Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible

Galatians Ch.4 / 6 Ch.s


* The folly of returning to legal observances for justification.
(1-7) The happy change made in the Gentile believers. (8-11) The
apostle reasons against following false teachers. (12-18) He
expresses his earnest concern for them. (19,20) And then
explains the difference between what is to be expected from the
law, and from the gospel. (21-31)

#1-7 The apostle deals plainly with those who urged the law of
Moses together with the gospel of Christ, and endeavoured to
bring believers under its bondage. They could not fully
understand the meaning of the law as given by Moses. And as that
was a dispensation of darkness, so of bondage; they were tied to
many burdensome rites and observances, by which they were taught
and kept subject like a child under tutors and governors. We
learn the happier state of Christians under the gospel
dispensation. From these verses see the wonders of Divine love
and mercy; particularly of God the Father, in sending his Son
into the world to redeem and save us; of the Son of God, in
submitting so low, and suffering so much for us; and of the Holy
Spirit, in condescending to dwell in the hearts of believers,
for such gracious purposes. Also, the advantages Christians
enjoy under the gospel. Although by nature children of wrath and
disobedience, they become by grace children of love, and partake
of the nature of the children of God; for he will have all his
children resemble him. Among men the eldest son is heir; but all
God's children shall have the inheritance of eldest sons. May
the temper and conduct of sons ever show our adoption; and may
the Holy Spirit witness with our spirits that we are children
and heirs of God.

#8-11 The happy change whereby the Galatians were turned from
idols to the living God, and through Christ had received the
adoption of sons, was the effect of his free and rich grace;
they were laid under the greater obligation to keep to the
liberty wherewith he had made them free. All our knowledge of
God begins on his part; we know him because we are known of him.
Though our religion forbids idolatry, yet many practise
spiritual idolatry in their hearts. For what a man loves most,
and cares most for, that is his god: some have their riches for
their god, some their pleasures, and some their lusts. And many
ignorantly worship a god of their own making; a god made all of
mercy and no justice. For they persuade themselves that there is
mercy for them with God, though they repent not, but go on in
their sins. It is possible for those who have made great
professions of religion, to be afterwards drawn aside from
purity and simplicity. And the more mercy God has shown, in
bringing any to know the gospel, and the liberties and
privileges of it, the greater their sin and folly in suffering
themselves to be deprived of them. Hence all who are members of
the outward church should learn to fear and to suspect
themselves. We must not be content because we have some good
things in ourselves. Paul fears lest his labour is in vain, yet
he still labours; and thus to do, whatever follows, is true
wisdom and the fear of God. This every man must remember in his
place and calling.

#12-18 The apostle desires that they would be of one mind with
him respecting the law of Moses, as well as united with him in
love. In reproving others, we should take care to convince them
that our reproofs are from sincere regard to the honour of God
and religion and their welfare. The apostle reminds the
Galatians of the difficulty under which he laboured when he
first came among them. But he notices, that he was a welcome
messenger to them. Yet how very uncertain are the favour and
respect of men! Let us labour to be accepted of God. You once
thought yourselves happy in receiving the gospel; have you now
reason to think otherwise? Christians must not forbear speaking
the truth, for fear of offending others. The false teachers who
drew the Galatians from the truth of the gospel were designing
men. They pretended affection, but they were not sincere and
upright. An excellent rule is given. It is good to be zealous
always in a good thing; not for a time only, or now and then,
but always. Happy would it be for the church of Christ, if this
zeal was better maintained.

#19,20 The Galatians were ready to account the apostle their
enemy, but he assures them he was their friend; he had the
feelings of a parent toward them. He was in doubt as to their
state, and was anxious to know the result of their present
delusions. Nothing is so sure a proof that a sinner has passed
into a state of justification, as Christ being formed in him by
the renewal of the Holy Spirit; but this cannot be hoped for,
while men depend on the law for acceptance with God.

#21-27 The difference between believers who rested in Christ
only, and those who trusted in the law, is explained by the
histories of Isaac and Ishmael. These things are an allegory,
wherein, beside the literal and historical sense of the words,
the Spirit of God points out something further. Hagar and Sarah
were apt emblems of the two different dispensations of the
covenant. The heavenly Jerusalem, the true church from above,
represented by Sarah, is in a state of freedom, and is the
mother of all believers, who are born of the Holy Spirit. They
were by regeneration and true faith, made a part of the true
seed of Abraham, according to the promise made to him.

#28-31 The history thus explained is applied. So then, brethren,
we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free. If the
privileges of all believers were so great, according to the new
covenant, how absurd for the Gentile converts to be under that
law, which could not deliver the unbelieving Jews from bondage
or condemnation! We should not have found out this allegory in
the history of Sarah and Hagar, if it had not been shown to us,
yet we cannot doubt it was intended by the Holy Spirit. It is an
explanation of the subject, not an argument in proof of it. The
two covenants of works and grace, and legal and evangelical
professors, are shadowed forth. Works and fruits brought forth
in a man's own strength, are legal. But if arising from faith in
Christ, they are evangelical. The first covenant spirit is of
bondage unto sin and death. The second covenant spirit is of
liberty and freedom; not liberty to sin, but in and unto duty.
The first is a spirit of persecution; the second is a spirit of
love. Let those professors look to it, who have a violent,
harsh, imposing spirit, towards the people of God. Yet as
Abraham turned aside to Hagar, so it is possible a believer may
turn aside in some things to the covenant of works, when through
unbelief and neglect of the promise he acts according to the
law, in his own strength; or in a way of violence, not of love,
towards the brethren. Yet it is not his way, not his spirit to
do so; hence he is never at rest, till he returns to his
dependence on Christ again. Let us rest our souls on the
Scriptures, and by a gospel hope and cheerful obedience, show
that our conversation and treasure are indeed in heaven.