John Wesley's Explanatory Notes
Verse 1. Now - To illustrate by a plain similitude the preeminence of the Christian, over the legal, dispensation. The heir, as long as he is a child - As he is under age. Differeth nothing from a servant - Not being at liberty either to use or enjoy his estate. Though he be lord - Proprietor of it all.
Verse 2. But is under tutors - As to his person. And stewards - As to his substance.
Verse 3. So we - The church of God. When we were children - In our minority, under the legal dispensation. Were in bondage - In a kind of servile state. Under the elements of the world - Under the typical observances of the law, which were like the first elements of grammar, the A B C of children; and were of so gross a nature, as hardly to carry our thoughts beyond this world.
Verse 4. But when the fulness of the time - Appointed by the Father, Galatians 4:2. Was come, God sent forth - From his own bosom. His Son, miraculously made of the substance of a woman - A virgin, without the concurrence of a man. Made under the law - Both under the precept, and under the curse, of it.
Verse 5. To redeem those under the law - From the curse of it, and from that low, servile state. That we - Jews who believe. Might receive the adoption - All the privileges of adult sons.
Verse 6. And because ye - Gentiles who believe, are also thus made his adult sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts likewise, crying, Abba, Father -Enabling you to call upon God both with the confidence, and the tempers, of dutiful children. The Hebrew and Greek word are joined together, to express the joint cry of the Jews and gentiles.
Verse 7. Wherefore thou - Who believest in Christ. Art no more a servant - Like those who are under the law. But a son - Of mature age. And if a son, then an heir of all the promises, and of the all-sufficient God himself.
Verse 8. Indeed then when ye knew not God, ye served them that by nature - That is, in reality. Are no gods -And so were under a far worse bondage than even that of the Jews. For they did serve the true God, though in a low, slavish manner.
Verse 9. But now being known of God - As his beloved children. How turn ye back to the weak and poor elements -Weak, utterly unable to purge your conscience from guilt, or to give that filial confidence in God. Poor - incapable of enriching the soul with such holiness and happiness as ye are heirs to. Ye desire to be again in bondage - Though of another kind; now to these elements, as before to those idols.
Verse 10. Ye observe days - Jewish sabbaths. And months - New moons. And times - As that of the passover, pentecost, and the feast of tabernacles. And years - Annual solemnities. it does not mean sabbatic years. These were not to be observed out of the land of Canaan.
Verse 11. The apostle here, dropping the argument, applies to the affections, Galatians 4:11-20, and humbles himself to the Galatians, with an inexpressible tenderness.
Verse 12. Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am - Meet me in mutual love. For I am as ye were - I still love you as affectionately as ye once loved me. Why should I not? Ye have not injured me at all - I have received no personal injury from you.
Verse 13. I preached to you, notwithstanding infirmity of the flesh - That is, notwithstanding bodily weakness, and under great disadvantage from the despicableness of my outward appearance.
Verse 14. And ye did not slight my temptation - That is, ye did not slight or disdain me for my temptation, my "thorn in the flesh."
Verse 15. What was then the blessedness ye spake of - On which ye so congratulated one another.
Verse 17. They - The judaizing teachers who are come among you. Zealously affect you - Express an extraordinary regard for you. But not well - Their zeal is not according to knowledge; neither have they a single eye to your spiritual advantage. Yea, they would exclude you - From me and from the blessings of the gospel. That ye might affect - Love and esteem them.
Verse 18. In a good thing - In what is really worthy our zeal. True zeal is only fervent love.
Verse 19. My little children - He speaks as a parent, both with authority, and the most tender sympathy, toward weak and sickly children. Of whom I travail in birth again - As I did before, Galatians 4:13, in vehement pain, sorrow, desire, prayer. Till Christ be formed in you - Till there be in you all the mind that was in him.
Verse 20. I could wish to be present with you now - Particularly in this exigence. And to change - Variously to attemper. My voice - He writes with much softness; but he would speak with more. The voice may more easily be varied according to the occasion than a letter can. For I stand in doubt of you - So that I am at a loss how to speak at this distance.
Verse 21. Do ye not hear the law - Regard what it says.
Verse 22. Genesis 21:2,9.
Verse 23. Was born after the flesh - In a natural way. By promise - Through that supernatural strength which was given Abraham in consequence of the promise.
Verse 24. Which things are an allegory - An allegory is a figurative speech, wherein one thing is expressed, and another intended. For those two sons are types of the two covenants. One covenant is that given from mount Sinai, which beareth children to bondage - That is, all who are under this, the Jewish covenant, are in bondage. Which covenant is typified by Agar.
Verse 25. For this is mount Sinai in Arabia - That is, the type of mount Sinai. And answereth to - Resembles Jerusalem that now is, and is in bondage - Like Agar, both to the law and to the Romans.
Verse 26. But the other covenant is derived from Jerusalem that is above, which is free - Like Sarah from all inward and outward bondage, and is the mother of us all - That is, all who believe in Christ, are free citizens of the New Jerusalem.
Verse 27. For it is written - Those words in the primary sense promise a flourishing state to Judea, after its desolation by the Chaldeans. Rejoice. thou barren, that bearest not - Ye heathen nations, who, like a barren woman, were destitute, for many ages, of a seed to serve the Lord. Break forth and cry aloud for joy, thou that, in former time, travailedst not: for the desolate hath many more children than she that hath an husband - For ye that were so long utterly desolate shall at length bear more children than the Jewish church, which was of old espoused to God. Isaiah 54:1.
Verse 28. Now we - Who believe, whether Jews or Gentiles. Are children of the promise - Not born in a natural way, but by the supernatural power of God. And as such we are heirs of the promise made to believing Abraham.
Verse 29. But as then, he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, so it is now also - And so it will be in all ages and nations to the end of the world.
Verse 30. But what saith the scripture - Showing the consequence of this. Cast out the bondwoman and her son - Who mocked Isaac. In like manner will God cast out all who seek to be justified by the law; especially if they persecute them who are his children by faith. Genesis 21:10.
Verse 31. So then - To sum up all. We - Who believe. Are not children of the bondwoman - Have nothing to do with the servile Mosaic dispensation. But of the free - Being free from the curse and the bond of that law, and from the power of sin and Satan.
on the Whole Bible