Study

a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

3. Faith or Observance of the Law

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. 5He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 6Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

7Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8And 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. 9So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 10For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 16Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. 19Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. 20Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

23But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

16. Now to Abraham, and his seed. Before pursuing his argument, he introduces an observation about the substance of the covenant, that it rests on Christ alone. But if Christ be the foundation of the bargain, it follows that it is of free grace; and this too is the meaning of the word promise. As the law has respect to men and to their works, so the promise has respect to the grace of God and to faith.

He saith not, And to seeds. To prove that in this place God speaks of Christ, he calls attention to the singular number as denoting some particular seed. I have often been astonished that Christians, when they saw this passage so perversely tortured by the Jews, did not make a more determined resistance; for all pass it slightly as if it were an indisputed territory. And yet there is much plausibility in their objection. Since the word seed is a collective noun, Paul appears to reason inconclusively, when he contends that a single individual is denoted by this word, under which all the descendants of Abraham are comprehended in a passage already quoted, “In multiplying I will multiply thy seed, זרע (zerang,) or זרעך (zargnacha,) as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore.” (Genesis 22:17.) Having, as they imagine, detected the fallacy of the argument, they treat us with haughty triumph.

I am the more surprised that our own writers should have been silent on this head, as we have abundant means of repelling their slander. Among Abraham’s own sons a division began, for one of the sons was cut off from the family. “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Genesis 21:12.) Consequently Ishmael is not included in the reckoning. Let us come a step lower. Do the Jews allow that the posterity of Esau are the blessed seed? nay, it will be maintained that their father, though the first-born, was struck off. And how many nations have sprung from the stock of Abraham who have no share in this “calling?” The twelve patriarchs, at length, formed twelve heads, not because they were descended from the line of Abraham, but because they had been appointed by a particular election of God. Since the ten tribes were carried away, (Hosa 9:17,) how many thousands have so degenerated that they no longer hold a name among the seed of Abraham? Lastly, a trial was made of the tribe of Judah, that the real succession to the blessing might be transmitted among a small people. And this had been predicted by Isaiah,

“Though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea,
yet a remnant of them shall return.” (Isaiah 10:22.)

Hitherto I have said nothing which the Jews themselves do not acknowledge. Let them answer me then; how comes it that the thirteen tribes sprung from the twelve patriarchs were the seed of Abraham, in preference to Ishmaelites and Edomites? Why do they exclusively glory in that name, and set aside the others as a spurious seed? They will, no doubt, boast that they have obtained it by their own merit; but Scripture, on the contrary, asserts that all depends on the calling of God; for we must constantly return to the privilege conveyed in these words, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Genesis 21:12.) The uninterrupted succession to this privilege must have been in force until Christ; for, in the person of David, the Lord afterwards brought back by recovery, as we might say, the promise which had been made to Abraham. In proving, therefore, that this prediction applies to a single individual, Paul does not make his argument rest on the use of the singular number. He merely shews that the word seed must denote one who was not only descended from Abraham according to the flesh, but had been likewise appointed for this purpose by the calling of God. If the Jews deny this, they will only make themselves ridiculous by their obstinacy.

But as Paul likewise argues from these words, that a covenant had been made in Christ, or to Christ, let us inquire into the force of that expression,

“In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
(Genesis 22:18.)

The Jews taunt the apostle with making a comparison, as if the seed of Abraham were to be quoted as an example in all disastrous omens and prayers; while, on the contrary, to curse in Sodom or Israel is to employ the name of Sodom or Israel in forms of cursing. This, I own, is sometimes the case, but not always; for to bless one’s self in God has quite a different meaning, as the Jews themselves admit. Since, therefore, the phrase is ambiguous, denoting sometimes a cause and sometimes a comparison, wherever, it occurs, it must be explained by the context. We have ascertained, then, that we are all cursed by nature, and that the blessing of Abraham has been promised to all nations. Do all indiscriminately reach it? Certainly not, but those only who are “gathered” (Isaiah 66:8) to the Messiah; for when, under His government and direction, they are collected into one body, they then become one people. Whoever then, laying disputing aside, shall inquire into the truth, will readily acknowledge that the words here signify not a mere comparison but a cause; and hence it follows that Paul had good ground for saying, that the covenant was made in Christ, or in reference to Christ.


VIEWNAME is study