What a loss, dreadful and irreparable, to lose such a Christ, as we, under grace, have known Him; such a righteousness; such a love; the Son of God our portion, our life; the Son of God devoted for us, and to us! It is indeed this which awakens the strong feelings of the apostle: "O foolish Galatians," he continues, "who hath bewitched you?" Christ had been portrayed as crucified before their eyes. Thus their folly appeared still more surprising, in thinking of what they had received, of what in fact they were enjoying under the gospel, and of their sufferings for the sake of that gospel. Had they received the Spirit through works done on the principle of law, or through a testimony received by faith? Having begun by the power of the Spirit, would they carry the thing on to perfection by the wretched flesh? They had suffered for the gospel, for the pure gospel, unadulterated with Judaism and the law: was it then all in vain? Again, he who ministered to them the Spirit, and worked miracles among them, was it through works on the principle of law, or in connection with a testimony received by faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. It was the principle established by God in the case of the father of the faithful. Therefore they who placed themselves by grace on the principle of faith,-they were the "children of Abraham." And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles through faith, preached this gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In thee shall all nations be blessed."
The epistle is necessarily elementary, for the Galatians were forsaking the foundation, and the apostle insists on that. The great principles of the epistle are, connected with the known presence of the Spirit, promise according to grace in contrast with and before law, Christ the accomplishment of the promise, the law coming in by the bye meanwhile. The Gentiles were thus heirs in Christ, true and sole Heir of promise, and the Jews acquiring the position of sons.
We have then the principle on which Abraham stood before God, and the declaration that it was in him the Gentiles should be blessed. Thus they who are on the principle of faith are blessed with Abraham the believer; while the law pronounced an express curse on those who did not keep it in every point. This use of Deuteronomy 27 has been considered elsewhere. I would call to mind only that (the twelve tribes having been divided into two companies of silt each, the one to announce the blessing and the other the curse) the curses alone are recited, the blessings entirely omitted-a striking circumstance, used by the apostle to shew the true character of the law. At the same time the scripture plainly set forth that it was not the works of the law that justified; for it said, "The just shall live on the principle of faith." Now the law was not on the principle of faith, but he who has done these things shall live by them. But was not this authority of the law to be maintained, as being that of God? Assuredly. But Christ had borne its curse (having redeemed and thus delivered those who-subject before to the sentence of the law-had now believed in Him), in order that the blessing of Abraham might reach the Gentiles through Him, so that all believers, both Jew and Gentile, should receive the Spirit who had been promised.
Christ had exhausted for the believer-who before was subject to the law and guilty of having broken it-all the curse that it pronounced on the guilty: and the law which distinguished Israel had lost its power over the Jew who believed in Jesus, through the very act that bore the most striking testimony to its authority. The barrier therefore no longer existed, and the former promise of blessing could flow freely (according to the terms in which it was made to Abraham) upon the Gentiles through the channel of Christ, who had put away the curse that the law brought upon the Jews; and both Jew and Gentile, believing in Him, could receive the Holy Ghost, the subject of God's promises, in the time of blessing.
Having thus touched on this point, the apostle now treats, not the effect of the law upon the conscience, but the mutual relationship that existed between the law and the promise. Now the promise had been given first, and not only given, but it had been confirmed; and, had it been but a human covenant solemnly confirmed, it could neither be added to nor annulled. But God had engaged Himself to Abraham by promise 430 years before the law, having deposited, so to say, the blessing of the Gentiles in his person (Genesis 12). This promise was confirmed to his see [See Footnote #4] (Isaac: Genesis 22), and to only one; he does not say to the seeds, but "to the Seed," and it is Christ who is this Seed. A Jew would not deny this last point. Now the law, coming so long after, could not annul the promise that was made before and solemnly confirmed by God, so as to render it of no effect. For if the inheritance were on the principle of law, it was no more on that of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. "Wherefore then the law?" since the unchangeable promise was already given, and the inheritance must come to the object of that promise, the law having no power to change it in any way. It is because there is another question between the soul and God, or, if you will, between God and man, namely, that of righteousness. Grace, which chooses to bestow blessing, and which promises it beforehand, is not the only source of blessing for us. The question of righteousness must be settled with God, the question of sin and of the guilt of man.
Now the promise which was unconditional and made to Christ, did not raise the question of righteousness. It was necessary that it should be raised, and in the first place by requiring righteousness from man, who was responsible to produce it and to walk in it before God. Man ought to have been righteous before God. But sin had already come in, and it was in reality to make sin manifest that the law was brought in. Sin was indeed present, the will of man was in rebellion against God; but the law drew out the strength of that evil will, and it manifested its thorough contempt of God by overleaping the barrier which the prohibition of God raised between it and its desires.
The law was added that there might be transgressions, not (as we have seen already, when meditating on the Romans, where this same subject is treated) that there might be sin, but that there might be transgressions, through which the consciences of men might be reached, and the sentence of death and condemnation made to be sensibly felt in their light and careless hearts. The law was therefore introduced between the promise and its fulfilment, in order that the real moral condition of man should be made manifest. Now the circumstances under which it was given rendered it very obvious that the law was in no wise the means of the fulfilment of the promise, but that on the contrary it placed man upon an altogether different ground, which made him know himself, and at the same time made him understand the impossibility of his standing before God on the ground of his own responsibility. God had made an unconditional promise to the seed of Abraham. He will infallibly perform it, for He is God. But in the communication of the law there is nothing immediate and direct from God simply. It is ordained by the hand of angels. It is not God who, in speaking, engages Himself simply by His own word to the person in whose favour the promise is to be fulfilled. The angels of glory, who had no part in the promises (for it was angels who shone in the glory of Sinai; see Psalms 68) invested, by the will of God, the proclamation of the law, with the splendour of their dignity. But the God of the angels and of Israel stood apart, hidden in His sanctuary of clouds and fire and thick darkness. He was encompassed with glory; He made Himself terrible in His magnificence; but He did not display Himself. He had given the promise in person; a mediator brought the law. And the existence of a mediator necessarily supposes two parties. But God was one; and it was the foundation of the whole Jewish religion. There was therefore another on whom the stedfastness of the covenant made at Sinai depended. And in fact Moses went up and down, and carried the words of Jehovah to Israel, and the answer of Israel who engaged themselves to perform that which Jehovah imposed on them as a condition of the enjoyment of the effect of His promise.
"If ye will indeed obey my voice," said Jehovah. "All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do," replied Israel intermediately through Moses. What were the consequences? The apostle, with touching tenderness, as it appears to me, does not answer this question-does not deduce the necessary consequences of his argument. His object was to shew the difference between the promise and the law, without needlessly wounding the heart of a people whom he loved. On the contrary, he endeavours at once to prevent any offence that might arise from what he had said; further developing at the same time his thesis. Was the law against the promises of God? By no means. If a law had been given that was to impart life, then righteousness (for that is our subject in this passage) should have been by the law. Man, possessing divine life, would have been righteous in the righteousness that he had accomplished. The law promised the blessing of God on the terms of man's obedience: if it could have given life at the same time, this obedience would have taken place, righteousness would have been accomplished on the ground of law; they to whom the promise had been made would have enjoyed its fulfilment by virtue of their own righteousness. But it was the contrary which happened, for after all man, whether Jew or Gentile, is a sinner by nature; without law, he is the slave of his unbridled passions; under law, he shews their strength by breaking the law. The scripture has shut up all under sin, in order that this promise, by faith in Jesus Christ, should be accomplished in favour of those who believe.
Now before faith came (that is, christian faith, as the principle of relationship with God, before the existence of the positive objects of faith in the Person, the work, and the glory of Christ as man, had become the means of establishing the faith of the gospel), the Jews were kept under the law, shut up with a view to the enjoyment of this privilege which was to come. Thus the law had been to the Jews as a child's conductor up to Christ, in order that they might be justified on the principle of faith. Meanwhile they were not without restraint; they were kept apart from the nations, not less guilty than they, but kept separate for a justification, the necessity of which was made more evident by the law which they did not fulfil, but which demanded righteousness from man; thus shewing that God required this righteousness. But when once faith had come, those until then subject to the law were no longer under the tutelage of this law, which only bound them until faith was come. For this faith, placing man immediately in the presence of God, and making the believer a son of the Father of glory, left no more place for the guidance of the tutor employed during the nonage of one who was now set free and in direct relationship with the Father.
The believer then is a son in immediate connection with his Father, with God (God Himself being manifested). He is a son, because all who have been baptised to have part in the privileges that are in Christ have put on Christ. They are not before God as Jews or Gentiles, bond or free, male or female; they are before God according to their position in Christ, all one thing in Him, Christ being for all the common and only measure of their relationship with God. But this Christ was, as we have seen, the one Seed of Abraham: and if the Gentiles were in Christ, they entered consequently into this privileged position; they were, in Christ, the seed of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise made to that seed.
Footnotes for Galatians 3