CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CRITICAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson X)

John Bunyan (1628-1688) sees what Paul is talking about here in verses four and five as a reflection on what happened with Cain and Abel. The writer of Hebrews tells us that by faith, Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith, he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith, Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.[1] As Bunyan sees it, Abel is declared as being righteous before he offered his gift, as his sacrifice testified; for God accepted of it. By faith, he offered it. Therefore, faith was set as a precedent before he offered his sacrifice. So, it is by faith that we come to God through the Anointed One, not to Him, through our righteous works. And besides, as the writer of Hebrews says, Abel was righteous before he offered – before he did anything good, otherwise God would not have testified of his gift.

For Bunyan, faith, as it affects our standing quiet before the Father, respects the promise of forgiveness of sins through the work of the Lord Jesus. Whereas, before Abel’s faith was justified as righteousness,  God did not look to the future for something he should do, but He looked back to the promise of the seed of the woman, that was to destroy the power of hell, “and to redeem them that were under the law,”[2]And this is Paul’s message here in verses four and five. By this faith, we take cover under the promise of victory, and the merits of the Lord Jesus and His death on the cross on our behalf. In the same manner, Abel was righteous before he did good works, but that was only possible because of God’s promise made to his mother and father for the sake of the Messiah.[3]

Yes, for inasmuch as Abel acted in faith before he offered sacrifice with respect the promise his parents received, a promise not grounded upon a condition of good works done by Abel, but in and for the sake of the Promised Seed of the woman, which is the Anointed One.[4] For it was the Anointed One who should break the serpent’s head — that is, He Himself would destroy the works of the devil, which are sin, death, the curse, and hell. By this faith, he stood before God righteous because by putting faith in the promise made by God, he was figuratively putting on the Anointed One, and in doing so, he offered his sacrifice in an act of faith God declared He was pleased with him by accepting his sacrifice.[5] The key to understanding Bunyan’s allegory is that what Abel did was by faith that God would accept his sacrifice, the same as Abraham did many years later. Such should we do today by having faith that God will accept the sacrifice of His Son as pleasing to Him by forgiving us of our sins.

Preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), when speaking on the incarnation of the Anointed One, says that besides observing that the prophecy of His conception made by Isaiah was fulfilled, and with His birth, the natural and supernatural were joined for the first time in human form. The next thing to observe is that these both brought the fullness of time to fruition. In other words, from Adam to the Anointed One, God was filling the chalice of time until it finally reached the top upon Mary’s conception and the Anointed One’s birth. So when looking back over the expanse of centuries to the Garden of Eden, we see God’s handiwork in process until the Garden of Gethsemane where our Lord told the Father that since He did not plan to take that cup from Him, He will drink it for the salvation of mankind to the honor and glory of His Father in heaven.[6]

In one of his sermons, Charles Simeon (1759-1836), gives an inspiring word picture of what the incarnation of the Messiah means to us and its effect on believers. Simeon speaks excitedly of what an astonishing transition the soul experiences, once it is delivered from the terrors of Mount Sinai – the Law, and the joy of Mount Calvary when we are brought into “the liberty of the children of God!” – Grace. From being harassed with the fear of God’s wrath, and motivated by a slavish commitment to irksome, unsatisfying, ineffectual works, how delightful to behold the face of a reconciled God our Father, to feel a holy boldness and confidence before Him, and to anticipate the joys of heaven! This is not a picture that is drawn from an emotional imagination: it is a reality! It is the experience of billions! It is in a greater or less degree known to all who believe in Messiah.

So, cries out Simeon, seek earnestly, my brothers and sister, this joy. You can easily conceive the difference between the labor of a slave under the lash of the whip, and the services which an affectionate child renders to a loving parent: you can see how their state here on earth are exceeding different. Such is the difference between those who are under the Law of Works and those who embrace the Gospel of Grace. But what will be the difference in the hereafter? The Apostle John tells us: “Dear believers, we are already God’s children, but He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Messiah appears. But we do know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is.[7] Let all of us then believe in the Messiah, that we may see the good of His chosen, and rejoice in the gladness of His people, and give thanks with His inheritance.[8] Why would the Galatians be so foolish as to throw all their living and exciting future with the Messiah away for a dead, boring, and failed Law?[9]

James Nisbet (1823-1874), a Scottish born missionary to Canada shares how in his day preachers were being told that preaching on such things as our adoption as children of God was outdated; it has been the subject of sermons for the last nineteen hundred years; everyone knows all about these things and that they have no interest in hearing it over and over again. They complain that it’s time to move on to the real subjects of the day – equal justice under the law, to make restitution to the poor and homeless for their sufferings. But, asks Nisbet, why does that replace our relationship with God as His children and not servants? Doesn’t it make more sense to approach these things as God’s children, as part of His family? Why should we try to play the role of angels?

Nisbet goes on to explain that it is important for Christians to be concerned about these things that afflict our world with grief and sorrow. There will always be the comfortless troubles and the needs of the underprivileged, and the sighing of the poor caused by poverty. It, too, has been dealt with for over the past nineteen hundred years but only continues to get worse. The key point that we can draw from what Paul is telling the Galatians here is this: Who taught us to be sympathetic for the suffering of others? Who but He who came to make us sons and daughters of God? Most, if not all, the turmoil, pain, and suffering in the world are because the majority of them are not sons and daughters of God. What better comfort and assistance can we offer to them than clothes to wear, food to eat, a place to sleep? Is it not that they, too, can become children of God and come under His direct care?[10]

Alexander Mclaren (1826-1910) thinks that it is generally supposed that by the term “fullness of time,” Paul means that the Anointed One came at the moment when the world was precisely prepared to receive Him, and no doubt that’s true. The Jews were trained by law to understand how the Law convicted the conscience of sin; heathen religions tried their utmost to explain creation’s and humanity’s reason for existing, but after reaching the apex of possible development began to decay. Roman roads were politically prepared for the spread of the Gospel. Speaking Greek took its place as the international language for the communication of the Gospel. In almost every culture there existed an undefinable expectation of coming change, and a feeling of unrest and anticipation pervaded society

Mclaren then states that while much of this is true and becomes certain, the more we know of the state of things into which the Anointed One came, it is to be noted that Paul is not thinking of the “fullness of time” primarily in reference to the world which received the Anointed One, but to the Father who sent Him. This text immediately follows words in which God’s chosen were “under guardians, tutors, and stewards” until the time appointed by the Father. So, the “fullness of time” is, therefore, the moment that God ordained from the beginning for His Son’s coming. He, from of old, willed the precise moment this Promised Son of David should be born, and it is to the punctuality in the Lord’s eternal purpose that Paul directs our thoughts. No doubt, the world’s preparedness is part of the reason for the divine persistence of meeting the exact time predicted, but most of all, it is divine persistence rather than the world’s preparedness to which the words “fullness of time” in the text refer.[11]

There is a very interesting portion in the Jewish Talmud that reviews a variety of Messianic speculations and what was expected. It reads: The teachers in the school of Eliyyahu teach: The world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand, there will be a desolation;[12] the next two thousand years, the Torah will flourish, and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era [13] but through our many iniquities all these years were lost”.[14] [15] In other words, there would be 2,000 years before the Law, 2,000 years of the Law, and then 2,000 where the Law is no longer needed because of the Messiah. No doubt, Paul knew of this teaching and used it to help the Jews to understand that the era of the Messiah came, so it was time to give up the Law and serve the Messiah.

Marvin Vincent (1834-1922) takes the phrase “fullness of time” here in verse four as relating only to earth time. In other words, there is no such time in heaven by which God marks a day or month or year to execute His will. In the case of which Paul speaks here, it signified the moment at which the whole pre-messianic period was completed.[16] It answers to the time appointed of the Father, as expressed back in verse two of this chapter. Vincent says that it is also understood as the Apostle John used it in his Gospel, where he speaks of having from God’s fullness received one gracious gift after another.[17] So when God saw that a portion of His plan of Salvation reached to transition from Law to grace, He sent His Son to carry out the next part of the plan. Of course, in tracking the progress of His plan, He observed what was happening here on earth.[18] Philip Schaff (1819-1893) says that when the period appointed by the Father until the coming of the Messiah was fixed in the eternal counsel of God with reference to the development of the race, not on a calendar or a clock.[19]

[1] Hebrews 11:4

[2] Galatians 4:4-5

[3] Genesis 3:15

[4] Galatians 4:4

[5] John Bunyan’s Practical Works: op cit., Justification by Imputed righteousness, Vol. 6, Ch. 3, pp. 100-101

[6] Edwards, Jonathan. The Complete Works of Jonathan Edwards: op cit., (Kindle Location 7194-7215)

[7] 1 John 3:2

[8] Psalm 106:5

[9] The Entire Works of the Rev. Charles Simeon: op. cit., Discourse (#2070), Text: Galatians 4:4-5, “The Time and Manner of The Anointed One’s Incarnation,” pp. 156-162

[10] James Nisbet: Church Pulpit Commentary, (Kindle Location 79225-79233)

[11] Alexander Maclaren: Expositions of Holy Scripture, Galatians, loc. cit.

[12] Namely, no Torah. It is a tradition that Abraham was fifty-two years old when he began to convert men to the worship of the true God; from Adam until then, two thousand years elapsed.

[13] Namely, Messiah will come within that period.

[14] He should have come at the beginning of the last two thousand years; the delay is due to our sins.

[15] Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folios 97a-b

[16] Cf. Ephesians 1:10

[17] John 1:16

[18] Marvin R Vincent: Word Studies on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 135

[19] Philip Schaff: Popular Commentary, op. cit., On Galatians, p. 326

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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