But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up to the faith which should afterwards be revealed.…
I. BEFORE FAITH CAME. "But before faith came." The faith which is here brought into prominence is that which was historically manifested when Christ came. Faith existed before Christianity, as is evident from the eleventh of Hebrews. There was trust in the Divine word. But the attitude toward Christ was that of expectancy. "We who had before hoped in Christ." It had been faith along with the observance of the Mosaic Law. But when the gospel of salvation was preached, it was faith, pure and simple, on Christ.
1. The state of God's people under the Law. "We were kept in ward under the Law, shut up." They were wards of the Law. A strict watch was kept over them, as those who could not manage themselves. This went the length of their being in custody.
(1) There were manifold restrictions. The limits were greatly narrowed within which they were free to act. Even their common life was encompassed with ceremonial regulations. However good these were, there was this to be said, that they were outwardly imposed. And they had the effect of multiplying the occasions of offence. They made many things sins which were not sins in themselves. There was thus a heavy pressure laid on the life. The moral Law, too, came in with its oppressive "Thou shalt not."
(2) There was the feeling of helplessness produced. The Law represented the Divine requirement. As a revelation of what God required, it raised a very high ideal. God was to be loved with the whole soul, and a man's neighbour as himself. But at the same time, it did not bring with it strength for the attainment of this ideal. It, therefore, sometimes even stimulated the sinful life. It excited desires which it had not power to quell. And thus it worked towards despondency.
(3) There was the feeling of guilt produced. The Law revealed what ought to have been attained; but, revealing at the same time the wide distance between the ideal raised and the actual attainment, instead of being a witness of its high ends as accomplished, it became an accuser.
(4) There were appeals to fears. Its "Thou shalt not" was accompanied with a threat. There was a curse pronounced on the breaking of every one of its requirements.
(5) There was the feeling of condemnation produced. The Law, in showing them their guilt, showed them also to be condemned sinners, actually lying under the curse. Thus the outcome of its working was the eliciting of the cry, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?"
2. The goal intended for them. "Unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed." It is to be remembered that the Law existed alongside of the promise, to which it was simply an addition. It is to be remembered, also, that the ceremonial part of the Law had promise largely mixed up with it, many of the types being really promises. And, so far as the promise was concerned, there could be, in the religious life of those times, a feeling of liberty in the enjoyment of forgiveness and in the hope of the attainment of their ideal. There was grace, too, in the heart of the Law. It was a disciplinary institution, preparatory to Christianity. It was with a view to the people of God being brought into a higher state, into the freer relation of faith, which was to be revealed when Christ came. Illustration. "So that the Law hath been our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." The pedagogue (formerly translated "schoolmaster," now "tutor") was one who got his name born leading the child to school. He had the responsible office of superintending the education of the child, and also his morals and manners. He had strictly to regulate and watch over the employments and deportment of the child, and he was armed with the power of punishment. The pedagogic function is what belongs to every parent. He has himself or by deputy to educate his child, physically, intellectually, morally, and spiritually. The restrictions he has to lay on the employment of his time, thoughts, energies, are not agreeable to him, but they are with a view to his being of age. The Law is thus laid upon him that it may be ultimately within him, and that he may do that which is right and proper with no sense of bondage. The people of God were under the Law as under a pedagogue. They were treated as children, and had their duty minutely prescribed to them and their fears appealed to. This produced a sense of bondage, but it was that by-and-by they might the better welcome Christ and those higher influences he was to bring with him. The feeling of guilt and condemnation which the Law produced was that Christ might be longed for in his justifying merit to be received through faith.
II. NOW THAT FAITH IS COME. "But now that faith is come."
1. Christian emancipation. "We are no longer under a tutor." We are no longer under the discipline of the Mosaic institution. We do not need rules outwardly imposed on us, nosy that the higher Christian influences are operative in us. We are absolutely freed from the ceremonial Law, which received its fulfilment in Christ. The moral Law could never be called Mosaic, rather it was that round which the whole Mosaic institution was gathered. We are freed from it as the ground of our justification or condemnation. But it is still needed to hold up before us higher ideas of righteousness. It is still needed to work in us deeper conviction of sin. It is still needed to keep us to the true source of our security. But what thus disciplines us, is the Law as it has received its highest exhibition in the cross of Christ. From it, as connected with the Mosaic institution, we are freed.
2. Christian sonship.
(1) The relation described. "For ye are all sons of God." Gentiles as well as Jews are sons of God. We are not in the relation of slaves, without any feeling of freedom. Neither are we in the relation of servants, with such freedom as belongs to them. But we are in the freest relation of sons of God. Neither are we mere children, but we are sons that have come of age. That does not mean that we are to leave our Father's house. "The servant goeth away; the son abideth ever." We are independent, not in being liberated from our Father's control, but in having our Father's will so much within our heart that we act according to it without the need of rules being imposed on us.
(2) How the relation is formed. "Through faith." We are not sons of God by virtue of our living in a Christian land. Multitudinism is alien to Christianity. We cannot be Christians merely in the mass. The state, whatever it has to do with religion, cannot relieve us of the responsibility of acting for ourselves. We are not sons of God by virtue of our connection with godly parents. There is a certain law of heredity in religion. "The unfeigned faith that is in thee; which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and, I am persuaded, in thee also." The promise is to us and to our children; therefore there is encouragement to use the means. Still, all that parents can do is to act upon their children by good advice and example and prayer. They cannot relieve their children, any more than the state its subjects, of the responsibility of thinking and acting for themselves. We are not sons of God by virtue of our having been baptized. Baptism, as we shall presently see, is an important Christian rite. It should be attended with regenerating grace. Only, when there is no evidence of regeneration in the life, it is vain to be satisfied with baptism. It should be used simply as an argument for taking action in accordance with it. We are not sons of God by virtue of our being members of a Christian Church. There has been, in this case, examination by a representative of the Church, and admission has been granted; but this is not to be rested upon. Man is not the lord of our conscience. Every one must judge for himself as to the evidences of his being a child of God. And if he was not a child of God before admission, the fact of his admission will not make him one. He is just presumably what he was before. The Church has no magical virtue. It can assist men in becoming children of God, but it cannot do more than assist. And when Church connection does not benefit, it will certainly add to condemnation. But we are sons of God through faith. This is the instrument by which we become sons of God. We take action for ourselves. Our souls lay hold upon Christ. We place our dependence on his finished work, and we are not only justified, but are adopted into the family of God.
(3) Causal element in which our sonship subsists. "In Christ Jesus." Christ alone can make us sons of God. Our rulers cannot make us sons of God. Our parents cannot make us sons of God. A rite like baptism cannot make us sons of God. Even the Church cannot make us sons of God. Christ alone can. He is not the means, but the efficient cause. It is in him that our sonship is originated and is maintained.
(4) Sign of our sonship. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ." By insisting on faith the apostle has supplied a counteractive to superstitious ideas of baptism. But this shows how much importance he attached to it. Baptized into Christ, they did put on Christ. And from the connection it is to be understood that they so put on Christ in baptism as to stand in the same relation to God in which Christ stands to God.
3. Christian equality.
(1) What it is. It sometimes matters very essentially in whose hands is the advocacy of a doctrine. In the hands of the communists, who have the modern intellectual activity without any hold upon the everlasting principles of religion, there is no more dangerous doctrine than that of equality. As used by them, it would lead to complete anarchy, disturbing altogether the present order and putting no stable order in its stead. It is already, in one or other of its phases, producing a feeling of insecurity among the supporters of old institutions, extending to that of monarchy. Paul, also, is an advocate of equality; but he was held by everlasting truth and love. And, in his hands, equality is a safe doctrine, which would indeed be the salvation of society, curing present canker and alienation, and introducing a blessed order such as would realize the golden age. As men we are essentially equal. "God hath made of one blood all nations of men that dwell upon the earth." We lay aside this and that and all the other unlikenesses, till we come to that which refuses to be taken away. And this, we say, is man, the same as to kind under all conditions. The apostle pointed to the everlasting common humanity, when he quoted to the Athenians the words, "For we are also his offspring." Adam, the source of humanity, is declared to be the son of God, i.e. by constitution. "Which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God." What Christianity does is, not to add a new element of sonship to our constitution, but to bring us back into the reality and forward into the full flood of this relationship. It is after establishing our sonship in Christ that Paul proceeds here to lay down his doctrine of Christian equality. And by it he means that, in regard to this most essential element, there are no classes, no distinctions. There are not some in the position of superiors and others in the position of inferiors, but all are placed on the same platform, and that the highest platform of sonship. All are sons of God, therefore all are equal.
(2) Specimens of earthly distinctions which are obliterated in Christ. "There can be neither Jew nor Greek." The Greek is the weaker member in this coupling, but he was by no means to be despised. As there was greater natural inventiveness among the descendants of Cain than among the descendants of Seth, so there was greater intellectual force and culture among the Greeks than among the Jews. Not to speak of their art, their poetry, their philosophy, their language itself, slowly formed, was a magnificent product of mind. Significant of a widespread Greek influence, that language had mastered even the Jews. The mob at Jerusalem were prepared to hear a Greek oration from Paul, only they gave the more silence when he spoke in the Jewish vernacular. And, what was more, the Greek language was chosen by God as the medium of conveying the Christian revelation. And yet the Jew, thus inferior, was of more consequence than the Greek. In the wise purposes of God, which looked beyond one nation, the Jew was raised to very high religious privilege, and any Greek could only share in the same privilege by being naturalized as a Jew. But what was Jewish was at best only external and subject to removal, and was actually removed when the Divine purposes were matured. And now, in and through Christ, the universal Mediator, the Gentile is as near and dear to God as is the Jew. We are so much accustomed to the Gentile being in Christian privilege that it is more to the point now to say that the Jew is as near and dear to God as is the Gentile. Under Christianity there is no privileged nation. In Colossians it is said that there is neither barbarian nor Scythian in Christ. The Scythians were those who appeared barbarians to the barbarians. In Christ there is no barbarian far down in the scale of civilization. There is not even the Scythian, down at the very bottom and only too readily despised by the despised. Christ does not belong to the white skin; but even under the black skin and crisp hair and imperfect configuration there may be the same consciousness of sonship that the finest of Europeans has, in Christ. There is a common ground, upon which all peoples and nations and tribes can meet, deep down below all distinctions of colour and figure and civilization, which thus appear as unessential. "There can be neither bond nor free." There can be no greater diversity in social position than between the bondman and the freeman. It may be said to be infinite; for the freeman has rights - rights to bestow his labour where he thinks he can get most for it, rights to demand redress if he thinks himself injured, to be judged if he is complained of. But the bondman has no rights, being classed as a chattel. Cato, censor-general of morals, a Roman more virtuous than the Romans, gives written advice to the farmers" to sell worn-out iron implements, old slaves, sick slaves, and other odds and ends that have no further use on the farm!" But, though thus put out of the ranks and trampled upon by men, he could be conscious in his own mind of his rights as a man, and, what availed more, through the gospel of the grace of God preached to and received by him, he, a man, the equal at bottom of his master and of that master's master, the august Caesar, - he could be ranked as a son of God, without any super-added badge of inferiority, as much a son of God as Paul himself. There is a most touching, most beautiful exemplification of this in Paul's brief Epistle to Philemon. Paul takes as much interest in Onesimus, a runaway slave, converted by him at Rome, as though he had been a noble born. He calls him his very heart, and, more than a servant, even a brother beloved to Philemon, both in the flesh and in the Lord. The gap between men in respect of social standing, between the sovereign and the common subject of the realm, between the nobleman and the peasant, between the rich and the poor, between master and servant, sometimes so impresses us that we do not think of their being equal at all, they seem beings of a different order; but in Christ there is no difference; there is a great absolute equality before God, who is no respecter of persons, and the man with a Christian heart under a rough exterior is full brother to the Christian gentleman, and the servant-girl who loves her Bible is of as much account as her Christian mistress. Paul says to slaves, wanting to be set free, "For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman; likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant." It has been made out of this, not that there are no conditions in Christ, but, what also puts us on an equality, that all conditions are possessed in Christ. "If a man is a slave, he may be free in Christ. If free, he may have the joy of utter submission to an absolute master in Christ. If you and I are lonely, we may feel all the delights of society by union with him. If surrounded and distracted by companionship, and seeking for seclusion, we may get all the peace of perfect privacy in fellowship with him. If we are rich, and sometimes think that we were in a position of less temptation if we were poorer, we may find all the blessings for which we sometimes crave poverty in communion with him. If we are poor, and fancy that if we had a little more, just to lift us above the grinding, carking care of to-day, and the anxiety of to-morrow, we should be happier, we may find all tranquillity in him." "There can be no male and female." This distinction in sex has more foundation in nature than the distinction of men by nationality or by their social standing. "Male and female created he them." In the resurrection, the distinction, in its physical aspect, will have no place; but now it reigns, and forms an agreeable contrast in humanity. But it also disappears in the lower ground of a common sonship. There is daughterhood spoken of in that passage," Ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty;" but generally it is a filial standing, without any distinction of sex, that is indicated. "And, after all, women are men. Their relation with God is an immediate one. They stand in exactly the same position with regard to him as man; and, in this supreme point of view, the equality of the sexes is perfect, as is that between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak. The two sexes are only the two forms, or two functions, of our common humanity, the members of which are all called to serve and glorify God, some as men, others as women. The service of God is the substance, the rest is only the mode or the accident. Now, we fully believe that God has made the woman for the man, in that he has dualized man, for whom it was not good to be alone, and who would have been alone in a moral sense, and in that sense more especially, with a being exactly similar and perfectly equal to himself; but we cannot, we must not, imagine that the whole feminine sex has been called out of nothingness into being, merely to complete the existence of individuals of the other sex. The proposition, "the woman was made for the man," has, therefore, for counterpoise and complement, another proposition - the woman has been created for herself, or, better still, "man and woman both have been created for God." Inferences. We are to rejoice most in that wherein we are equal. It is not external advantages or points of superiority over others that can afford any man the deepest, purest joy. If he is vain of these, and allows them prevalence in his thoughts, he will certainly forfeit his joy. When the seventy returned from their missionary tour, they were flushed with the joy of a new-found power over devils: "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us, through thy Name." Christ directed them to the true source of joy: "Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven." That God numbers us among his children - that is the humble, equalizing element in our joy. It is not implied that inequalities are to be repudiated. There are inequalities in the providence of God, mainly for purposes of trial; and we are not to find fault with them. "Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." The instance in point was the converted slave, who, when he came to the knowledge of Christ, was not to go away and demand a change of condition; but if it was the will of God that he should still remain in slavery, he was to abide therein with God, content to enjoy that freedom with which Christ had made him free. The same consideration might lead a man not to shirk, like Jonah, but to take a very high position, for which, perhaps, he had no natural liking, but to which he felt that he was called by a higher will. But, whatever the position intended for us, we are to accept of it as an expression of the will of God; and, if we see the same will in the stations which others occupy, that will keep us right in the midst of inequalities. It has been remarked "that a great part of the duties of life are based, and must be, on the fact that men are unequal; some inferior, some superior; some elected to power and leadership, and some to homage and trust. Everything here will depend on how much of personal quality and soul-force different men may have for their endowments; how much reason, conscience, love, will, vision, music, science, and worship they have room for; and then it will be seen what precedences they are to yield, what deferences to pay, or what patronages to assume, what forward conditions to support. Thus far the true beauty of life will consist in a due observance of inequalities; every man consenting to be himself, and let everybody else be himself too, in his own true measure." There are duties founded upon our equality as Christians. "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily, I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward." One might perform the same little act from considerations of humanity, but it is the performing it from considerations of discipleship that receives the commendation of Christ. There is a whole tier of virtues rising up here, for which there is required the greatest delicacy, and which are really of the finest mould. They are such as will be suggested by the names, Christian courtesy, Christian consideration, and the like. Here is culture, accomplishment, for any Christian lady or Christian gentleman. There have none of us learned enough to show consideration all round the Christian circle because of sonship and equality in Christ. Some have a long, hard lesson to learn here, who, perhaps, little imagine it. The inequalities of Providence form their peculiar temptation. They naturally like to associate with persons of their own tastes and manners, and, perhaps, they are so accustomed to regard men because they are rich, because they are influential, that they cannot bring their minds to respect a man simply because he is a Christian. Now, how becoming it is that those who are unequally placed in providence should meet freely together on the ground of an equality in the Divine covenant! It would let the rich feel more potently that wealth and station and culture are on the outside; and it would let the poor see that honesty and piety are not confined to them. Whatever opportunities for meeting may be enjoyed in the common walks of life, there is a special meeting-ground afforded for all classes in the Church. Here the rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all. The Church is the place where most of all we should be helped to understand and to feel the levelling influence of Christian love, and to value and to honour the Christian under all distinctions. There is an equalizing process going on under Christian influences. If we take the Jew and the Greek as bringing before us national distinctions, there is better feeling between nations than there once was. A Christian in a nation sees and feels that in Christ all nations are one, that there is a common salvation for them, and that the loss of one is really the loss of all. If there is a considerable body of Christians in each nation, especially known, in some degree, to one another, that will be the strongest counteractive to hostile feeling; and it will only be in seasons of great national excitement that these will be borne down, and, perhaps, themselves carried away, by the national impulse. Certainly, in calm moments there is a growing conviction that the true and best condition to be sought after is that which Christianity puts before us, and gives us reason to hope for - a brotherhood of nations, free from selfishness and intrigue, in which nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. The second distinction between bond and free in that particular form is very nearly obliterated. Although Christianity did not preach revolution, did not incite to a rising of the slaves against their masters, yet it has led indirectly to the abolition of slavery. When it represented even slaves as some of them invested with the privileges of sonship in Christ, in the logic of events the conclusion was sure to follow, that their rights as men could not justly be withheld from them. The poor African race has been the last to know the elevating, equalizing power of Christianity; and some think that they may be gradually matured to be the equals of Europeans in civilization, having great capacities of vision, of song, and of worship. There will be an equalizing even in that which communists have an eye to - material condition. Only this is to be got at, not by any flashy communistic scheme, but by Christianity having more the moulding of the conditions of trade and commerce, and also more the moulding of the individual character. The last distinction between male and female has been materially changed by Christianity. Her equality before God was a lever power which could not but raise woman out of that degradation into which man's sin had brought her. We see the process going on in India which has taken place in many nations, zenana agencies especially spreading influences which must eventually liberate. The most real inequality is that which is produced by sin. If we are equal in sonship, let us also be equal in fidelity.
(3) Ground of our Christian equality. "For ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. And if ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise." It has already been implied that we are equal because of our sonship in Christ. That it may be placed beyond doubt, it is explicitly stated that we are equal because of what we are in Christ. And we are in Christ in such a way that, because he is Abraham's seed, we are Abraham's seed too. And, as Abraham's seed, we are heirs according to the tenor of the promise. This heirship he proceeds to connect with sonship. So that the teaching is that our equality is based on our sonship in Christ. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.