Having given exhortations adapted to touch the feelings, he follows up his
former doctrine by an illustration of great beauty. Viewed simply as an
argument, it would not be very powerful; but, as a confirmation added to a
most satisfactory chain of reasoning, it is not unworthy of attention.
To be under the law,
signifies here, to come under the yoke of the law, on the condition that God
will act toward you according to the covenant of the law, and that you, in
return, bind yourself to keep the law. In any other sense than this, all
believers are under the law; but the apostle treats, as we have already
said, of the law with its appendages.
For it is written.
No man who has a choice given him will be so mad as to despise freedom,
and prefer slavery. But here the apostle teaches us, that they who are under
the law are slaves. Unhappy men! who willingly choose this condition, when
God desires to make them free. He gives a representation of this in the two
sons of Abraham, one of whom, the son of a slave, held by his mother's
1 while the other, the son of
a free woman, obtained the inheritance. He afterwards applies the whole
history to his purpose, and illustrates it in an elegant manner.
first place, as the other party armed themselves with the authority of the
law, the apostle quotes the law on the other side.
The law was the name
usually given to the Five Books of Moses. Again, as the history which he
quotes appeared to have no bearing on the question, he gives to it an
allegorical interpretation. But as the apostle declares that these things
are allegorized, (ajllhgorou>mena,)
Origen, and many others along with him, have seized the occasion of
torturing Scripture, in every possible manner, away from the true sense.
They concluded that the literal sense is too mean and poor, and that, under
the outer bark of the letter, there lurk deeper mysteries, which cannot be
extracted but by beating out allegories. And this they had no difficulty in
accomplishing; for speculations which appear to be ingenious have always
been preferred, and always will be preferred, by the world to solid
With such approbation the
licentious system gradually attained such a height, that he who handled
Scripture for his own amusement not only was suffered to pass unpunished,
but even obtained the highest applause. For many centuries no man was
considered to be ingenious, who had not the skill and daring necessary for
changing into a variety of curious shapes the sacred word of God. This was
undoubtedly a contrivance of Satan to undermine the authority of Scripture,
and to take away from the reading of it the true advantage. God visited this
profanation by a just judgment, when he suffered the pure meaning of the
Scripture to be buried under false interpretations.
Scripture, they say, is
fertile, and thus produces a variety of meanings.
acknowledge that Scripture is a most rich and inexhaustible fountain of all
wisdom; but I deny that its fertility consists in the various meanings which
any man, at his pleasure, may assign. Let us know, then, that the true
meaning of Scripture is the natural and obvious meaning; and let us embrace
and abide by it resolutely. Let us not only neglect as doubtful, but boldly
set aside as deadly corruptions, those pretended expositions, which lead us
away from the natural meaning.
reply shall we make to Paul's assertion, that these things
are allegorical? Paul certainly
does not mean that Moses wrote the history for the purpose of being turned
into an allegory, but points out in what way the history may be made to
answer the present subject. This is done by observing a figurative
representation of the Church there delineated. And a mystical interpretation
of this sort (ajnagwgh>)
was not inconsistent with the true and literal meaning, when a comparison
was drawn between the Church and the family of Abraham. As the house of
Abraham was then a true Church, so it is beyond all doubt that the principal
and most memorable events which happened in it are so many types to us. As
in circumcision, in sacrifices, in the whole Levitical priesthood, there was
an allegory, as there is an allegory at the present day in our sacraments,
-- so was there likewise in the house of Abraham; but this does not involve
a departure from the literal meaning. In a word, Paul adduces the history,
as containing a figurative representation of the two covenants in the two
wives of Abraham, and of the two nations in his two sons. And Chrysostom,
indeed, acknowledges that the word allegory
points out the present application to be (kata>crhsiv)3
different from the natural meaning; which is perfectly true.
But he who was of
the bond woman. Both were
sons of Abraham according to the flesh; but in Isaac there was this
peculiarity, that he had the promise of grace. In Ishmael there was nothing
besides nature; in Isaac there was the election of God, signified in part by
the manner of his birth, which was not in the ordinary course, but
miraculous. Yet there is an indirect reference to the calling of the
Gentiles, and the rejection of the Jews: for the latter boast of their
ancestry, while the former, without any human interference, are become the
spiritual offspring of Abraham.
These are the two
covenants. I have thought it
better to adopt this translation, in order not to lose sight of the beauty
of the comparison; for Paul compares the two diaqh~kai,
to two mothers, and to employ testamentum,
(a testament,) which is a neuter noun, for denoting a mother, would be
harsh. The word pactio (a
covenant) appears to be, on that account, more appropriate; and indeed the
desire of obtaining perspicuity, as well as elegance, has led me to make
comparison is now formally introduced. As in the house of Abraham there were
two mothers, so are there also in the Church of God. Doctrine is the mother
of whom we are born, and is twofold, Legal and Evangelical. The legal
mother, whom Hagar resembles,
gendereth to bondage. Sarah again,
represents the second, which gendereth to freedom; though Paul begins
higher, and makes our first mother Sinai, and our second, Jerusalem. The two
covenants, then, are the mothers, of whom children unlike one another are
born; for the legal covenant makes slaves, and the evangelical covenant
But all this may, at first
sight, appear absurd; for there are none of God's children who are not born
to freedom, and therefore the comparison does not apply. I answer, what Paul
says is true in two respects; for the law formerly brought forth its
disciples, (among whom were included the holy prophets, and other
believers,) to slavery, though not to permanent slavery, but because God
placed them for a time under the law as "a schoolmaster."
3:25.) Under the vail of ceremonies, and of the whole economy by which
they were governed, their freedom was concealed: to the outward eye nothing
but slavery appeared. "Ye have not," says Paul to the Romans, "received the
spirit of bondage again to fear." (Romans
8:15.) Those holy fathers, though inwardly they were free in the sight
of God, yet in outward appearance differed nothing from slaves, and thus
resembled their mother's condition. But the doctrine of the gospel bestows
upon its children perfect freedom as soon as they are born, and brings them
up in a liberal manner.
Paul does not, I
acknowledge, speak of that kind of children, as the context will show. By
the children of Sinai, it will afterwards be explained, are meant
hypocrites, who are at length expelled from the Church of God, and deprived
of the inheritance. What, then, is the gendering to bondage, which forms the
subject of the present dispute? It denotes those who make a wicked abuse of
the law, by finding in it nothing but what tends to slavery. Not so the
pious fathers, who lived under the Old Testament; for their slavish birth by
the law did not hinder them from having Jerusalem for their mother in
spirit. But those who adhere to the bare law, and do not acknowledge it to
be "a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ," (Galatians
3:24,) but rather make it a hinderance to prevent their coming to him,
are the Ishmaelites born to slavery.
It will again be objected,
why does the apostle say that such persons are born of God's covenant, and
are considered to belong to the Church? I answer, strictly speaking, they
are not God's children, but are degenerate and spurious, and are disclaimed
by God, whom they falsely call their Father. They receive this name in the
Church, not because they are members of it in reality, but because for a
time they presume to occupy that place, and impose on men by the disguise
which they wear. The apostle here views the Church, as it appears in this
world: but on this subject we shall afterwards speak.
For Agar is mount
I shall not waste time in refuting the expositions of other writers; for
Jerome's conjecture, that Mount Sinai had two names, is trifling; and the
disquisitions of Chrysostom about the agreement of the names are equally
unworthy of notice. Sinai is called Hagar,
because it is a type or figure, as the Passover was Christ. The situation of
the mountain is mentioned by way of contempt. It lies in Arabia, beyond the
limits of the holy land, by which the eternal inheritance was prefigured.
The wonder is, that in so familiar a matter they erred so egregiously.
And answers, on the other hand.
The Vulgate translates it, is joined
(conjunctus est) to Jerusalem; and Erasmus makes it,
borders on (confinis) Jerusalem;
but I have adopted the phrase,
on the other hand,
(ex adverso,) in order to avoid obscurity. For the apostle certainly does
not refer to nearness, or relative position, but to resemblance, as respects
the present comparison. The word,
su>stoica, which is
translated corresponding to,
denotes those things which are so arranged as to have a mutual relation to
each other, and a similar word,
applied to trees and other objects, conveys the idea of their following in
regular order. Mount Sinai is said (sustoicei~n)
to correspond to that
which is now Jerusalem, in the same sense as Aristotle says that Rhetoric is
the counterpart to Logic,
by a metaphor borrowed from lyric compositions, which were usually arranged
in two parts, so adapted as to be sung in harmony. In short, the word,
corresponds, means nothing
more than that it belongs to the same class.
does Paul compare the present Jerusalem with Mount Sinai? Though I was once
of a different opinion, yet I agree with Chrysostom and Ambrose, who explain
it as referring to the earthly Jerusalem, and who interpret the words,
which now is,
Jierousalh<m, as marking the slavish
doctrine and worship into which it had degenerated. It ought to have been a
lively image of the new Jerusalem, and a representation of its character.
But such as it now is, it is rather related to Mount Sinai. Though the two
places may be widely distant from each other, they are perfectly alike in
all their most important features. This is a heavy reproach against the
Jews, whose real mother was not Sarah but the spurious Jerusalem, twin
sister of Hagar; who were therefore slaves born of a slave, though they
haughtily boasted that they were the sons of Abraham.
26. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother
of us all.
26. Quae autem sursum est Ierusalem, libera est, quae mater est
26. But Jerusalem, which is above. The Jerusalem which he calls
above, or heavenly, is not contained in heaven; nor are we to seek for
it out of this world; for the Church is spread over the whole world, and
is a “stranger and pilgrim on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13.) Why then is
it said to be from heaven? Because it originates in heavenly grace; for
the sons of God are
“born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man,” (John 1:13,)
but by the power of the Holy Spirit. The heavenly Jerusalem, which derives
its origin from heaven, and dwells above by faith, is the mother of believers.
To the Church, under God, we owe it that we are
“born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible,” (1 Peter 1:23,)
and from her we obtain the milk and the food by which we are afterwards
Such are the reasons why the Church is called the mother of believers.
And certainly he who refuses to be a son of the Church in vain desires
to have God as his Father; for it is only through the instrumentality of
the Church that we are “born of God,” (1 John 3:9,) and brought up through
the various stages of childhood and youth, till we arrive at manhood. This
designation, “the mother of us all,” reflects the highest credit and the
highest honor on the Church. But the Papists are fools and twice children,
who expect to give us uneasiness by producing these words; for their mother
is an adulteress, who brings forth to death the children of the devil;
and how foolish is the demand, that the children of God should surrender
themselves to her to be cruelly slain! Might not the synagogue of Jerusalem
at that time have assumed such haughty pretensions, with far higher plausibility
than Rome at the present day? and yet we see how Paul strips her of every
honorable distinction, and consigns her to the lot of Hagar.
27. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break
forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more
children than she which hath an husband.
27. Scriptum est enim: Exulta, sterilis, qum non paris; erumpe et
elama, quae non parturis; quaE plures erunt liberi desertae quam habentis
maritum. (Isaiah 54:1.)
28. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
28. Nos autem, fratres, secundum Issac, promissionis sumus filii.
29. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him
that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
29. Sed quemadmodum tunc, qui secundum carnem erat genitus, persequebatur
eum qui secundum Spiritum genitus erat; sic et nunc.
30. Nevertheless, what saith the scripture? Cast out the bond woman
and her son: for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with the son
of the free woman.
30. Sed quid dicit Scriptura? Ejice ancillam, et filium ejus; non
enim haereditatem obtinebit filius ancillae cum filio liberae. (Genesis
31. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond woman, but
of the free.
31. Ergo, fratres, non sumus ancillae filii, sed liberae.
27. For it is written. The apostle proves, by a quotation from
Isaiah, that the lawful sons of the Church are born according to the promise.
The passage is in Isaiah 54 where the prophet speaks of the kingdom of
Christ and the calling of the Gentiles, and promises to the barren wife
and the widow a numerous offspring; for it is on this ground that he exhorts
the Church to “sing” and “rejoice.” The design of the apostle, let it be
carefully remarked, is to deprive the Jews of all claim to that spiritual
Jerusalem to which the prophecy relates. Isaiah proclaims, that her children
shall be gathered out of all the nations of the earth, and not by any preparation
of hers, but by the free grace and blessing of God.
He next concludes that we become the sons of God by promise, after the
example (kata< jIsaa<k) of Isaac, and that in no other way do we
obtain this honor. To readers little skilled or practiced in the examination
of Scripture, this reasoning may appear inconclusive; because they do not
hold the most undoubted of all principles, that all the promises, being
founded on the Messiah, are of free grace. It was because the apostle took
this for granted, that he so fearlessly contrasted the promise with the
29. As then, he that was born after the flesh. He denounces the
cruelty of the false apostles, who wantonly insulted pious persons that
placed all their confidence in Christ. There was abundant need that the
uneasiness of the oppressed should be soothed by consolation, and that
the cruelty of their oppressors should be severely checked. It is not wonderful,
he says, that the children of the law, at the present day, do what Ishmael
their father at first did, who, trusting to his being the first-born, persecuted
Isaac the true heir. With the same proud disdain do his posterity now,
on account of outward ceremonies, circumcision, and the various services
of the law, molest and vaunt over the lawful sons of God. The Spirit is
again contrasted with the flesh, that is, the calling of God with human
appearance. (1 Samuel 16:7.) So the disguise is admitted to be possessed
by the followers of the Law and of works, but the reality is claimed for
those who rely on the calling of God alone, and depend upon his grace.
Persecuted. But persecution is nowhere mentioned, only Moses says that
Ishmael was qhxm, (metzahek,) mocking, (Genesis 21:9;) and by this participle
he intimates that Ishmael ridiculed his brother Isaac. The explanation
offered by some Jews, that this was a simple smile, is entirely inadmissible;
for what cruelty would it have argued, that a harmless smile should have
been so fearfully revenged? There cannot then be a doubt that he maliciously
endeavored to provoke the child Isaac by reproachful language.
But how widely distant is this from persecution? And yet it is not idly
or unguardedly that Paul enlarges on this point. No persecution ought to
distress us so much as to see our calling attempted to be undermined by
the reproaches of wicked men. Neither blows, nor scourging, nor nails,
nor thorns, occasioned to our Lord such intense suffering as that blasphemy:
“He trusted in God; what availeth it to him?
for he is deprived of all assistance.” (Matthew 27:43.)
There is more venom in this than in all persecutions; for how much more
alarming is it that the grace of Divine adoption shall be made void, than
that this frail life shall be taken from us? Ishmael did not persecute
his brother with the sword; but, what is worse, he treated him with haughty
disdain by trampling under foot the promise of God. All persecutions arise
from this source, that wicked men despise and hate in the elect the grace
of God; a memorable instance of which we have in the history of Cain and
Abel. (Genesis 4:8.)
This reminds us, that not only ought we to be filled with horror at
outward persecutions, when the enemies of religion slay us with fire and
sword; when they banish, imprison, torture, or scourge; but when they attempt,
by their blasphemies, to make void our confidence, which rests on the promises
of God; when they ridicule our salvation, when they wantonly laugh to scorn
the whole gospel. Nothing ought to wound our minds so deeply as contempt
of God, and reproaches cast upon His grace: nor is there any kind of persecution
more deadly than when the salvation of the soul is assailed. We who have
escaped from the tyranny of the Pope, are not called to encounter the swords
of wicked men. But how blind must we be, if we are not affected by that
spiritual persecution, in which they strive, by every method, to extinguish
that doctrine, from which we draw the breath of life! — when they attack
our faith by their blasphemies, and shake not a few of the less informed!
For my own part, I am far more grieved by the fury of the Epicureans than
of the Papists. They do not attack us by open violence; but, in proportion
as the name of God is more dear to me than my own life, the diabolical
conspiracy which I see in operation to extinguish all fear and worship
of God, to root out the remembrance of Christ, or to abandon it to the
jeers of the ungodly, cannot but rack my mind with greater anxiety, than
if a whole country were burning in one conflagration:
30. But what saith the Scripture? There was some consolation
in knowing that we do but share the lot of our father Isaac; but it is
a still greater consolation, when he adds, that hypocrites, with all their
boasting, can gain nothing more than to be cast out of the spiritual family
of Abraham; and that, to whatever extent they may harass us for a time,
the inheritance will certainly be ours. Let believers cheer themselves
with this consolation, that the tyranny of the Ishmaelites will not last
for ever. They appear to have reached the highest pre-eminence, and, proud
of their birthright, look down upon us with contempt; but they will one
day be declared to be the descendants of Hagar, the sons of a slave, and
unworthy of the inheritance.
Let us be instructed by this beautiful passage,
“not to fret ourselves because of evil-doers,
neither be envious against the workers of iniquity,”
when they hold a temporary habitation and rank in the Church, but patiently
to look for the end which awaits them. There are many pretended Christians,
or strangers, who hold a place in the Church, but who afterwards give evidence
of their departure from the faith, as he who, proud of his birthright,
at first reigned, was cast out like a foreigner with the posterity of Ishmael.
Some censorious persons smile at Paul’s simplicity, in comparing a woman’s
passion, arising out of a trifling quarrel, to a judgment of God. But they
overlook the decree of God, which took effect in such a manner, as to make
it manifest that the whole transaction was directed by a heavenly providence.
That Abraham should have been commanded to humor his wife (Genesis 21:12)
entirely in the matter, is no doubt extraordinary, but proves that God
employed the services of Sarah for confirming his own promise. In a word,
the casting out of Ishmael was nothing else than the consequence and the
accomplishment of that promise, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” (Genesis
21:12,) — not in Ishmael. Although, therefore, it was the revenging of
a woman’s quarrel, yet God did not the less make known his sentence by
her mouth as a type of the Church.
31. So then, brethren. He now exhorts the Galatians to prefer
the condition of the children of Sarah to that of the children of Hagar;
and having reminded them that, by the grace of Christ, they were born to
freedom, he desires them to continue in the same condition. If we shall
call the Papists, Ishmaelites and Hagarites, and boast that we are the
lawful children, they will smile at us; but if the two subjects in dispute
be fairly compared, the most ignorant person will be at no loss to decide.
1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made
us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
1. In libertate igitur, qua Christus nos liberavit, state; et ne
rursum jugo servitutis implicemini.
1. Stand fast therefore. After having told them that they are
the children of the free woman, he now reminds them that they ought not
lightly to despise a freedom so precious. And certainly it is an invaluable
blessing, in defense of which it is our duty to fight, even to death; since
not only the highest temporal considerations, but our eternal interests
also, animate us to the contest. Many persons, having never viewed the
subject in this light, charge us with excessive zeal, when they see us
so warmly and earnestly contending for freedom of faith as to outward matters,
in opposition to the tyranny of the Pope. Under this cloak, our adversaries
raise a prejudice against us among ignorant people, as if the whole object
of our pursuit were licentiousness, which is the relaxation of all discipline.
But wise and skillful persons are aware that this is one of the most important
doctrines connected with salvation. This is not a question whether you
shall eat this or that food, — whether you shall observe or neglect a particular
day, (which is the foolish notion entertained by many, and the slander
uttered by some,) but what is your positive duty before God, what is necessary
to salvation, and what cannot be omitted without sin. In short, the controversy
relates to the liberty of conscience, when placed before the tribunal of
The liberty of which Paul speaks is exemption from the ceremonies of
the law, the observance of which was demanded by the false apostles as
necessary. But let the reader, at the same time, remember, that such liberty
is only apart of that which Christ has procured for us: for how small a
matter would it be, if he had only freed us from ceremonies? This is but
a stream, which must be traced to a higher source. It is because
“Christ was made a curse, that he might redeem us
from the curse of the law,” (Galatians 3:13;)
because he has revolted the power of the law” so far as it held us liable
to the judgment of God under the penalty of eternal death; because, in
a word, he has rescued us from the tyranny of sin, Satan, and death. Thus,
under one department is included the whole class; but on this subject we
shall speak more fully on the Epistle to the Colossians.
This liberty was procured for us by Christ on the cross: the fruit and
possession of it are bestowed upon us through the Gospel. Well does Paul,
then, warn the Galatians, not to be entangled again with the yoke of bondage,
— that is, not to allow a snare to be laid for their consciences. For if
men lay upon our shoulders an unjust burden, it may be borne; but if they
endeavor to bring our consciences into bondage, we must resist valiantly,
even to death. If men be permitted to bind our consciences, we shall be
deprived of an invaluable blessing, and an insult will be, at the same
time, offered to Christ, the Author of our freedom. But what is the force
of the word again, in the exhortation, “and be not entangled again with
the yoke of bondage?” for the Galatians had never lived under the law.
It simply means that they were not to be entangled, as if they had not
been redeemed by the grace of Christ. Although the law was given to Jews,
not to Gentiles, yet, apart from Christ, neither the one nor the other
enjoys any freedom, but absolute bondage.