But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.
The question handled in this chapter is given in ver. 2. "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" It is argued in two ways — from the Scriptures and from analogy. It is first shown by the testimony of several passages that "we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (ver. 14). The second argument from analogy commences with the 15th verse, and is applied in vers. 16-18 to Abraham, the conclusion being the same as that of the first argument, viz., that the inheritance is of promise, and not of the law.
I. STATE THE ARGUMENT, AND TRACE ITS COURSE.
1. The argument is this. According to the customs of men ("I speak after the manner of men"), a covenant, if confirmed, cannot be disannulled or added to. An agreement, when signed and sealed, is binding. This is evident; it is according to one of the first principles of justice. Now if such be the ease with human engagements, how much more must it be with the solemn engagements of the God of truth, "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning!"
2. Inquire into the nature of this Divine covenant. A covenant means either a last will or testament, or an agreement between two parties. The second meaning is the better here. But it is generally understood as equivalent to a promise. When God established His covenant with Noah, there was no engagement on Noah's part. A promise given by God, "who cannot lie" has all the force and indefeasibility of the most sacred contract.
3. In verse 16 the apostle begins to apply his argument. God established a covenant with Abraham, i.e., "to him and his seed were the promises made." The Holy Ghost intended Christ by his "seed." Here we may interpose an important reflection. When we speak of the covenant being an agreement between two parties, is it not strictly true that the covenant was of this nature, the Father and the Son being the high contracting parties? "The counsel of peace was between them both." And "all the promises of God are yea and amen (given and fulfilled) in Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:20).
4. In verse 17 St. Paul proceeds in the application of the analogy. "And this I say" — "I affirm." This covenant with Abraham was confirmed by God, and confirmed four hundred and thirty years before the giving of the law, and therefore the law cannot disannul it, that it should make the promise of none effect. The inheritance could only have come to Abraham in one of two ways — either by .the law or by promise. As a matter of history God gave it to Abraham by promise. The conclusion is, that the gift of the Spirit, or salvation, is not of law, but of promise — not by works, but by faith. The covenant was confirmed in that remarkable vision in Genesis 15. The smoking furnace and the burning lamp were emblems of the Divine majesty. These passing through the parts of the sacrificed animals signified the ratification of the covenant. It was necessary that the covenant should be confirmed by the shedding of blood. The inheritance here means the Holy Spirit. The question is, How did ye receive the Spirit — by works or by faith? The answer is, The blessing of Abraham — the promise of the Spirit — is by faith. God gave this inheritance to Abraham by promise (Comp. Ephesians 1:13, 14).
II. GATHER UP SOME OF THE LESSONS.
1. Christ has the promises. So verse 19, "Till the Seed should come, to whom the promise was made." All spiritual blessing is wrapped up in Him. On His exaltation He received the promise of the Holy Ghost, and poured Him forth upon the infant Church (Acts 2:33). How foolish the Galatians to seek the blessing by ritual! How foolish now are they who want the blessing to stay away from Christ! (Expose common excuses. Some think they are too wicked; others waiting till they can see themselves more vile, etc.; and speak of the glory of Christ as the Friend of Sinners. Enlarge on this.)
2. The Holy Spirit is a gift. Some talk of religion as if it were a trade to which to be apprenticed, and at which they must labour before they can earn the title of being religious. Let them accept the gift of God. "How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him!" The law, or works, bid a man wait till the moving of the waters; Christ's waters of salvation are always being moved, and He invites every stoner to step in at once and be healed. This subject is most important as bearing upon sanctification. "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh?" No — we are made perfect in the Spirit; we are sanctified by faith. We must receive by faith from the Lord Jesus the supply of His Spirit.
(W. J. Chapman, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.