Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;…
Paul, having spoken of the Law-school in the preceding sections, and of the participation of believing Gentiles in the privileges of the Abrahamic family, proceeds in the present section to speak of the times before Christ's advent as infantile, of the advent as the fulness of times, and of the majority which is realized by believers through the gospel. Four leading thoughts are thus presented.
I. THE IMPERFECT TIMES. (Vers. 1-3.) The Old Testament times represent the experience of all men before the reception of the gospel. They were the minority of humanity. The soul was then like a child who is placed under stewards and guardians, and is not allowed to take charge of itself. It lived by law and rule, and had not entered upon proper self government and independence. Now, all the world was in this legal condition as well as the Jews. Nay, we are all before conversion in it; we are legalists by nature, we do what is prescribed with more or less fidelity, and congratulate ourselves upon the doing of it. It is the "infantile" stage. It is the imperfect times, as contrasted with the riper experience the gospel brings. And yet it is better that the soul should be at the school of Law than wandering waywardly after its own devices. Better be under restraint than be utterly spoiled by getting our own way. We ought not to under-estimate the discipline which the Law-school secured.
II. THE ADVENT OF THE SON. (Vers. 4, 5.) It was Christ's coming which brought in the fulness of times. He came to put an end to the world's minority and to secure the world's redemption. He did so by being "born of a woman," by being "born under the Law," and undertaking all his brethren's responsibilities. Having obeyed the Law in its penalty of death for disobedience as well as in its precepts, he redeemed men from the condemning power of Law, and secured their adoption as sons. The world at the advent of the Son must have looked differently to the eye of God the Father. For milleniums he had been looking anxiously down to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. But, alas! the verdict had to be that "they are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Psalm 14:2, 3). But at the advent of Christ a new example presented itself, a new type arose - a sinless Being appeared upon the stage, with all the interest around him of sinlessness. A breach of continuity took place when the babe was born in Bethlehem. Instead of the world being now condemned wholesale, it possessed for the Divine mind a deep attraction. The drama of sinlessness amid temptation was being carried on, and a repulsive world became the centre of moral and spiritual power. A new age thus dawned upon humanity. Man's minority was over and his inheritance was at hand.
III. THE ADVENT OF THE SPIRIT. (Ver. 6.) The magnificent panorama of sinlessness, however, might have passed impressively before the eye of God, and have given flesh interest to the problem of humanity, without at all affecting men themselves. But the advent of the Spirit secured men in their spiritual inheritance. The cry of the human heart, which had been so indefinite before, became definite and pathetic. It became the cry of children who had learned at last to feel at home with God. The converted Jew and the converted Gentile began to cry to the one Father in heaven, and to feel "orphans" no more (cf. John 14:18). The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of adoption enables human hearts to look up hopefully to heaven, and to realize that it is no longer empty, but filled with the presence of an infinite and all-merciful Father, who desires above all things the welfare of his children. It is this marvellous arrangement of the advent of an infinite Spirit of adoption which ensures the reality of adoption, and makes all the sons feel at home. Poets doubtless wrote about man being "God's offspring" (Acts 17:28), but the fancy of the poet could only become a fact of human experience when the indwelling Spirit prompted the cry, "Abba, Father."
IV. THE HEIR THEREBY ENTERED UPON HIS MAJORITY. (Ver. 7.) The termination of slavish fear, and the advent of a sense of sonship, is what we call conversion. But we hardly realize at once the meaning of our inheritance. How magnificent it is! To realize that God no longer is angry with us, but looks down with ineffable tenderness as our heavenly Father; to realize that, though we have nothing of ourselves, we have become heirs of all things, and find that all things are being made to work together for our good (Romans 8:28); to realize that we are "heirs of God through Christ," - is surely glorious! There is happiness when noble heirs reach their majority. What feasting and good will and congratulation goes on in the baronial halls! Poets sing of it, and artists paint the scene. But no joy of majority on earth can compare with the joy which attends the sense of our spiritual majority before God. The baron's heir is filled with mingled feelings if his heart beat true, for he knows that the condition of his inheritance is, alas! his father's death. He must be base indeed who can contemplate such a condition without emotion. But when the Spirit of adoption comes within us it is to enable us to realize that, not only is our majority come, but also our inheritance as sons of God; into this inheritance we may enter at once. The Father never dies, and his presence, instead of keeping us out of our enjoyment, consecrates and enlarges it to a heavenly fulness. "All things are ours, if we are Christ's" (1 Corinthians 3:20-23). May we no longer live as bond-servants before God, but enter by adoption into the privileges of sons! - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;