Notes on Galatians 3

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Chapter 3.
The apostle now looks at the position of the Christian, from another point of view. True Christians are possessors of the Holy Ghost; their bodies are the temples of the Spirit which they have received of God (1 Cor. 6:1919What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)). " If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his," Rom. 8:9. By the Spirit we cry, Abba Father (Rom. 8; Gal. 4:66And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6)). It is by the Comforter that we are in Christ and Christ in us (John 14:2020At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)). The apostle therefore asks, How did you receive the Holy Ghost? Was it by the works of the law or by faith in Christ? It was not questioned that they had received Him nor how they had received Him. The Galatians had never been under law, they were heathen. It was not by the works of law they had received the Holy Ghost. Moreover, some among them possessed His gifts, a fact which rendered the presence of the Spirit not more important, since He is the seal and proof of our salvation, and of our life in Christ (by whom ye are sealed until the day of redemption), but more evident. " Who then," says Paul, " has bewitched you, O foolish Galatians, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth crucified among you? This only would I learn of you; Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? " They well knew it was not by law, but by faith, and all now who have received the Holy Ghost know well that it is by Jesus Christ they have received Him. Christians in this day believe so little in the presence of the Holy Ghost, that there is less force for them in this argument of the apostle; but to the Galatians it was conclusive. They had received Him by faith.
It was not in that day only that Judaisers sought to introduce the law, and to subject to it Christians who from the outset had received the Holy Spirit. Therefore the apostle says, " Are ye so foolish, having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh? " For the law applies to man in the flesh, and puts him to the proof, so as to manifest whether, as a man alive in the flesh, he can obtain righteousness by keeping the law. What folly! having received the Spirit, the seal of divine righteousness, to desire to seek righteousness by carnal means, by human faithfulness to the requirements of the law, which addresses itself to man in the flesh, but to which the flesh is not subject, neither indeed can be! Amongst the Galatians were persons who wrought miracles by the Spirit, so that His presence as a seal, on God's part, was very evident. In the present day many believers are inquiring whether God's Spirit dwells in them. We will say a few words on this point.
If a man, convinced of sin, and believing in the Lord Jesus as the alone and perfect Savior, who has finished the work committed to Him by the Father, can, from the bottom of his heart, say, "Abba, Father," such an one possesses the Holy Ghost (Rom. 8:1515For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (Romans 8:15); Gal. 4:66And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6)). Not only does he see the truth in the word, and accept it, but in the presence of God he enjoys liberty, and possesses the consciousness of His relationship with God. He will have much to learn, much, perhaps, to correct, much to forget, much to alter in his spiritual condition, but he possesses the consciousness of his relationship with God. This is not simply conversion; a sinner, as a sinner, cannot be sealed. God cannot put His seal upon sin; but when a man has been cleansed by the blood of Christ, then the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in him.
We see the difference in the case of the prodigal son. He had come to himself, had owned his sin, and that he was ready to perish. He arose, and set off to return to his father. He was acting aright; he was truly converted; but as yet he had not on the best robe, nor the ring on his hand, nor shoes on his feet; as yet he had not met his father; he knew well that kindness and happiness were to be found in his father's house, but he knew not if he might enter there, he knew not if he would be received. He had not the sense of being a son, though he was such: he says, " I am no more worthy to be called thy son." This is not the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, " Abba, Father."
How many sincere and truly converted souls are in this state! They are not sealed. I do not say one must be able to explain how one cries, Abba; nor to explain the doctrine of the presence of the Holy Ghost-acquaintance with the word is needed for this. But we must have the Spirit to be able in truth to cry, Abba. There are many souls who, from bad teaching, fear to say they are children of God; but when in the presence of God, they unhesitatingly, and from the bottom of their hearts, cry, Abba. In such a case, the lack of liberty and of power to say, " I am a child of God," is the result of bad teaching; but if the soul has been sealed, when it finds itself in God's presence speaking to Him, it well knows that He is its Father, it has the sense of relationship with Him. " Where the Spirit of the Lord is," says the apostle, " there is liberty "-liberty in the presence of God, and also from the law and the power of sin.
We can now look for a moment at that which the Holy Spirit gives when He dwells in us. First, He is not a spirit of bondage, but of adoption: we know that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Marvelous and ineffable privileges! though to be thus in relationship with God and with Christ is still more than the inheritance, which is but the consequence of that relationship.
Moreover, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us. A simple expression, but how precious! We dwell in love, the love of God, for God, who is love, dwells in us. The proof of the love is that God gave His only-begotten Son for us, and that He died, gave up His life for us. But we enjoy this love through the presence of the Holy Ghost; by that presence the love is shed abroad in our hearts.
The apostle John speaks thus: " No man hath seen God at any time: if we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in God, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit." And to show that this belongs, without question, to all Christians, he says, " Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God," 1 John 4:12-1512No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:12‑15).
It is difficult for one who does not walk with God to believe that we can dwell in God, and God in us. But it is clearly said, " If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." He dwells in us, and the soul that walks in communion with God enjoys this, rejoicing in it with humility and gratitude.
The presence of God never makes us proud. He is too great for us to be anything before Him. It was not when Paul was in the third heaven that he was in danger of being exalted above measure, but when he came down again. Moreover, the Holy Spirit gives us to know that we are in Christ, and Christ in us (John 14:2020At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)). There is no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus. Not only are our sins forgiven, but we are made acceptable to God in Him who is the Beloved, accepted in Christ, according to the preciousness of Christ Himself, who is our righteousness, and loved as He is loved.
Here, again, we see the believer's perfect acceptance, as also his responsibility. Before God I am perfectly accepted in Christ. But if I am in Christ, Christ is in me as life and power, and I am responsible to manifest this life before the world. Christ is for us before God, and we are for Christ before the world.
We know, then, by the Holy Spirit that we are in Christ, and Christ in us. What a magnificent fact, that the Spirit of God dwells in us! the effect of the perfect redemption accomplished by Christ. But what a responsibility likewise for the Christian! God did not dwell with Adam innocent, even in the garden of Eden. He did not dwell with Abraham; but as soon as even the external redemption of Israel was accomplished, He came to dwell in the midst of His people, and sat between the cherubim, as on His throne. And now that true and eternal redemption is accomplished, He comes to dwell in believers individually, and in His people, gathered by the Holy Ghost. His presence is more than conversion. The converts washed in the blood of Jesus become the habitation of God, sealed thus for glory by means of the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The apostle insists upon the folly of these poor Galatians; they had suffered much on account of the gospel, and if the gospel were insufficient and vain without circumcision, they had suffered in vain.
He then takes up the case of Abraham, whom the Jews so highly esteemed. He had believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. Thus at the present time it is those who are of faith who are the true sons of Abraham, not those who are sons according to the flesh. " And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed."
Mark here the authority and importance of the word of God. It foresaw what God would do; it is that which comes forth out of the mouth of God, so that it is looked at as God speaking anticipatively. The apostle speaks of Scripture as of that which possessed the thoughts of God, since, in fact, inspired by the Holy Ghost, it communicates these thoughts to us. Know, then, says the apostle, how that the patriarch, Abraham, the father of the faithful and the depositary of the promises, received all by faith: thus those who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. Those, on the other hand, who are of the works of the law, are under the curse. The law is good and holy, but it does not give a new nature, it does not give life, nor the strength needed to do what it requires. He who seeks blessing by the law is like the man who lay in the porch of the pool of Bethesda; his sickness had deprived him of the strength needed for his cure.
The law exacts; it requires man to keep it, it must have obedience: but it neither gives a nature that desires to keep it, nor strength to do it. It exacts, and that is all. Man ought to love God with all his heart: he has not done it-he does it not. He ought to love his neighbor as himself: he does not do it-he is more grieved if he loses his own fortune than if his neighbor loses his. He ought not to lust, but lust is there. Therefore the law pronounces a curse upon the man who is under its power, because he has not kept it. It knows not how to forgive.
The apostle alludes to a remarkable fact, which is found in Deut. 27:2626Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen. (Deuteronomy 27:26). The tribes of Israel were commanded to stand, six upon mount Gerizim, and six upon mount Ebal, these to curse and those to bless. But when it comes to speak of those that were to bless, we find no blessings. In chapter 27: 12, we get the six to bless, but no blessing: then in verse 13 the six to curse, and then follows: " The Levites shall speak and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice: Cursed be he," etc.: and then at the end, the words quoted by the apostle. In the following chapters, we get God's ways with Israel in the land of Canaan, but under the solemn declarations of the consequences of being put under the law; and no blessing is found there. Thus, those who are of the law are under the curse.
The prophets likewise taught that life is through faith, that the law does not justify saying: " The just shall live by faith." Now the law is not of faith, but of works; moreover, the man himself must do them, for the law requires that he should work out his own righteousness: it says, " the man that doeth these things shall live in them." Does it then follow that the authority of the law must be despised, since those who have been under it, have not kept it, or that all must be condemned? Not so. Christ has redeemed us (we who believe on Him) from the curse of the law, being made in His infinite grace, His immense love, a curse for us, as it is written: " Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree; that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
We find then here, the ways of God for blessing the nations. The Jews were under the law, as in fact all are, who have not been delivered by Jesus Christ, known by the Holy Ghost. If we were not wholly corrupt and without conscience, we yet were as to the state of our souls before God, under the curse.
Now if the Christian adopts this principle, he puts himself under the curse; that is why the apostle is so earnest about the question. Christ gave Himself upon the cross, to take this curse upon Himself, and thus it does not fall upon us. He has also borne the sins of those who believe on Him. Thus the blessing comes to the nations, to whoever believes on Him, whether they be Jews or Gentiles.
But this is not all. We find in the Old Testament the promise of the Holy Spirit, a promise renewed still more clearly in the words of the Lord Himself. It was written that the Spirit should be poured out upon all flesh, that is, the Gentiles should have their part in it. This was Peter's authority for receiving Cornelius among the Christians. The believing Gentiles were sealed as much as were the Jews. God had put His seal upon them as His children, and they were united in one body with the Jews and with Christ Himself. The blessing of the Gentiles was the same as the blessing of the Jews. The Jews had not received the Spirit under the law, when the Gentiles were excluded; and now that all were manifested together as sinners, grace which had cleansed both the one and the other, admitted one and the other to the same privileges. Thus the promise already made to Abraham and to the nations in him was fulfilled in the gift of the Spirit, given through Christ, to those who believe from among the Gentiles.
He now insists upon this promise, upon the circumstances under which it was made, and the way in which the Gentiles enjoyed it. The starting-point of his argument is, that the nations were to be blessed in Abraham, according to the promise of God. It was by faith, that Abraham had received the promises, and the Gentiles were upon the same ground- that of receiving all through faith. Afterward, the law was given to the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, but it was only a curse to the soul, for the flesh is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Moreover, the just shall live by faith, and the law is not of faith, it requires works. But those who were under the law were redeemed from its curse by the death of Christ. The believing Jews were therefore freed from it; and the blessing they received through faith in Christ, extended to the Gentiles who had faith in Christ, but certainly did not place them under the curse from which Israel was delivered through this same faith. The Holy Spirit already promised, became the heritage of the one and the other: a magnificent testimony to the acceptance of the Gentiles! The history of the promise to Abraham showed the same truth. But a sure and simple principle is first stated.
Verse 15. If a covenant is not only made but confirmed, it cannot be disannulled, nor can anything be added to it. The promises were made to Abraham and were afterward confirmed, as we shall see, to his seed. Now the law which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul the covenant that God had before confirmed, that it should make the promise of none effect. The promise remained always sure, and nothing could be added to or taken from it.
The character and details of the promise are also important. It was made to Abraham and confirmed to his seed. But in the " seed " one only is spoken of, not a numerous progeny: and this is most exact. We find many promises made to Abraham, when it was said that his seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand by the sea shore. But there was one promise made to Abraham alone, without mention of his seed. In Gen. 12 it is said that all nations should be blessed in him: and in chapter 22 this promise is confirmed to his seed, and that when he had offered Isaac upon the altar, and had received him again as risen from the dead (see Heb. 11:1919Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Hebrews 11:19))-a remarkable type of Christ in whom it was fully and literally accomplished. In chapters 15-17, we find the promise of a numerous posterity, which promise was fulfilled in the nation of Israel. But in chapter 22 we get the two promises distinctly stated.
We have then here the promise, the true seed, one single person, the confirmation of the promise to that one seed, and the blessing promised to the Gentiles with it. It is no question here of a numerous posterity, but of one single Person, and that Person is Christ. Isaac was but a type. The law, says the apostle, which came in four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul or add anything to the promise which had been so solemnly confirmed after the sacrifice of Isaac upon the altar (Gen. 22). If the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise, but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added on account of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; that is, till Messiah, Christ should come. God never intended to save through the law, but through Christ His Son, by His death for us upon the cross, where He bare the sins of all who are saved: those sins can be imputed to them no more. Christ is the Judge of the living and the dead, but when believers appear before His tribunal, they will find there the One who has already put away their sins by His death. The law came in between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise: it was neither of faith nor of promise, nor was it the fulfillment of the promise by the coming of the Son of God.
The law required obedience from man, producing human righteousness if obedience were accomplished. But flesh was not subject to the law, neither could it be; so then those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Why then did God give the law? In order that man might, through transgressions, learn his real condition. God could do nothing to produce sins; man was committing them already; but sins became transgressions through the law, in order, as Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans, that by the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful.
The law worked in two ways. In the first place the sins which man committed became exceedingly sinful, because they not only practiced what was evil, but they did so after God had plainly forbidden it. In the second place, sin in the flesh, lust, the condition of man after the flesh was detected. The flesh loved sin; and even a converted man who sought to conquer it, was overcome and made captive by the power of sin which ruled in the flesh. By the law is the knowledge of sin, that is, sin in the flesh, and through the law, sins became exceeding sinful. If my child is accustomed to be idle and run about the streets, it is a bad habit, but if I forbid him to go out, and he does it again, it is a positive transgression and much worse than a bad habit. It was for this, to instruct us, to teach us what we are, that the law was given. The law is holy, just, and good; it presents to man his duty as a child of Adam before God, but it was given to man when he was already a sinner not surely to produce sin, but to change sin into offenses. The apostle speaks still more positively to the Romans: " The law entered that the offense might abound," v. 20. Moreover, it disclosed to man his evil nature: but I will not here say more. It is enough if the nature and working of the law are understood.
Verse 20. The law, says the apostle, was ordained by angels in the hand of a Mediator. We here find a new and important principle. It is plain that a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one. There was then another party between whom and God the Mediator fulfilled His mediatorship; in fact, there was Israel, that is, man. The enjoyment of the results of the covenant, depended on the faithfulness of both parties; for since God had upon Mount Sinai promised blessing on His part, if Israel were faithful to His will, so Israel was bound to be obedient, in order to enjoy the privileges granted under the law. That which had been promised unconditionally to Abraham, was accepted at Sinai under condition of the people's obedience. " Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people," Ex. 19:55Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: (Exodus 19:5).
Moses (the mediator) therefore came and proposed to them all these words, and all the people answered together: " all that the Lord hath spoken we will do," and Moses brought back to the Lord the words of the people. Thus the covenant was made. Then they made a molten calf before Moses had come down from the mount. The covenant was broken in its primary obligation, " thou shalt have none other gods before me," and Moses broke the tables at the foot of the mount, and they never came into the camp. Mercy spared them, but the covenant had been broken, and a new one had to be afterward established. It had no more stability than the faithfulness of man in the flesh. The fulfillment of God's unconditional promise to Abraham, depended only on the faithfulness of the God who had made it; it could not therefore fail.
And remark here, that it is not a question of Christ the Mediator to bear our sins and save us, but of the promised seed. With that a mediator had nothing to do. It was simply a promise that the seed should come, and it came. The law intervened between the promise and its fulfillment to put man to the proof, in order that the weakness and iniquity of the flesh might be manifested. It was not against the promises of God, but it showed that man could not secure the accomplishment of those promises by his own faithfulness and his own works. For if the law could have given life, the new life given by the law would naturally keep its commandments; this would have been human and legal righteousness, and although human yet pleasing to God. But sinful flesh was detected, not righteousness accomplished. If they had kept the law, under which they had placed themselves at Sinai in order that they might enjoy the promises, they would have enjoyed that which was promised: but they did not keep it. All-Jews as well as Gentiles, those who had the privileges as well as those who had them not-were concluded under sin, so that the promise made to Abraham might be fulfilled to all believers through faith in Jesus Christ.
Now before faith came, that is, before the system founded upon faith in Christ had come, the Jews were kept under the law, shut up to the faith that should afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was their schoolmaster unto Christ, that they might be justified by faith. It was in fact, the goodness of God, which when all the earth had fallen into idolatry, kept one nation, which unfaithful as it may have been, yet preserved the knowledge of the only true God. The law was not, it is true, the means of justifying them, for they did not keep it; but they were shut up under obligation to keep it, and prided themselves in the promises.
The unity of God, and the fact of the promises made by Him of the seed to come, remained in their integrity among men. But once faith-that is, Christ and the system of faith- had come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. What was only for the time of expectation lost the whole ground of its existence when the object of expectation had come. It had been useful for preserving them until the appointed time; but once that which was waited for had come, to preserve the schoolmaster had no longer any motive-it belonged to the time of waiting. This would, in reality, have denied His coming and His work. Those who had not kept the law, when they were bound to do it, desired, from pride, to keep it, when every motive for having it was entirely passed. Such is man!
Verse 26. The apostle no longer speaks of us, that is, of the Jews. They had been kept under the schoolmaster, but he now addresses his words to the Christian Jews and Gentiles together. " Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." He no longer speaks of Jews or Greeks, or slaves or free men: being baptized unto Christ, they had put on Christ, they had assumed the name, the profession, of Christ; every other name was lost in this. They were Christians, united together under this name. The resurrection had for all put an end before God to man in the flesh: they were all one in Christ Jesus.
The place of external profession is here spoken of, what a Christian was as such, not whether he was a true Christian or not. We shall see that Paul was a little doubtful as to this; nevertheless, in looking to Christ through grace, he was able to reassure himself.
In the Christian system, faith, as it is here called, does not refer to a name, nor to a party of any kind, but to Christ alone. They were Christians, and nothing else. Now, if they were of Christ, the only true Seed of Abraham according to the promise, through whom the nations were to be blessed, they were of the seed of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise.
All this contains important principles. Partakers of the promise in Christ, they could not be under the law. To put oneself under it, denied Christianity; Christ was dead in vain. We cannot be of any class, nor bear any other name, than that of Christ Himself.