For as you in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:…
Here is an elegant similitude. Men unconverted are prisoners — God the Judge, unbelief the prison, the devil the gaoler, the law the sergeant, and natural corruption the fetters.
I. GOD HATH SHUT UP ALL IN UNBELIEF. This is the common condition of all men (Romans 3:9, 19, 23; Galatians 3:22).
1. Paul hath in the passage of this business ten times told us of our miserable condition by nature. Here we are poor sinners; it is our part to take knowledge of our corrupt nature.
2. Great is the misery that accompanies imprisonment, restraint of liberty, hunger, cold, shame, chains, but no dungeon more loathsome than an unbelieving heart. Oh that we could be sensible of it, that we might sigh to God for deliverance, as did the Israelites in Egypt. When a man is arrested, what lamenting among his friends: but our very souls are imprisoned in the worst of prisons, under the worst of gaolers, and yet we are merry, as though it were but a trifle.
3. We may know whether we be yet in this prison by two things.
(1) By faith in God. Hast thou this? If not, there needs no jury to find thee guilty: thou art in the very bottom of the dungeon. But thou sayest there is a God. Thy life condemns thee, for thou actest as if there were no God.
(2) By faith in His Word. The Scripture threatens ungodly men with the plagues of God, and promiseth eternal life to the godly. Did men believe this, durst they run on in all profaneness?
II. THAT HE MIGHT HAVE MERCY ON ALL (Galatians 3:22).
1. Our salvation is of mere mercy, but it is a hard thing to be brought to acknowledge it. The Gentiles were 2,000 years before they could learn this lesson, and the Jews have been 1,600 about it, and yet have not learned it; yea, there are many amongst us that cannot say this lesson right. Most men hope to be saved by their prayers and good serving God; we are loth to lose the commendation of our own goodness.
2. Jews and Gentiles should live together, seeing they are both in one prison for one end, and set free by one and the same mercy.
3. If any be set free, it is by the mercy of God, who hath the key of our unbelieving hearts, doth open and shut them at His pleasure. As a man committed by the king can be set free by none but the king, so God committed us, and none can set us free but Himself. Cry, therefore, to the Lord for mercy.
4. There are two notes whereby we may discern whether we be released out of the prison or no.
(1) Our joy. A liberated prisoner leaps and dances, so as no ground will hold him; so birds and beasts escaping from their restraint scud about, as sensible of the sweetness of liberty.
(2) Our carefulness not to commit anything that may bring us into such bondage. So he that believeth the pardon of sin will for ever hate sin. For the most part, prisoners are of wicked behaviour; so if thy conversation be lewd, it is a manifest sign thou art not yet delivered.
(Elnathan Parr, B.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: