Galatians 4:24
These things serve as illustrations, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children into slavery: This is Hagar.
The Allegories of Sarah and HagarCharles Haddon Spurgeon Galatians 4:24
The Allegory of HagarW.F. Adeney Galatians 4:21-31
Legitimate Use of AllegoryAlbert Barnes, D. D.Galatians 4:24-25
St. Paul AllegorizingArchdeacon FarrarGalatians 4:24-25
The Children of PromiseH. M. Villiers, M. A.Galatians 4:24-25
The Force of the AllegoryT. Binney.Galatians 4:24-25
The Interpretation of the Old TestamentBishop Lynch-Cotton.Galatians 4:24-25
The Lessons of the AllegoryDean Vaughan.Galatians 4:24-25
The Profitableness of ScriptureT. Fuller.Galatians 4:24-25
The Two CovenantsW. Perkins.Galatians 4:24-25
Which Things are an AllegorySpurgeon.Galatians 4:24-25
Paul now passes from a personal appeal to an allegorical argument from the Law. As legalists, they are asked it' they will not hear the Law which in its history really condemns them as children of the bondwoman and not children of the freewoman. For such an allegorical interpretation we are content with Paul's authority, since he was inspired of God in his handling of Scripture as well as in writing additions to it. His rabbinical education would incline him to allegory; but we would not in consequence take any liberties with Scripture on the same track. Still, as we face the history as given in Genesis 21. with Paul's help in our hands, it gives a very interesting and beautiful application of it.

I. LET US CONSIDER THE CHILD OF THE BONDWOMAN IN HIS EARLY YEARS. (Ver. 23.) Ishmael, as the child of Abraham, had for thirteen years a happy and interesting life. He was the issue of a union promoted by Sarah in her own despair. Upon him the patriarch looked with all an old man's pride; and, had not God expressly forbidden it, Abraham would have looked no further than Ishmael for a son and heir. Hagar naturally played the haughty part before her mistress and despised the beautiful woman because of her barrenness. But as soon as Isaac came to gladden the aged pair, Hagar and Ishmael fell of necessity into the background. In due time there is the weaning feast. "Hagar and her son heard the merriment," says Robertson, "and it was gall to their wounded spirits; it looked like intentional insult; for Ishmael had been the heir presumptive, but now, by the birth of Isaac, had become a mere slave and dependant; and the son of Hagar mocked at the joy in which he could not partake." Now, Ishmael all these years was the type of the legalist who prides himself on his observance of the ceremonies. Just as the boy thought that he was son and heir by undisputed right and title, so the legal spirit imagines that in God's house his rights cannot be disregarded. In the pride of self-satisfaction he sees no rival in the house and is disposed to brook none. And yet a touch of fate will make him realize at once his slavery and outcast condition.

II. CONSIDER NEXT THE SON OF PROMISE. (Ver. 23.) But for the promise of God, Isaac never would have been born. He belonged consequently to a different order from Ishmael. Ishmael was the son of nature; Isaac was the product of grace. In this Isaac is the type of the son of the gospel, as Ishmael is the type of the son of the Law. Isaac is born to freedom, to honour, to inheritance; while Ishmael is cast out as the slave who has no recognized rights in the household. So is it with the free-born son of the gospel as contrasted with the legalists of Paul's time. The believer is God's son through the freewoman; he has his inalienable rights in God's household; he may be persecuted and mocked by the Ishmaels who are but bondslaves; but he is destined to keep the field of privilege in spite of foes and triumph over them at last.

III. LEGALISM AND GOSPEL FREEDOM ARE INCOMPATIBLE. (Vers. 24-30.) One house could not hold both Ishmael and Isaac. They could not get on together. No more can the legal and the gospel spirit. Self-righteousness and faith in Christ are irreconcilable. Hence the war between the legalists and the apostle. It was war to the bitter end. The principles are antagonistic, and the one must triumph over the other. And liberty is sure to triumph over legalism in the end, as Isaac triumphed over Ishmael.

IV. THE CONSEQUENT DUTY OF MAINTAINING OUR CHRISTIAN LIBERTY. (Galatians 5:1.) Paul calls upon the Galatians not to go back to bondage, but to maintain the freedom which Christ has given them. If he has fulfilled the ceremonies, why should they go back to the bondage of observances? If they are born as children of promise, why go back to the birth of bondslaves? It is like emancipated slaves insisting on surrendering their freedom. What the liberty bestowed by Christ is in its length and breadth may be realized from the close and climax of one of Liddon's masterly sermons. "It is freedom from a sense of sin, when all is known to have been pardoned through the atoning blood; freedom from a slavish fear of our Father in heaven, when conscience is offered to his unerring eye morning and evening by that penitent love which fixes its eye upon the Crucified; freedom from current prejudice and false human opinion, when the soul gazes by intuitive faith upon the actual truth; freedom from the depressing yoke of weak health or narrow circumstances, since the soul cannot be crushed which rests consciously upon the everlasting arms; freedom from that haunting fear of death, which holds those who think really upon death at all,' all their lifetime subject to bondage,' unless they are his true friends and clients who by the sharpness of his own death ' opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.' It is freedom in time, but also and beyond freedom in eternity." May we realize our rights as children of the free! - R.M.E.

Which things are an allegory: for they are the two covenants.

1. Sarah, the type of the covenant of grace, was the original wife of Abraham. This covenant is the original one.

2. Though Sarah was the elder wife, Hagar bore the first son.

3. Hagar was not intended to be a wife, and ought never to have been anything but a handmaid to Sarah. The law was meant to be a handmaid to grace.

4. Hagar wished to be mistress, so was driven out. The law is a good servant, but when it usurps the mastership it must be expelled.

5. Hagar never was a freewoman, Sarah never a slave. So with the law and grace.

6. Hagar was cast out as well as her son, but Sarah never was. So the law has ceased to be a covenant, and it and all who trust in it are now driven out by Christ.


1. Ishmael was the elder — so the legalist is older than the Christian.

2. Where was the difference between them?

(1)None as to ordinances; both were circumcised.

(2)Nor, probably, as to character.

(3)It was that one was of the flesh, the other of' the Spirit.

III. ISRAEL'S CONDUCT TO ISAAC. He mocked him — so the legalist is irritated by the doctrine of free grace, and mocks at it.


1. Isaac had all the inheritance and Ishmael none. Not that he had nothing, but no spiritual inheritance. The legalist gets respect and honour, and has his reward.

2. Ishmael was sent away; Isaac was kept at home.


I. The covenant of works propounds the bare justice of God without mercy; the covenant of grace reveals both the justice and the mercy of God.

II. The law requires of us perfect righteousness both for nature and action; the gospel propounds to us an imputed righteousness in the person of the Mediator.

III. The law promises life on the condition of works; the gospel, remission of sins and life everlasting on the condition of faith.

IV. The law was written on tables of stone; the gospel on the fleshy tables of the heart (Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:3).

V. The law was in nature by creation; the gospel is above nature, was revealed after the full.

VI. The law had Moses for a mediator (Deuteronomy 5:27); but Christ is the Mediator of the New Testament (Hebrews 8:5).

VII. The law was dedicated by the blood of beasts (Exodus 24:5); the New Testament was confirmed by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:12).

(W. Perkins.)


1. That Word is full of God, but —

2. It is full of man.

3. While, therefore, it is the medium of Divine thought, that thought is not expressed as by a flash of lightning, but through various minds and characters.


1. "The wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err" in its general import; but a man will grievously err if he thinks he may read it like a fool — superficially, carelessly.

2. Each writer and book has its own peculiarities, which demand discrimination for profitable study.

III. THE MAIN PRINCIPLE OF THE BIBLE IS "THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS IS THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY," The Old Testament must be studied in the light of the New.

1. In its predictions of Christ.

2. In its analogies of spiritual life.

(Dean Vaughan.)

I. In the interpretation of Scripture our first duty is to HOLD FAST THE LITERAL HISTORICAL SENSE. Christianity is distinguished from other religions by the fact that it rests on a firm historical basis. Whatever else we are to learn from the story, we are to understand first of all that the persons really lived, the places existed, the events transpired.

II. From the intent for which Scripture was written we gather that IT MUST CONTAIN DEEPER TITAN THE MERELY HISTORICAL LESSONS. It was written with reference —

1. To Christ. And hence apostles found in the Old Testament yearning and hopes and types which were fulfilled in Him.

2. To Christ's people. So they found analogies of spiritual life in its historical events.


(Bishop Lynch-Cotton.)

How fruitful are the seeming barren places of Scripture. Bad ploughmen they who make balks of such ground. Wheresoever the surface of God's Word doth not laugh and sing with corn, then the heart thereof within is merry with wines, affording, where not plain matter, hidden mysteries.

(T. Fuller.)

Though the apostle does not disdain either Amoraic or Alexandrian methods of dealing with Scripture, he never falls into the follies or extravagances Of either. Treating the letter of Scripture with intense respect, he yet made the literal sense of it bend at will to the service of the spiritual consciousness. On the dead letter of Urim, which recorded the names of the lost tribes, he flashed a mystic ray, with made them gleam forth into Divine and hitherto un-dreamed-of oracles. The actual words of the sacred writers became but as the wheels and wings of the cherubim, and whithersoever the Spirit went they went.

(Archdeacon Farrar)

There was a terrible severity in it meant to shock and exasperate his opponents; a withering contempt which we, with our feelings, can hardly comprehend. To make Hagar and Ishmael — the bondwoman and her slave child — a type of the Jew, and Sarah and Isaac of the Christian Gentiles, would seem to those pointed at by the parable as if a sacrilegious hand had torn down the vail of the temple, and exposed the holiest of all to the common gaze; or, rather, as if the unclean and uncircumcised had been introduced within the sacred precincts as their proper place, and the very priest of God thrust out. Consistently with this daring defiance of the national opinion, this contemptuous mocking of Jewish pretensions, put in the form of that allegorical logic in which St. Paul was so thorough a proficient, and the force of which on the Hebrew mind he knew so well, — in consistency with this, he even represents the believing Gentiles as the seed of Abraham; tells them that the blessing of Abraham comes on them; that theirs is the promise and the inheritance through faith; that circumcision is nothing, and may be worse than nothing; that "the Israel of God" is not now "the concision," but those who walk according to the rule that "neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Philippians 3:2, 3).

(T. Binney.)

1. It is by no means affirmed that the history of Hagar and Sarah in Genesis had any original reference to the gospel. The account there is a plain historical narrative, not designed to have any such reference.

2. The narrative contains important principles that may be used as illustrating truth, and is so used by St. Paul. There are parallel points between the history and the truths of religion, where the one may be illustrated by the other.

3. The apostle does not use it at all in the way of argument, or as if that proved that the Galatians were not to submit to the Jewish rites and customs. It is an illustration of the comparative nature of servitude and freedom, and would therefore illustrate the difference between a servile compliance with Jewish rites and the freedom of the gospel.

4. This use of an historical fact by the apostle does not make it proper for us to turn the Old Testament into allegory, or even to make a very free use of this mode of illustrating truth. That an allegory may be used sometimes with advantage no one can doubt while the "Pilgrim's Progress" shall exist. Nor can any one doubt that St. Paul has here derived, in this manner, an important and striking illustration of truth from the Old Testament. But no one acquainted with the history of interpretation can doubt that vast injury has been done by a fanciful mode of explaining the Old Testament, by making every fact in its history an allegory, and every pin and pillar of the tabernacle and the temple a type. Nothing is better fitted to bring the whole science of interpretation into contempt, nothing more dishonours the Bible than to make it a book of enigmas, and religion to consist in puerile conceits. The Bible is a book of sense, and all the doctrines essential to salvation are plainly revealed.

(Albert Barnes, D. D.)

The hidden truth here spoken of — "which things are an allegory" — the apostle tells us, is that of "the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." By "the two covenants" I do not think we are to understand what are generally described as the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. It would take us a long time to enter into that argument; but, in the first place, the covenant of works was certainly not made with Moses — if made at all, it was made with Adam; and, therefore, we cannot suppose that it is here referred to. There appears rather to be an allusion to the national covenant that was made with Israel, which is contrasted with the new and better covenant made with all God's believing people. The first covenant here spoken of is one "which gendereth to bondage," and if we go back to the Israelitish covenant we find it beginning with the painful rite of circumcision, and connected with a multitude, I might almost say an innumerable multitude, of sacrifices, burdensome to the mind and conscience of the people of God, and with the killing letter of the law. But the other covenant refers to the state of the gospel Church — that gospel Church state in which all believers have a part. If you look again at the context, you find that one of these children was born to the bondmaid and the other to the freewoman; and the character of the birth of these two children exactly answers to the difference which exists between Israelites according to the flesh and the spiritual Israel, who are really God's children by promise. The child that was born to Hagar, Ishmael, was born in the common course of nature; the child that was born to Sarah, Isaac, was born "by promise," and was therefore eminently distinguished from the other. In the one case, we see that the child that was born of the bondmaid was not, so to speak, a free child; and so it is with all who are born by nature; they are all naturally born under bondage to the law. But the child that was born "by promise," when it was contrary to all expectation that Abraham and Sarah should have a child, was born by the direct interference of God, and became the heir of special privileges, of which Ishmael was not allowed to be a partaker. The one, therefore, may be spoken of in plain terms, as having been born — the other may be more correctly spoken of, or at least compared with those who are new born. I have, therefore, in opening up the subject further, first to draw your attention to the persons who are partakers of the promised privileges; because we read at the twenty-eighth verse — "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise." In other words, the apostle intends to teach us that what was figured under Ishmael and Isaac has a direct bearing upon ourselves. The Galatians were a Gentile Church; we then, as Gentiles, have an interest in the promise, and, like Isaac, who was the child of promise, are partakers of special blessings. It is very clear from this passage, first, that these blessings do not belong to those who are only nominally the people of God. We know that the Israelites were in a peculiar manner God's people; but they were not, nationally, to be the inheritors of all the promised blessings which come down to us under the new covenant. Our Lord, in His parable of the husbandmen and the vineyard, illustrates this, when, after having spoken of those wicked husbandmen putting to death the son of the proprietor of the land, He draws the conclusion that the vineyard shall be taken away from them and given to others — in other words, that those who were first God's chosen people were not to continue His chosen people for ever, in a spiritual sense, and that others were to be admitted to the privileges which they had abused. Then, if we have ascertained that the promises do not refer to those who are merely nominally belonging to God, we may say that they do belong to those who are partakers of God's sovereign grace. They are, therefore, the persons who are brought to the Lord Jesus Christ; they are those who through faith in Christ, simply trusting to His merit, are introduced into "the glorious liberty of the children of God." They are those, therefore, who not only belong to God as an outward and visible Church, but as the true invisible Church, which shall be made manifest unto all men, not in our day, but in the great day of the Lord. These, then, are the parties described. They are born not of "a bondmaid," but of "a freewoman; " or, as we read here — "We, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise;" and in the concluding verse — "So, then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free." Now, if this be the case, the moment that we are thus under grace, and partakers of the promised blessings, we are free from ceremonial bondage; we are not looking to any mere outward act or ceremony, but we are made free by the Son of God, and those whom He makes free "are free indeed." But we are not only free from the ceremonial law, but we are free from the terrorism connected with the judgment to come. We are taught, indeed, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, that "we have access by one Spirit unto the Father" through Jesus Christ; for He "came and preached peace to us who were afar off, and to them that were nigh." See, therefore, what our privileges are if we are real believers under the new covenant; see what freedom we enjoy. But though we may all take this joyful view of a believer's privileges, yet we are not to think that the believer has no crosses or trials. Let us turn again to the context, for that which happened to Ishmael and to Isaac is again an illustration of what will happen to believers when brought into contact with the world. The twenty-ninth verse says — "As then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now." We are not to expect that if a man desires to walk blameless, or to carry out such an exhortation as that in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians, to "be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the Word of life" — we are not to expect that he will be left alone. The very fact of his being a light in the midst of a dark world, one who desires constantly to carry out into practice the doctrines he professes to believe, will draw attention to him, be he where he may. And what will be the result? He will be exposed to those very things against which we are taught to pray in our Litany — "the envy, hatred, and malice" which abound in the world. You will see this happening over and over again in every-clay life; and when they cannot catch believers halting, they will" try to "entangle them in their talk. And why should we expect all this? Because our Lord has told us that we must expect it — that "the disciple is not above his Master" — and in that striking chapter, the fifteenth of St. John's Gospel, our Lord has said, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." Persecution, misrepresentation, therefore, must be expected by the Lord's people. As Ishmael mocked and ridiculed Isaac, so we must expect the Ishmaelites of this day to attack and ridicule and persecute you and me, if we are really on the Lord's side. Let us never, then, be surprised for a moment to find that we must experience that which the Word of God has laid down in unmistakable terms — "Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom." The Jews have always shown their hatred to the gospel. We have seen, then, who are to be partakers of the privilege; we have not blinded our eyes — I trust I have not, and you have not — to the treatment we may expect in the world; and now let us see the encouragement which is held out in this portion. "We are the children of promise;" "we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free." The persecuted, then, shall be known, and the persecutors shall be known. There is no overlooking any one, high or low, rich or poor, in the eye of the Lord; His eye "is in every place, beholding the evil and the good." My brethren, if you look at the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, you will find the apostle saying, "We ourselves glory in you in the Churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels." God's eye, therefore, is in every place. The first covenant that was looked to was a national covenant — the covenant that is now looked to is an individual covenant; it is with each one of us personally. The whole passage, therefore, upon which we have been speaking is intended to make every single soul, high or low, rich or poor, cut off all idea of salvation by works, and cultivate a hope of salvation by grace — this is the whole purport of the passage — to lead us to see our own individual interest in the covenant of grace. What a blessing it would be, brethren, if one inspired by God's Holy Spirit could indeed make use of the language of this passage, and standing here address you and me, and say to each person in this congregation — "Ye are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free!" And why should it not be said of us?

(H. M. Villiers, M. A.)

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