on Galatians 4 :31
So then - We - Jews and Gentiles, who believe on the Lord Jesus, are not children of the bond woman - are not in subjection to the Jewish law, but of the free; and, consequently, are delivered from all its bondage, obligation, and curse.
Thus the apostle, from their own Scripture, explained by their own allegory, proves that it is only by Jesus Christ that they can have redemption; and because they have not believed in him, therefore they continue to be in bondage; and that shortly God will deliver them up into a long and grievous captivity: for we may naturally suppose that the apostle has reference to what had been so often foretold by the prophets, and confirmed by Jesus Christ himself; and this was the strongest argument he could use, to show the Galatians their folly and their danger in submitting again to the bondage from which they had escaped, and exposing themselves to the most dreadful calamities of an earthly kind, as well as to the final ruin of their souls. They desired to be under the law; then they must take all the consequences; and these the apostle sets fairly before them.
1. We sometimes pity the Jews, who continue to reject the Gospel. Many who do so have no pity for themselves; for is not the state of a Jew, who systematically rejects Christ, because he does not believe him to be the promised Messiah, infinitely better than his, who, believing every thing that the Scripture teaches concerning Christ, lives under the power and guilt of sin? If the Jews be in a state of nonage, because they believe not the doctrines of Christianity, he is in a worse state than that of infancy who is not born again by the power of the Holy Ghost. Reader, whosoever thou art, lay this to heart.
2. The 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th verses of this chapter (Galatians 4:4-7) contain the sum and marrow of Christian divinity.
(1.) The determination of God to redeem the world by the incarnation of his Son.
(2.) The manifestation of this Son in the fullness of time.
(3.) The circumstances in which this Son appeared: sent forth; made of a woman; made under the law; to be a sufferer; and to die as a sacrifice.
(4.) The redemption of the world, by the death of Christ: he came to redeem them that were under the law, who were condemned and cursed by it.
(5.) By the redemption price he purchases sonship or adoption for mankind.
(6.) He, God the Father, sends the Spirit, God the Holy Ghost, of God the Son, into the hearts of believers, by which they, through the full confidence of their adoption, call him their Father.
(7.) Being made children, they become heirs, and God is their portion throughout eternity. Thus, in a few words, the whole doctrine of grace is contained, and an astonishing display made of the unutterable mercy of God. See the notes on Galatians 4:4-7 (note).
3. While the Jews were rejecting the easy yoke of Christ, they were painfully observing days, and months, and times and years. Superstition has far more labor to perform than true religion has; and at last profits nothing! Most men, either from false views of religion, or through the power and prevalency of their own evil passions and habits, have ten thousand times more trouble to get to hell, than the followers of God have to get to heaven.
4. Even in the perverted Galatians the apostle finds some good; and he mentions with great feeling those amiable qualities which they once possessed. The only way to encourage men to seek farther good is to show them what they have got, and to make this a reason why they should seek more. He who wishes to do good to men, and is constantly dwelling on their bad qualities and graceless state, either irritates or drives them to despair. There is, perhaps, no sinner on this side perdition who has not something good in him. Mention the good - it is God's work; and show what a pity it is that he should not have more, and how ready God is to supply all his wants through Christ Jesus. This plan should especially be used in addressing Christian societies, and particularly those which are in a declining state.
5. The Galatians were once the firm friends of the apostle, and loved him so well that they would have even plucked out their eyes for him; and yet these very people cast him off, and counted and treated him as an enemy! O sad fickleness of human nature! O uncertainty of human friendships! An undesigned word, or look, or action, becomes the reason to a fickle heart why it should divest itself of the spirit of friendship; and he who was as dear to them as their own souls, is neglected and forgotten! Blessed God! hast thou not said that there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother? Where is he? Can such a one be trusted long on this unkindly earth? He is fit for the society of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect; and thou takest him in mercy lest he should lose his friendly heart, or lest his own heart should be broken in losing that of his friend. Hasten, Lord, a more perfect state, where the spirit of thy own love in thy followers shall expand, without control or hinderance, throughout eternity! Amen.
on Galatians 4 :31
So then, brethren - It follows from all this. Not from the allegory regarded as an argument - for Paul does not use it thus - but from the considerations suggested on the whole subject. Since the Christian religion is so superior to the Jewish; since we are by it freed from degrading servitude, and are not in bondage to rites and ceremonies; since it was designed to make us truly free, and since by that religion we are admitted to the privileges of sons, and are no longer under laws, and tutors, and governors, as if we were minors; from all this it follows, that we should feel and act, not as if we were children of a bondwoman, and born in slavery, but as if we were children of a freewoman, and born to liberty. It is the birthright of Christians to think, and feel, and act like freemen, and they should not allow themselves to become the slaves of customs, and rites, and ceremonies, but should feel that they are the adopted children of God.
Thus closes this celebrated allegory - an allegory that has greatly perplexed most expositors, and most readers of the Bible. In view of it, and of the exposition above, there are a few remarks which may not inappropriately be made.
(1) it is by no means affirmed, that the history of Hagar and Sarah in Genesis, had any original reference to the gospel. The account there is a plain historical narrative, not designed to have any such reference.
(2) the narrative contains important principles, that may be used as illustrating truth, and is so used by the apostle Paul. There are parallel points between the history and the truths of religion, where the one may be illustrated by the other.
(3) the apostle does not use it at all in the way of argument, or as if that proved that the Galatians were not to submit to the Jewish rites and customs. It is an illustration of the comparative nature of servitude and freedom, and would, therefore, illustrate the difference between a servile compliance with Jewish rites, and the freedom of the gospel.
(4) this use of an historical fact by the apostle does not make it proper for us to turn the Old Testament into allegory, or even to make a very free use of this mode of illustrating truth. That an allegory may be used sometimes with advantage, no one can doubt while the "Pilgrim's Progress" shall exist. Nor can anyone doubt that Paul has here derived, in this manner, an important and striking illustration of truth from the Old Testament. But no one acquainted with the history of interpretation can doubt that vast injury has been done by a fanciful mode of explaining the Old Testament; by making every fact in its history an allegory; and every pin and pillar of the tabernacle and the temple a type. Nothing is better suited to bring the whole science of interpretation into contempt; nothing dishonors the Bible more, than to make it a book of enigmas, and religion to consist in puerile conceits. The Bible is a book of sense; and all the doctrines essential to salvation are plainly revealed. It should be interpreted, not by mere conceit and by fancy, but by the sober laws according to which are interpreted other books. It should be explained, not under the influence of a vivid imagination, but under the influence of a heart imbued with a love of truth, and by an understanding disciplined to investigate the meaning of words and phrases, and capable of rendering a reason for the interpretation which is proposed. People may abundantly use the facts in the Old Testament to illustrate human nature, as Paul did; but far distant be the day, when the principles of Origen and of Cocceius shall again prevail, and when it shall be assumed, that "the Bible means every thing that it can be made to mean."
(These are excellent remarks, and the caution which the author gives against extravagant and imaginative systems of interpreting scripture cannot be too often repeated. It is allowed, however, nearly on all hands, that this allegory is brought forward by way of illustration only, and not of argument. This being the case, the question, as to whether the history in Genesis were originally intended represent the matter, to which Paul here applies it, is certainly not of very great importance, notwithstanding the learned labor that has been expended on it, and to such an extent as to justify the critic's remark. "vexavit interprets vehementer vexatus ab iis et ipse." Whatever be the original design of the passage, the apostle has employed it as an illustration of his subject, and was guided by the Spirit of inspiration in so doing. But certainly we should not be very far wrong, if since an apostle has affirmed such spiritual representation, we should suppose it originally intended by the Spirit; nor are we in great danger of making types of every pin and pillar, so long as we strictly confine ourselves to the admission of such only as rest upon apostolic authority. "This transaction," says the eminently judicious Thomas Scott, "was so remarkable, the coincidence so exact, and the illustration so instructive, that we cannot doubt it originally was intended, by the Holy Spirit, as an allegory and type of those things to which the inspired apostle referred it.")
on Galatians 4 :31
4:31 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.