Galatians 4

* The folly of returning to legal observances for justification.

(1-7) The happy change made in the Gentile believers. (8-11) The

apostle reasons against following false teachers. (12-18) He

expresses his earnest concern for them. (19,20) And then

explains the difference between what is to be expected from the

law, and from the gospel. (21-31)

1-7 The apostle deals plainly with those who urged the law of

Moses together with the gospel of Christ, and endeavoured to

bring believers under its bondage. They could not fully

understand the meaning of the law as given by Moses. And as that

was a dispensation of darkness, so of bondage; they were tied to

many burdensome rites and observances, by which they were taught

and kept subject like a child under tutors and governors. We

learn the happier state of Christians under the gospel

dispensation. From these verses see the wonders of Divine love

and mercy; particularly of God the Father, in sending his Son

into the world to redeem and save us; of the Son of God, in

submitting so low, and suffering so much for us; and of the Holy

Spirit, in condescending to dwell in the hearts of believers,

for such gracious purposes. Also, the advantages Christians

enjoy under the gospel. Although by nature children of wrath and

disobedience, they become by grace children of love, and partake

of the nature of the children of God; for he will have all his

children resemble him. Among men the eldest son is heir; but all

God's children shall have the inheritance of eldest sons. May

the temper and conduct of sons ever show our adoption; and may

the Holy Spirit witness with our spirits that we are children

and heirs of God.
8-11 The happy change whereby the Galatians were turned from

idols to the living God, and through Christ had received the

adoption of sons, was the effect of his free and rich grace;

they were laid under the greater obligation to keep to the

liberty wherewith he had made them free. All our knowledge of

God begins on his part; we know him because we are known of him.

Though our religion forbids idolatry, yet many practise

spiritual idolatry in their hearts. For what a man loves most,

and cares most for, that is his god: some have their riches for

their god, some their pleasures, and some their lusts. And many

ignorantly worship a god of their own making; a god made all of

mercy and no justice. For they persuade themselves that there is

mercy for them with God, though they repent not, but go on in

their sins. It is possible for those who have made great

professions of religion, to be afterwards drawn aside from

purity and simplicity. And the more mercy God has shown, in

bringing any to know the gospel, and the liberties and

privileges of it, the greater their sin and folly in suffering

themselves to be deprived of them. Hence all who are members of

the outward church should learn to fear and to suspect

themselves. We must not be content because we have some good

things in ourselves. Paul fears lest his labour is in vain, yet

he still labours; and thus to do, whatever follows, is true

wisdom and the fear of God. This every man must remember in his

place and calling.
12-18 The apostle desires that they would be of one mind with

him respecting the law of Moses, as well as united with him in

love. In reproving others, we should take care to convince them

that our reproofs are from sincere regard to the honour of God

and religion and their welfare. The apostle reminds the

Galatians of the difficulty under which he laboured when he

first came among them. But he notices, that he was a welcome

messenger to them. Yet how very uncertain are the favour and

respect of men! Let us labour to be accepted of God. You once

thought yourselves happy in receiving the gospel; have you now

reason to think otherwise? Christians must not forbear speaking

the truth, for fear of offending others. The false teachers who

drew the Galatians from the truth of the gospel were designing

men. They pretended affection, but they were not sincere and

upright. An excellent rule is given. It is good to be zealous

always in a good thing; not for a time only, or now and then,

but always. Happy would it be for the church of Christ, if this

zeal was better maintained.
19,20 The Galatians were ready to account the apostle their

enemy, but he assures them he was their friend; he had the

feelings of a parent toward them. He was in doubt as to their

state, and was anxious to know the result of their present

delusions. Nothing is so sure a proof that a sinner has passed

into a state of justification, as Christ being formed in him by

the renewal of the Holy Spirit; but this cannot be hoped for,

while men depend on the law for acceptance with God.
21-27 The difference between believers who rested in Christ

only, and those who trusted in the law, is explained by the

histories of Isaac and Ishmael. These things are an allegory,

wherein, beside the literal and historical sense of the words,

the Spirit of God points out something further. Hagar and Sarah

were apt emblems of the two different dispensations of the

covenant. The heavenly Jerusalem, the true church from above,

represented by Sarah, is in a state of freedom, and is the

mother of all believers, who are born of the Holy Spirit. They

were by regeneration and true faith, made a part of the true

seed of Abraham, according to the promise made to him.
28-31 The history thus explained is applied. So then, brethren,

we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free. If the

privileges of all believers were so great, according to the new

covenant, how absurd for the Gentile converts to be under that

law, which could not deliver the unbelieving Jews from bondage

or condemnation! We should not have found out this allegory in

the history of Sarah and Hagar, if it had not been shown to us,

yet we cannot doubt it was intended by the Holy Spirit. It is an

explanation of the subject, not an argument in proof of it. The

two covenants of works and grace, and legal and evangelical

professors, are shadowed forth. Works and fruits brought forth

in a man's own strength, are legal. But if arising from faith in

Christ, they are evangelical. The first covenant spirit is of

bondage unto sin and death. The second covenant spirit is of

liberty and freedom; not liberty to sin, but in and unto duty.

The first is a spirit of persecution; the second is a spirit of

love. Let those professors look to it, who have a violent,

harsh, imposing spirit, towards the people of God. Yet as

Abraham turned aside to Hagar, so it is possible a believer may

turn aside in some things to the covenant of works, when through

unbelief and neglect of the promise he acts according to the

law, in his own strength; or in a way of violence, not of love,

towards the brethren. Yet it is not his way, not his spirit to

do so; hence he is never at rest, till he returns to his

dependence on Christ again. Let us rest our souls on the

Scriptures, and by a gospel hope and cheerful obedience, show

that our conversation and treasure are indeed in heaven.
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