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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.

When we are told that the law has no influence in obtaining justification, various suggestions immediately arise, that it must be either useless, or opposed to God’s covenant, or something of that sort. Nay, it might occur, why should we not say of the law, what Jeremiah says of the New Testament, (Jeremiah 31:31,) that it was given at a later period, in order to supply the weakness of the former doctrine? Objections of this kind must be answered, if Paul wished to satisfy the Galatians. First, then, he inquires, — what is the use of the law? Having come after the promise, it appears to have been intended to supply its defects; and there was room at least for doubting, whether the promise would have been effectual, if it had not been aided by the law. Let it be observed, that Paul does not speak of the moral law only, but of everything connected with the office held by Moses. That office, which was peculiar to Moses, consisted in laying down a rule of life and ceremonies to be observed in the worship of God, and in afterwards adding promises and threatenings. Many promises, no doubt, relating to the free mercy of God and to Christ, are to be found in his writings; and these promises belong to faith. But this must be viewed as accidental, and altogether foreign to the inquiry, so far as a comparison is made between the law and the doctrine of grace. Let it be remembered, that the amount of the question is this: When a promise had been made, why did Moses afterwards add that new condition, “If a man do, he shall live in them;” and, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them?” (Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 27:26.) Was it to produce something better and more perfect?

19. Because of transgressions. The law has manifold uses, but Paul confines himself to that which bears on his present subject. He did not propose to inquire in how many ways the law is of advantage to men. It is necessary to put readers on their guard on this point; for very many, I find, have fallen into the mistake of acknowledging no other advantage belonging to the law, but what is expressed in this passage. Paul himself elsewhere speaks of the precepts of the law as profitable for doctrine and exhortations. (2 Timothy 3:16.) The definition here given of the use of the law is not complete, and those who refuse to make any other acknowledgment in favor of the law do wrong. Now, what is the import of the phrase, because of transgressions? It agrees with the saying of philosophers, that “The law was made for restraining evil-doers,” and with the old proverb, “From bad manners have sprung good laws.” But Paul’s meaning is more extensive than the words may seem to convey. He means that the law was published in order to make known transgressions, and in this way to compel men to acknowledge their guilt. As men naturally are too ready to excuse themselves, so, until they are roused by the law, their consciences are asleep.

“Until the law,” says Paul, “sin was in the world:
but sin is not imputed where there is no law.” (Romans 5:13.)

The law came and roused the sleepers, for this is the true preparation for Christ. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20.) Why?

“That Sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” (Romans 7:13.)

Thus, “the law was added because of transgressions,” in order to reveal their true character, or, as he tells the Romans, that it might make them to abound. (Romans 5:20.)

This passage has tortured the ingenuity of Origen, but to no purpose. If God summon consciences to his tribunal, that those qualities in their transgression, which would otherwise give them pleasure, may humble them by a conviction of guilt, — if he shake off the listlessness which overwhelmed all dread of his judgment-seat, — if he drag to light; sin, which lurked like a thief in the den of hypocrisy, — what is there in all this that can be reckoned absurd? But it may be objected: “As the law is the rule of a devout and holy life, why is it said to be added ‘because of transgressions,’ rather than ‘because of obedience?’” I answer, however much it may point out true righteousness, yet, owing to the corruption of our nature, its instruction tends only to increase transgressions, until the Spirit of regeneration come, who writes it on the heart; and that Spirit is not given by the law, but is received by faith. This saying of Paul, let the reader remember, is not of a philosophical or political character, but expresses a purpose of the law, with which the world had been always unacquainted.

Till the seed should come. If it has respect to seed, it must be to that on which the blessing has been pronounced, and therefore it does not interfere with the promise. The word till, (ἄχρις οὗ,) signifies so long as the seed is expected: and hence it follows, that it must have been intended to occupy not the highest, but a subordinate rank. It was given in order to rouse men to the expectation of Christ. But was it necessary that it should last only until the coming of Christ? For if so, it follows that it is now abolished. The whole of that administration, I reply, was temporal, and was given for the purpose of preserving among the ancient people an attachment to the faith of Christ. And yet I do not admit that, by the coming of Christ, the whole law was abolished. The apostle did not intend this, but merely that the mode of administration, which for a time had been introduced, must receive its accomplishment in Christ, who is the fulfillment of the promise. 6060     “Qui est le parfait accomplissement de la promesse.” “Who is the perfect accomplishment of the promise.” But on this subject we shall have occasion to speak more fully afterwards.

Ordained by angels. The circumstance, that it was delivered through angels, tends to the commendation of the law. This is declared by Stephen (Acts 7:53) also, who says, that they had “received the law, (εἰς διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων,) into the dispositions of angels.” The interpretation given by some, that Moses and Aaron, and the priests, are the angels here meant, is more ingenious than solid. Nor is it wonderful that angels, by whom God bestows on us some of the smallest of his blessings, should have been intrusted also with this office of attending as witnesses at the promulgation of the law.

In the hand of a Mediator Hand usually signifies ministration; but as angels were ministers in giving the law, I consider “the hand of the Mediator” to denote the highest rank of service. The Mediator was at the head of the embassy, and angels were united with him as his companions. Some apply this expression to Moses, as marking a comparison between Moses and Christ; but I agree rather with the ancient expositors, who apply it to Christ himself. 6161     “Though some learned men have been of opinion that the mediator here mentioned is the Son of God, yet I think no reasonable doubt can be entertained as to its denoting Moses. Strictly speaking, Aaron, or rather the priesthood, was the mediator of the old covenant. It answers to the Great High-Priest, (ἀρχιερεύς,) Mediator, (μεσίτης,) and Surety, (ἔγγυος,) of the new covenant. But the reference seems here to the giving of the law: that was by Moses. ‘The law was given by Moses.’ (John 1:17.) God speaks to Moses, and Moses speaks to the people; and this arrangement was entered into by the express request of the people themselves. Moses himself says, ‘I stood between the Lord and you at that time. (Deuteronomy 5:5.) Philo calls Moses μεσίτης.” — Brown. This view, it will be found, agrees better with the context, though I differ from the ancients likewise as to the meaning of the word. Mediator does not, as they imagine, signify here one who makes reconciliation, which it does in these words,

“There is one Mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5,)

— but an ambassador employed in promulgating a law.

We are thus to understand, that, since the beginning of the world, God has held no intercourse with men, but through the agency of his eternal Wisdom or Son. Hence Peter says, that the holy prophets spake by the “Spirit of Christ,” (1 Peter 1:11,) and Paul makes him the leader of the people in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:4.) And certainly the Angel who appeared to Moses, (Exodus 3:2,) can be no other person; for he claims to himself the peculiar and essential name of God, which is never applied to creatures. As he is the Mediator of reconciliation, by whom we are accepted of God, — the Mediator of intercession, who opens up for us a way to “call on the Father,” (1 Peter 1:17,) — so he has always been the Mediator of all doctrine, because by him God has always revealed himself to men. And this he intended to state expressly, for the purpose of informing the Galatians, that he who is the foundation of the covenant of grace, held also the highest rank in the giving of the law.


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