Appeal to Experience and Scripture
Galatians 3:1-14
O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth…


1. Expression of astonishment in view of their first impressions of the cross. "O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified?" Paul's address to Peter concluded with his presenting the dreadful supposition of Christ having died for nought. He with that turns to the Galatians, and calls to their recollection the memorable impression which the first presentation of Christ crucified had made on their minds. There had been, as it were, a localization of the cross among them. Christ had been so presented to them that preacher and time and place were all forgotten. There on Galatian soil was the cross erected; there was the Holy One and the Just taken and nailed to the tree; there his blood flowed forth for the remission of sins. And they were deeply affected, as if the crucifixion scene] had passed before their eyes. It is a blessed fact that the evil of our nature is not insuperable - that there is in the cross what can act on it like a spell. Even the greatest sinners have been arrested and entranced by the eye of the Crucified One. It is, on the other hand, a serious fact that evil can be presented to us in a fascinating form. Here the Galatians are described as those who had been bewitched. It was as if some one had exerted an evil spell on them. His evil eye had rested on them and held them so that they could not see him by whose crucifixion they had formerly been so much affected. And the apostle wonders who it could be that had bewitched them. Who had been envious of the influence which the Crucified One had obtained over them? What false representations had he made? What flattering promises had he held out? Such a one had great guilt on his head; but they also were chargeable with foolishness in allowing themselves to be bewitched by him. The Galatians were by no means stupid; they were rather of quick perception. They had the strong emotional qualities of the Celtic nature; their temptation was sudden change of feeling. They were foolish in yielding to their temptation, in not subjecting their feelings to the guidance of reason, in not using the Divine helps against their being bewitched. And the apostle, in charging home foolishness on them, would have them recall what the cross had once been in their eyes, in order to break the present spell of evil.

2. The one admission he asks of them in order to prove their foolishness. "This only would I learn from you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?" He felt that he had such a hold on them from their past experiences that he could have asked of them many admissions. With one, however, he will be content. This had reference to the reception of the Spirit. The gospel dispensation was the dispensation of the Spirit. It was by the sacrifice of Christ that the Spirit was really obtained. It was soon after the offering of that sacrifice that the Spirit was poured out, as though liberated from previous restraints. The great blessing, then, of that dispensation, obtained they it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith? The Law is to be understood in the sense of the Mosaic Law, which the Judaists sought to impose on Gentile Christians. The Law and faith are here placed in opposition. Works are the characteristic of the Law; hearing is the characteristic of faith. Was it, then, by Law-working that they had received the Spirit? When would it quantitatively and qualitatively have sufficed for their receiving the Spirit? Was it not the case, too, that the great majority of them in the Galatian Churches had not been under the Law? They had not been circumcised, and yet the Spirit had been received by them. Was it not, then, by the hearing which belongs to faith? They had not tediously to elaborate a Law-righteousness. They had not to work for a righteousness at all. They had simply to hear in connection with the preaching of the gospel. They had to listen to the proclamation of a righteousness elaborated for them. And while their faith was imperfect, and could not be in itself the ground of their justification, they had, as perfectly justified, received the Spirit.

3. Two points in which their foolishness was shown at its height. "Are ye so foolish?"

(1) They belied the beginning they had made. "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh?" They began by renouncing the flesh, by confessing that, with the weak elements in their nature, they never could arrive at perfection. In despair of the flesh, then, and in order to be delivered from its weakness, they cast themselves upon the Spirit. They called in Divine help against their sinful tendencies. This was the right beginning to make. And having thus begun, they should have gone on, in dependence on the help of the Spirit, toward perfection. But they were proving untrue to the beginning they had made. They were going back to the flesh which they professed to have left behind as a source of dependence. They were now saying that it, forsooth, with all its weakness, was able. to bring about their 'perfection.'

(2) They stultified their sufferings. Did ye suffer so many things in vain? if it be indeed in vain." It is to be inferred that they suffered persecution. They suffered many things, though of their sufferings we have no record. They suffered for Christ, and it may have been for liberty in him. That gave a noble character to their sufferings, and promised a glorious reward. But now, with their changed relation to Christ, those sufferings had lost their character. There was no longer a Christian halo around them. They were simply a blunder, what might have been avoided. They could not hope, then, for the reward of the Christian confessor or martyr. The apostle is, however, unwilling to believe that the matter has ended with them. In the words which he appends, "if it be indeed in vain," he not only leaves a loophole of doubt, but makes an appeal to them not to throw away that which they had nobly won.

4. The one admission reverted to with special reference to the miraculous operations of the Spirit. "He therefore that supplieth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?" It was God who supplied the Spirit to them. He especially supplied the power of working miracles. It is taken for granted that miracles were still being wrought in connection with the Galatian Churches. The miraculous operations of the Spirit are not more remarkable in themselves than his ordinary operations; but they were more exceptional. Being more easily appreciated, too, they were especially fitted to attract attention to Christianity, and to commend it to them that were outside. And as the Galatians had thrown doubt on their relation to Christianity, he very naturally meets them by making his appeal to the evidence of miracles. Did God give any token of his approval to those who were identified with the works of the Law - to the Judaizing teachers? Was there any exceptional power possessed by them? Did not God work miracles through those who were identified with the hearing of faith - through the preachers of the gospel? And was that not conclusive evidence that he was with them in their teaching?


1. He was justified by faith. Scripture statement. "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." There could be no question regarding the high authority of Abraham's example. And the best way to deal with it was in connection with Scripture. What, then, was the Scripture account of Abraham's justification? In Genesis 15:6 it is said, "He believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness." It is not "He was circumcised, and that was reckoned unto him for righteousness." There is no mention of his justification in connection with his circumcision. Indeed, he was justified before he was circumcised. Abraham's case, then, tells against justification by the works of the Law. On the other hand, he was a signal example of the hearing of faith. He heard God saying to him, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee;" and he went forth, leaving country and kindred and home, not knowing whither he went. He heard God saying that he should have a seed numerous as the stars of heaven, and it was his crediting this as God's word, though it conflicted with all human experience, that was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Again, he heard God commanding him to offer up the son of the promise, and, notwithstanding all the difficulties it involved, he acted upon what he heard. It is true that this was personal righteousness so far as it went. It was the right disposition towards God. Abraham approved himself before God by his faith, and by his works which evidenced his faith. But it is not said that this was his righteousness. It was not meritorious righteousness; it was simply faith grasping the Divine word which made him righteous. It was imperfect faith, and therefore could not be the ground of his justification. But the language is that "it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." Though his faith was not meritorious, was imperfect, it was reckoned unto him as though he had fulfilled the whole Law. From the moment of his hearing in faith he was fully justified. Inference. "Know therefore that they which be of faith, the same are sons of Abraham." The contention of the Judaists would be that the keepers of the Law were the true sons of Abraham. The apostle regards this Scripture as a disproof of their position. Abraham was notably a believer. He heard God speaking to him on various occasions, and it was his humbly distrusting his own judgment and listening to the voice of God for which he was commended. It was, therefore, to be known, to be regarded as indisputable, that believers, those who have faith as the source of their life, and not those who are of the works of the Law, are the true sons of Abraham.

2. The promise on which his faith rested. Scripture with preface. "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed." The Scripture is here put in place of the Author of Scripture, and foresight is ascribed to it which is properly to be ascribed to God. The foresight of God was shown in the form in which the promise was given. It had nothing of Jewish exclusiveness about it, but was suitable to gospel times. Indeed, it could be described as the gospel preached beforehand unto Abraham. The language recalls our Lord's words, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad." It was the promise of blessing without any restriction of contents. It was the promise of blessing to all nations. There was thus the same ring about it that there was about the angelic message when Jesus was born: "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." And God, having in view the extension of the blessing to the Gentiles, promised it in Abraham. He did not promise it in Moses, who was identified with the Law; but he promised it in Abraham, who was characteristically a believer. The being in him points to Abraham, not only as a believer, but as holding the position of the father of believers. He was thus more than an example of the mode of justification. It was in him that the blessing was given, that the connection was formed between faith and justification. It is as his seed, or sons, that it is to be obtained by us. General inference. "So then they which be of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham." He has already shown who the sons of Abraham are, viz. "they which be of faith." Founding, then, upon that, as well as upon what he has just quoted, his conclusion is that believers are sharers with Abraham in his blessing. He not only stood in the relation of father to believers: as a believer himself, he was blessed. He had especially the blessing of justification, which has been referred to. And along with him do all believers enjoy especially the blessing of justification.

(1) A curse lies on the workers of the Law. "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse." So far from enjoying the blessing, they are under the curse. Having laid down this proposition, he establishes it in the most conclusive manner. Even the form of the syllogism is apparent. Major proposition. "For it is written, Cursed is every one which continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the Law, to do them." The words are a quotation from Deuteronomy 27:26. They form the conclusion of the curses pronounced from Mount Ebal. The Law requires obedience to be rendered to it in every precept. And it requires obedience to all time. If a person kept all the precepts and transgressed only one, or if he transgressed one at last after having kept all for a lifetime, he would thereby be placed in a wrong relation to the Law, and would be subject to its curse, as really as though he had been a flagrant and lifelong transgressor. All are cursed who do not render whole and continued obedience to the Law. Minor proposition. "Now that no man is justified by the Law in the sight of God, is evident." Of the major proposition he did not need to offer any proof because it is Scripture; but this minor proposition, in his singular love for proof, especially from Scripture, he will not assume. It therefore becomes the conclusion of another syllogism Major proposition of second syllogism. "For, The righteous shall live by faith." This is cited from Habakkuk 2:4, and is also cited in Romans 1:17 and Hebrews 10:38. The spirit of the Old Testament passage is given. The reference was to a season of danger from the Chaldeans. An announcement of deliverance was made in plain terms. "Behold," it is added, "his soul [either of the Chaldean or of the heedless Jew] which is lifted up is not upright in him;" i.e. priding himself in his own sufficiency, he was destitute of righteousness, and therefore it was to be presumed, from the theocratic standpoint, would perish; "but the just shall live by faith;" i.e. relying on promised help, he would be righteous, and thus obtain the theocratic blessing of deliverance. The New Testament bearing is obvious. Relying on Divine righteousness, he is righteous, and thus has title to life. Formally, what the apostle lays down here is that none but believers are justified. Minor proposition of second syllogism. "And the Law is not of faith; but, He that doeth them shall live in them." The principle of faith is reliance on the promise in order to obtain a title to life. The principle of the Law, as brought out in the quotation from Leviticus 18:5, is reliance on our own doing of all the precepts in order to obtain a title to life. Thus all doers must be excluded from the class of believers. And thus, by formal proof, is the minor proposition of the first syllogism established, viz. No man is justified by the Law in the sight of God. And, it being established, the conclusion of that syllogism follows, which is given in the first clause of the tenth verse, "As many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse."

(2) How the blessing is enjoyed by believers. Redemption from the curse. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." The Jews (with whom Paul identifies himself) were under the curse of the Law for many precepts transgressed, and transgressed many times. They found a Redeemer from the curse in Christ, who redeemed them by becoming a curse for them, i.e. on their behalf, and, by implication at least, in their stead. The transference of the curse, as of sin, was quite familiar to the Jewish mind. He not only became cursed, but abstractly and more strongly he became a curse; he became the receptacle of the curse of the Law. And in his great fondness for Scripture exhibited in the whole of this paragraph, the apostle points out that this was in accordance with words found in Deuteronomy 21:23, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." The words did not refer to crucifixion, which was not a Jewish mode of putting to death; but referred to the hanging of the body of a criminal on a tree after death as a public spectacle. The words were applicable to Christ, because he was made a public spectacle, not only in hanging on a tree, but in being nailed to a tree. The infamy which Christ was subjected to from men was a very subordinate element in his death. There was especially the wrath which he endured from God, the hiding of the Father's face from him as the Representative of sinners. This was the curse (all curses in one) by bearing which he became Redeemer. Twofold aim of redemption. Extension of the blessing to the Gentiles. "That upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus." The effect of the endurance of the curse was the opening of the blessing to the Gentiles. The Law, in its precepts and curse, no longer presented an obstacle. The whole meaning of the Law was realized; the whole curse of the Law was exhausted. So complete was the satisfaction rendered, that there could be no supplementing it by works of the Law. All that was needed was faith to receive the satisfaction presented in Christ, and not in the Law, for justification. Thus did the blessing attain its world-wide character, announced to Abraham. Gentiles had simply to believe, like Abraham, in order to be blessed in and with Abraham. Reception of the Spirit. "That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Not only was there the extension of the blessing enjoyed among the Jews, which was eminently justification (as appears from the whole strain of this paragraph); but this extension was signalized by the sending of a richer blessing. This was the realization of the promise of the Spirit. In this the Jews were sharers. All alike were recipients of the Spirit, simply through faith. And thus the apostle, after a remarkable chain of arguments, comes back to the point from which he started. - R.F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

WEB: Foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you not to obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth among you as crucified?

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