmaelite sons of Abraham, with none of the nobleness, the reverence, the calm and elevated faith of their father. In the Judaism of the Apostle’s day the Sinaitic dispensation, uncontrolled by the higher patriarchal and prophetic faith, had worked out its natural result. It "gendered to bondage." A system of repression and routine, it had produced men punctual in tithes of mint and anise, but without justice, mercy, or faith; vaunting their liberty while they were "servants of corruption." The law of Moses could not form a "new creature." It left the Ishmael of nature unchanged at heart, a child of the flesh, with whatever robes of outward decorum his nakedness was covered. The Pharisee was the typical product of law apart from grace. Under the garb of a freeman he carried the soul of a slave.

But Galatians 4:26 sounds the note of deliverance: "The Jerusalem above is free; and she is our mother!" Paul has escaped from the prison of Legalism, from the confines of Sinai; he has left behind the perishing, earthly Jerusalem, and with it the bitterness and gloom of his Pharisaic days. He is a citizen of the heavenly Zion, breathing the air of a Divine freedom. The yoke is broken from the neck of the Church of God; the desolation is gone from her heart. There come to the Apostle’s lips the words of the great prophet of the Exile, depicting the deliverance of the spiritual Zion, despised and counted barren, but now to be the mother of a numberless offspring. In Isaiah’s song, "Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not" (54.), the laughter of the childless Sarah bursts forth again, to be gloriously renewed in the persecuted Church of Jesus. Robbed of all outward means, mocked and thrust out as she is by Israel after the flesh, her rejection is a release, an emancipation. Conscious of the spirit of sonship and freedom, looking out on the boundless conquests lying before her in the Gentile world, the Church of the New Covenant glories in her tribulations. In Paul is fulfilled the joy of prophet and psalmist, who sang in former days of gloom concerning Israel’s enlargement and world-wide victories. No legalist could understand words like these. "The veil" was upon his heart "in the reading of the Old Testament." But with "the Spirit of the Lord" comes "liberty." The prophetic inspiration has returned. The voice of rejoicing is heard again in the dwellings of Israel. "If the Son make you free," said Jesus, "ye shall be free indeed." This Epistle proves it.

III. "And the bondman abideth not in the house for ever; the Son abideth for ever". [John 8:35] This also the Lord had testified: the Apostle repeats His warning in the terms of this allegory.

Sooner or later the slave-boy was bound to go. He has no proper birthright, no permanent footing in the house. One day he exceeds his license, he makes himself intolerable; he must begone. "What saith the Scripture? Cast out the maidservant and her son; for the son of the maidservant shall not inherit with the son of the freewoman" (Galatians 4:30). Paul has pronounced the doom of Judaism. His words echo those of Christ: "Behold your house is left unto you desolate"; [Matthew 23:38] they are taken up again in the language of Hebrews 13:13-14, uttered on the eve of the fall of Jerusalem: "Let us go forth unto Jesus without the camp, bearing His reproach. We have here no continuing city, but we seek that which is to come." On the walls of Jerusalem ichabod was plainly written. Since it "crucified our Lord" it was no longer the Holy City; it was "spiritually Sodom and Egypt", - Egypt, {Revelation 11:8} the country of Hagar. Condemning Him, the Jewish nation passed sentence on itself. They were slaves who in blind rage slew their Master when He came to free them.

The Israelitish people showed more than Ishmael’s jealousy toward the infant Church of the Spirit. No weapon of violence or calumny was too base to be used against it. The cup of their iniquity was filling fast. They were ripening for the judgment which Christ predicted. [1 Thessalonians 2:16] Year by year they became more hardened against spiritual truth, more malignant towards Christianity, and more furious and fanatical in their hatred towards their civil rulers. The cause of Judaism was hopelessly lost. In Romans 9:1-33; Romans 10:1-21; Romans 11:1-36, written shortly after this Epistle, Paul assumes this as a settled thing, which he has to account for and to reconcile with Scripture. In the demand of Sarah for the expulsion of her rival, complied with by Abraham against his will, the Apostle reads the secret judgment of the Almighty on the proud city which he himself so ardently loved, but which had crucified his Lord and repented not. "Cut it down," Jesus cried, "why cumbereth it the ground?". [Luke 13:7] The voice of Scripture speaks again: "Cast her out; she and her sons are slaves. They have no place amongst the sons of God." Ishmael was in the way of Isaac’s safety and prosperity. And the Judaic ascendency was no less a danger to the Church. The blow which shattered Judaism at once cleared the ground for the outward progress of the gospel and arrested the legalistic reaction which hindered its internal development. The two systems were irreconcilable. It was Paul’s merit to have first apprehended this contradiction in its full import. The time had come to apply in all its rigour Christ’s principle of combat, "He that is not with Me is against Me." It is the same rule of exclusion which Paul announces: "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His". [Romans 8:9] Out of Christ is no salvation. When the day of judgment comes, whether for men or nations, this is the touchstone: Have we, or have we not "the Spirit of God’s Son"? Is our character that of sons of God, or slaves of sin? On the latter falls inevitably the sentence of expulsion. "He will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity". [Matthew 13:41]

This passage signalises the definite breach of Christianity with Judaism. The elder Apostles lingered in the porch of the Temple; the primitive Church clung to the ancient worship. Paul does not blame them for doing so. In their case this was but the survival of a past order, in principle acknowledged to be obsolete. But the Church of the future, the spiritual seed of Abraham gathered out of all nations, had no part in Legalism. The Apostle bends all his efforts to convince his readers of this, to make them sensible of the impassable gulf lying between them and outworn Mosaism. Again he repeats, "We are not children of a maidservant, but of her that is free" (Galatians 4:31). The Church of Christ can no more hold fellowship with Judaism than could Isaac with the spiteful, mocking Ishmael. Paul leads the Church across the Rubicon. There is no turning back.

Ver. 1 of chap. 5 (Galatians 5:1), is the application of the allegory. It is a triumphant assertion of liberty, a ringing summons to its defence. Its separation from chap. 4 is ill-judged, and runs counter to the ancient divisions of the Epistle. "Christ set us free," Paul declares; "and it was for freedom-not that we might fall under a new servitude. Stand fast therefore; do not let yourselves be made bondmen over again." Bondmen the Galatians had been before, [Galatians 4:8] bowing down to false and vile gods. Bondmen they will be again, if they are beguiled by the Legalists to accept the yoke of circumcision, if they take "the Jerusalem that now is" for their mother. They have tasted the joys of freedom; they know what it is to be sons of God, heirs of His kingdom and partakers of His Spirit; why do they stoop from their high estate? Why should Christ’s freemen put a yoke upon their own neck? Let them only know their happiness and security in Christ, and refuse to be cheated out of the substance of their spiritual blessings by the illusive shadows which the Judaists offer them. Freedom once gained is a prize never to be lost. No care, no vigilance in its preservation can be too great. Such liberty inspires courage and good hope in its defence. "Stand fast therefore. Quit yourselves like men."

How the Galatians responded to the Apostle’s challenge, we do not know. But it has found an echo in many a heart since. The Lutheran Reformation was an answer to it; so was the Scottish Covenant. The spirit of Christian liberty is eternal. Jerusalem or Rome may strive to imprison it. They might as well seek to bind the winds of heaven. Its home is with God. Its seat is the throne of Christ. It lives by the breath of His Spirit. The earthly powers mock at it, and drive it into the wilderness. They do but assure their own ruin. It leaves the house of the oppressor desolate. Whosoever he be, Judaist or Papist, priest, or king, or demagogue-that makes himself lord of God’s heritage and would despoil His children of the liberties of faith, let him beware lest of him also it be spoken, "Cast out the bondwoman and her son."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Galatians 4:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/galatians-4.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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