Posted on FM last year: “WE HAVE NO superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority.” – Spurgeon
A. W. Pink
1. The Duty Itself: “Obey Your Parents.” This means a humble subjection to their authority and control, with a ready performance of what they require. It is the same as giving “honor” to your parents (Exod. 20:12), which connotes valuing highly and revering one’s parents (Lev. 19:3, 14). The disposition of a godly child is a combination of love and fear which moves him to obedience. We may further describe four elements. The first three are active obedience, while the fourth is passive obedience.
A. Reverence. Begins with reverence for God, the Parent of us all (Acts 17:28). True reverence results in an earnest desire to behave yourselves in everything you do with a view toward pleasing your parents.
1) With respect to your speech. You should speak reverently of your parents both in their presence and absence. Give them honorable titles like “father” and “mother” and “lord” because these recognize the dignity of their office. Good examples include Isaac (Gen. 22:7), Jacob (Gen. 27:18), David (1 Sam. 24:8; 26:18), Solomon (1 Kings 2:30), Rachel (Gen. 31:35). You should speak when spoken to, wait to hear your parents speak first, and never to speak in their presence without a good reason for it. When they are not around, speak of them in such a way that all who hear conclude that you regard them highly.
2) With respect to your behavior. Rise for your parents, as for the elderly (Lev. 19:32). Although king, Solomon bowed to Bathsheba; and although a prince, Joseph to Jacob (1 Kings. 2:19; Gen. 46:29). Seek your parents’ prayers for blessing. Avoid rude and haughty looks. The eye that mocks his father and scorns obedience to his mother shall be picked out by ravens and young eagles (Prov. 30:17). Even when parents are deceased you should give them honor.
B. Obedience proper. Not only reverent speech and conduct before parents is required, but a heartfelt submission to their authority and hearty compliance with all their commands. Even Jesus submitted Himself to His mother and step-father (Luke 2:51). He who was their Creator, and to whom angels were subject, was subject to Mary and Joseph!
1) Pay close attention to their teaching. Love for your parent’s joy should move you to listen carefully to all they teach, whether spiritual or otherwise. This applies equally to both sons and daughters. A foolish child is a grief to his parents.
2) Perform their commands. Don’t talk back! This immediate and silent obedience is the main duty of the text. You should obey as the centurion’s men (Matt. 8:9). Examples include Samuel (1 Sam. 3:5-8), David (1 Sam. 16:12; 17:17, 20), Jacob and Joseph (Gen. 28:5; 37:14; 42:2-3), Isaac (Gen. 22:6); the Rechabites (Jer. 35:8-19), Abraham’s children (Gen. 18:19), and Solomon (1 Kings 2:3; 3:3; 1 Chron. 22:11). Yet this is not to be a blind obedience (Prov. 14:15), especially as you grow up to exercise some moral discernment of your own. Then your obedience should be reasonable, such as is according to God’s Word. That is, you should comply in everything that does not involve sin.
3) Depend upon their advice. Parents naturally have more experience, ability, and a right to rule their children than the children themselves. The prodigal son would not listen to his father’s advice until he had learned by experience of the bad consequences of his foolish choice and had grieved his father. Therefore, as a child you cannot spend money without your parents’ consent, you cannot choose friends disagreeable to your parents, and you must be content to dress the way your parents want.
a. In your choice of a career. Your parents should guide you in this, as the examples of David and the children of Jonadab prove (1 Sam. 16:11, 19; 17:17; Jer. 35). Generally this means following in your parents’ footsteps.
b. In your choice of a spouse. Parents should “sway much” in this matter. Examples include Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 24:6-7, 63-67; 28:1-3; 29:11, 18-19), Ruth (Ruth 2:21-23; 3:1-6, 18), Ishmael and Samson (Gen. 21:21; Judg. 14:2), Tamar and Shechem (2 Sam. 13:13; Gen. 34:11-12). Parents are wiser than you, more objective than you, and should not have their children taken away without their consent. This would be a kind of stealing. To take a wife against her father’s will is a disparagement of him. This is the most important decision you will make in your life; how can you leave your parents out of it? In the case of their choosing someone for whom you have no feelings, be sure that your lack of feelings are not without reason. If after much prayer you still find yourself unwilling to marry their choice for you, then try to persuade your parents in a reverent way to seek someone else for you to marry. Surely you cannot be expected to marry someone whom you do not love. In the case of parents choosing an ungodly partner for you, you must humbly refuse. The best counselors agree that though you do not have the right to choose a partner for yourself without your parents’ consent, you do have the right to refuse one chosen for you.
4) Follow their good example. Imitate whatever is good in them. This is why the wise man charged his son to observe his ways (Prov. 23:26). Follow them as they follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Do not follow them in their errors as an excuse for your sin. Mere tradition received from parents is no reason to sin against God (Ezek. 20:18-20). Solomon, Asa, and Timothy are your examples here (1 Kings 3:3; 2 Kings 22:2; 1 Kings 15:11; 2 Tim. 1:5). In other words, try to be like your dad. This is the way you pay greatest honor to him.
C. Heartfelt gratitude and endeavor to repay them. You owe much to your parents.
1) Respecting their benevolence. Show a gratefulness for their kindness and supply of your needs. Be eager to repay their provision in any way that you can. The smallest thing you can do is to acknowledge their parental love and care. Without this you are not truly spiritual but wicked. Piety must begin at home by showing your appreciation for your parents. Treasure their wise sayings, rehearse before others what they have done well, and choose their religion, if it be right. Preserve their good name.
2) Respecting their poverty. Cover or bear with their faults, do what you can to supply their needs, and defend their reputation. Noah and Lot, Isaac and Jacob had their faults as parents, and their children covered them (Gen. 9:21-23; 27:12; 28:5; 37:10). So did Jonathan, Jesus, Jacob, Ruth, Joseph have parents with faults and needs, and they moved to their aid. Philo says that old storks who cannot fly any longer are brought food by their brood, and we should imitate their example. Especially should you be concerned about your parents’ spiritual needs, so that if they are not Christians, with all humility and prudence you should use fit means to lead them to Christ. The best you can do for your parents will not be sufficient to repay them for their love. When your parents die, see that they have an honorable burial in a decent Christian manner.
D. Submission to parental discipline. As a child, you must bear your parents’ rebukes with humility. Because you were born sinful, you need them.
1) Their admonitions. Nothing should shame you more than your father’s reprimand, and you should amend in response to it. Even when they rebuke you wrongly in matter and manner, you should bear with it, as Joseph did (Gen. 37:10). Moses heeded his father-in-law’s advice (Exod. 18:13-24), but Eli’s sons slighted his (1 Sam. 2:25). Only fools will not hear rebuke (Prov. 13:1; 2:23, 34-35; 15:5). Be patient with parental restrictions on your food, drink, clothing, and recreation. Learn self-denial and patience. Isn’t it inappropriate to rage against those who love you best?
2) Their corrections. I mean real punishments inflicted upon you. Realize they do this out of love and aim for your good. There is biblical warrant for corporal discipline (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 19:17; Heb. 12:9), and if you will not be reformed by it, your parents have a right to call in the magistrate (Deut. 21:18-21). When you are corrected, you should be too ashamed even to look into your parent’s face. Though you need not tolerate others to spank you, your parents have this right for the purpose of delivering your soul from hell. Pray that God will bless this means of grace to your good. Do not become bitter toward your parents for disciplining you. Your parents have a responsibility with God’s authority to maintain His government in your life.
2. The Extent of This Duty: “In All Things.” This must not be understood as universal and absolute obedience to parents, for that is our duty to God alone. God is the only One free to give whatever laws He pleases which all are absolutely bound to obey. You are to obey your parents in all things acceptable to the Lord (Eph. 6:1, 5-6; Col. 3:22-23). If parents were not sinful, absolute obedience could be rendered them, but they are fallen and fallible. This text proves that the only obedience to be rendered parents is that which is consistent with the Lord’s pleasure, and He cannot be pleased when you choose to obey them rather than Him. Yet even in wrong things they command you to do, you may show your submission by suffering the penalty with cheerfulness (1 Pet. 2:19-20). In all legitimate things, you must honor your parents as much as you can.
3. The Motive to This Duty: “For This Is Well Pleasing to the Lord.” This is the best motive possible for anything. The Lord vigorously enforces the fifth commandment here and elsewhere (Eph. 6:1-3). Our heavenly Father has supreme authority. Anything He requires is eminently reasonable and good. Those who seek His pleasure above all things are not only pleasing, but well pleasing, to Him. In pleasing the Lord you will ultimately please your parents and yourself besides. This is the way to your true happiness. In keeping God’s commandments there is exceedingly great reward (Psa. 19:11; Gen. 15:1). All parents due to their high and holy office deserve the obedience of their children. Disobedient children are unworthy of being considered Christians, and are worse than ordinary unbelievers and brute beasts. Obedience to parents is not an arbitrary thing, but a solemn divine commandment with the greatest of rewards and punishments attached. As children of Christian parents, having high privileges, you have greater responsibilities to fulfill your duty. Lack of natural affection of your parents is so monstrous that it is severely punished by God (1 Sam. 4:11; Deut. 21:20-21). The old Romans would put those who murdered their parents into a large ox-hide bag together with a live dog, a rooster, a poisonous snake, and an ape. Then they would beat them bloody, throw them into the Tiber River. That shows how abominable parricide was even to the heathen.
“What is the nature of the federal union of an unregenerate person in the covenant of grace to Jesus Christ, and do they remain under Adam’s federal headship in spite of being in the covenant of grace (?) which is to say, can you be in the covenant of works and the covenant of grace at the same time? We would assert that you cannot.”
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 King James Version (KJV)
Prof. Herman Hanko on Matthew 5 and God’s Love:
In general, there is no question about it that this is a key passage in the defense of God’s attitude of grace and love towards all men. Every defender of common grace that I have read or listened to has quoted this text as decisive in the debate. And all defenders of common grace assure us that this passage ought to mark the end of all debate.
The text itself reads: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and unjust.”
The argument as I understand it goes like this. God sends rain on the just and on the unjust. The common rain that God sends is proof of His favor, love, kindness, etc. towards the unregenerate. Rain is God’s common grace.
Sometimes the argument is turned around, in the interests of showing that all who receive rain actually do receive favor. The argument goes like this: We are called to do good to the just and to the unjust. For us that doing good to the just and unjust includes all men without any distinction, or, at least, includes elect and reprobate alike, for we are unable to distinguish between them. Because we are imitating God as His children, in doing good to all, God also does good to all.
We may not, however, argue from our calling to love our neighbor as ourselves to God’s attitude of favor towards all men. We are creatures, living here in the world, in the world though not of the world. God is God, sovereign over all who does all His good pleasure. Known unto God are all His works from the beginning. We do not know who are God’s elect and who are reprobate. But God does know, for He determines it all. We ought to keep this in mind.
An important question that arises from the text is: Whom does Jesus mean by “the just and unjust” upon whom God sends rain? Does Jesus mean: good men in this world and bad men in this world? That is, men who deserve rain and sunshine and men who do not? The answer, very obviously, is: The text cannot mean that, for there are no just people in the world, for “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10).
Does it then mean to distinguish between those who are righteous because the perfect satisfaction for sin earned on the cross has been imputed to them, and those who are still in their sins and not righteous in Christ? That is, is the distinction between just and unjust a distinction between elect and reprobate? It would seem that the latter would have to be the meaning. But then the text means only, as we have repeatedly observed, that God manifests that He is a good God by giving good things to men, something no one denies. The question still remains: What is God’s attitude and purpose behind these good gifts? And then Psalm 73 and Proverbs 3:33 give us the answer.
But the whole idea that God loves the reprobate is an imposition on the text of man’s own devising.
A positive explanation of the text would, I think, be helpful.
Actually, I dealt with some of the issues in this verse in my last letters and I ask the reader to consult what I wrote there. There is some repetition here, therefore, but perhaps the points are worth repeating.
Before I take our journey through this text, it is necessary to put the text into its context. In the broader context Scripture gives us Jesus’ words in His Sermon on the Mount. This sermon is spoken to the disciples and, more broadly, to all citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The Sermon on the Mount has frequently and rightly been called, “The Constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven.” After describing the characteristics of the citizens of the kingdom in the Beatitudes, the Lord lays down fundamental principles that govern the lives of these citizens while they are still in this world. Note this: Jesus is laying down principles of conduct to be observed by those who are citizens of the kingdom.
In the section of which verses 44, 45 are a part, beginning with verse 21, Jesus is explaining how He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. And in connection with His calling and work to fulfill the law, He condemns the keeping of the law as it was explained by the scribes and Pharisees. They saw the law only as an external code of conduct and paid no attention to the spiritual demands of the law: Love God, and love thy neighbor. Even to the command, Love thy neighbor, the Pharisees had added the command, Hate thy enemy (verse 43). This interpretation was indeed what the Pharisees taught, for in verses 46 and 47 the Lord adds, “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans the same?”
The evil interpretation of the law by the Pharisees was basically a self-centered conceit: I will be nice only to those who are nice to me . . . .
In other words, the command of God to love our neighbors as ourselves had been corrupted and abused by the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes. They had interpreted “neighbor” as referring to their brethren, and, even more narrowly, to those who loved them. The Lord warns the citizens of the kingdom not to do as the Pharisees, for that is not the law of God.
But the Pharisees forgot that the command to love our neighbor is rooted in and flows from the command to love God. We cannot love our neighbor without loving God. And, indeed, our love for our neighbor is a manifestation of our love for God. Furthermore, the love the citizens of the kingdom who love God must show to others is a manifestation of the fact that they are loved by God (I John 4:19). The Pharisees, when they interpreted the command, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and interpreted it to mean that we are to love those who love us, immediately had to face the question: Does God love those who love Him? What a foolish question to ask. The answer obviously is, He does not! Jesus’ answer demonstrates that God loves those who hate Him, though they be elect.
The term “neighbor” in the law of God is broader by far than our brethren and those who love us. That it has a broader connotation is evident from the parable of “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37). In this parable Jesus explains that we are neighbors to anyone whom we meet or walk with on our life’s pathway, who is in need of our help. That means that our neighbors are not only those who unexpectedly cross our pathway and need our help, but also those with whom we walk on life’s pathway every moment of our lives, but who need our help: our wives or husbands, our children, out fellow saints . . . . Quite frankly, I have a great deal of difficulty accepting the hypocritically pious prating of the ministers who are continuously telling us to love our neighbor, but who divorce their own wives and marry others. Let them first love their neighbor nearest to them, their wives and their children.
For all that, we are also called to love the neighbor who is quite obviously an unbeliever. That is, we are called to love our neighbor without discriminating between those who love us and those who persecute us. We are not to love those only who love us. God does not love those who love Him. God does not love those who make themselves worthy of His love. He loves us, the worst of sinners. If we are children of our Father, therefore, we love those who do not love us. But those whom God loves are those wicked and undeserving people who are nevertheless those for whom Christ died.
The point of comparison between God’s love and our love is: God loves unworthy sinners (though they are the elect whom God knows) and we are to love unworthy sinners (though we do not know elect from reprobate.) In doing so we imitate our Father in heaven.
We may very well ask the question: Why does God want us to love our neighbor and not only our brethren? The very obvious answer to that question is: We do not know who are our brethren (or will become our brethren), and who are not. That is why the Pharisees interpreted the command to love our neighbor as referring to those who love them. If, said the Pharisees, a person loves us, he must be one of our brethren and we ought to love him.
This was very perverse and wicked. We do not even know with absolute certainty who among our brethren are truly people of God; much less do we know of those outside the circle of our brethren who are true people of God. Luther was right when he said that there would be many in heaven who surprised him by their presence, and there would be many he thought to meet in heaven who were not there. Hypocrites are to be found in the church and God’s people are to be found outside the circle of “brethren”, though they may as yet be unconverted. God knows who are His own; we do not know with absolute certainty. Nor need we know. It is enough for us to live in fellowship with those who manifest themselves as faithful servants of Christ, with whom we live in our homes and in the communion of the saints. Going back all the way to Calvin and our Reformed fathers after him and following them, we must exercise towards those who profess to be believers “the judgment of charity,” or “the judgment of love.”
But God is pleased to save His church from the world of unbelief. He is pleased to save His church by the preaching of the gospel. The effect of the preaching of the gospel is that God’s people are His witnesses in the world of sin; and the witness of God’s people is itself the power of the preaching within them. God uses the witness of Christians to bring His people outside the church into the fellowship of the saints and under the preaching. This is God’s reason for the command to love our neighbor.
As Jesus makes clear, our neighbor is anyone who comes in our pathway: our wives or husbands, our children, our fellow saints, the man next to us in the shop, the man who knocks on our door to ask for food, the man who threatens us with harm, the man who persecutes us – these and all the rest who, if only fleetingly, enter our lives. God brings them there. God has His purpose in bringing them there. That purpose is to hear our witness of what God has done for us. We do good to those on our pathway whom God has put there.
We who are husbands surely seek the salvation of our wives. We do all we can to help them fulfill their own calling in the home and in the church. We surely seek the salvation of our children, for we teach them the ways of God’s covenant and insist that they walk in those ways. We surely seek the salvation of our fellow saints, for we earnestly desire to go to heaven with them.
The command to love our neighbor is broader than showing love to our acquaintances. We are to love those whose pathway crosses our pathway and who, like the wounded Samaritan, block our path so that we have to go around them if we are to ignore them. God put him on our pathway and did so for a good purpose.
A. W. Pink concurs:
Thou hatest all workers of iniquitynot merely the works of iniquity. Here, then, is a flat repudiation of present teaching that, God hates sin but loves the sinner; Scripture says, Thou hatest all workers of iniquity (Ps. 5:5)! God is angry with the wicked every day. He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of Godnot shall abide, but even nowabideth on him (Ps. 5:5; 8:11; John 3:36). Can God love the one on whom His wrath abides? Again; is it not evident that the words The love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39) mark a limitation, both in the sphere and objects of His love? Again; is it not plain from the words Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated (Rom. 9:13) that God does not love everybody? Is it conceivable that God will love the damned in the Lake of Fire? Yet, if He loves them now He will do so then, seeing that His love knows no changeHe is without variableness or shadow of turning! (A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God)
Those of our readers who are particularly interested in the divine covenants would be disappointed if we closed our lengthy comments thereon and ignored the last eleven verses of Galatians 4, and therefore we feel it necessary to devote a chapter to their consideration. That this passage is far from being free of difficulties appears from the diverse expositions of the commentators, for scarcely any two of them agree even in substance. Nor will the limited space now at our disposal allow us to enter into as full an elucidation as could be wished, nor permit the pausing now and again to furnish collateral proofs for what is advanced, as would be our desire. Brevity has its advantages, but it does not always make for clarity. We must, however, content ourselves now with a comparatively terse running comment on this passage, and that, according to the limited light which we have there from.
Galatians 4:21-31 is in several respects very similar to the contents of 2 Corinthians 3. In each case the apostle is opposing himself to the errors which had been sedulously propagated amongst his converts by Judaizers. In each case he shows that the fundamental issue between them concerned the covenants, for any teacher who is confused thereon is certain to go astray in all his preaching. In each case the apostle appeals to well-known incidents in the Old Testament Scripture, and with the wisdom given him from above proceeds to bring out the deep spiritual meaning thereof. In each case he establishes conclusively the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism, and thus completely undermined the very foundations of his adversaries’ position. Though of peculiar importance to those unto whom the apostle wrote immediately, yet this passage contains not a little of great value for us today.
“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” (Gal. 4:21). Here the apostle addresses himself to those who had been lending a ready ear to their spiritual enemies. By his “ye that desire to be under the law” was signified those who hankered after subjection to Judaism. His “do ye not hear the law?” means, Are you willing to listen unto what is recorded in the first book of the Pentateuch and have pointed out to you the dispensational significance of the same? Paul’s design was to show those who were so anxious to be circumcised and submit themselves to the whole Mosaic system, that, so far from such a course being honorable and beneficial, it would be fraught with danger and disgrace. To yield unto those who sought to seduce them spiritually would inevitably result in “bondage” (see 4:9) and not “liberty” (5:1). To prevent this, he begs them to listen to what God had said.
“For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was born of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory” (w. 22-24). Very remarkable indeed is this, for we are here divinely informed that not merely did the Mosaic rites possess a typical significance, but the lives of the patriarchs themselves had a figurative meaning. Not only so, but their affairs were so controlled by providence that they were shaped to shadow forth coming events of vast magnitude. Paul was here moved by the Spirit to inform us that the domestic occurrences in Abraham’s household were a parable in action, which parable he had interpreted for us. Thus we are granted an insight to passages in Genesis which no human wisdom could possibly have penetrated.
The transactions in the family of Abraham were divinely ordered to presage important dispensational epochs. The domestic affairs of the patriarch’s household were invested with a prophetic significance. The historical incidents recorded in Genesis 16 and 21 possessed a typical meaning, contained beneath their surface spiritual truths of profound importance. The apostle here reminds his readers of the circumstances recorded of the two wives of Abraham, and of their respective offspring, and declares that the mothers adumbrated the two covenants, and their sons, the respective tendencies and results of those covenants. In other words, Sarah and Hagar are to be viewed as the representatives of the two covenants, and the sons which they bore as representatives of the kind of worshipers which those covenants were fitted to produce.
“For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid the other by a freewoman.” The apostle’s design was to wean those Galatians who were Judaistically inclined from their strange infatuation for an obsolete and servile system, by unfolding to them its true nature. This he does by referring them to an emblematic representation of the two economies. Abraham had a number of other sons besides Ishmael and Isaac, but it is to them alone-the circumstances of their birth, subsequent conduct, history, and fate-that Paul’s discussion exclusively relates.
In her unbelief and impatience (unwilling to wait for God to make good His word in His own time and way) Sarah gave her maid to Abraham in order that he might not be wholly without posterity. Though this caused confusion and brought trouble upon all concerned, yet it was ordained by God to presage great dispensational distinctions, nor did it in any wise thwart the accomplishment of His eternal purpose. “Abraham had two sons”: Ishmael, the son of an Egyptian, a bondslave; Isaac the son of Sarah, a free woman, of the same rank as her husband. As we have already said, these two mothers prefigured the two covenants, and their children the worshipers which those covenants tended to produce.
“But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise” (v. 23). Great as was the disparity between the two mothers, greater still was the difference between the way in which their respective sons were born. Ishmael was born in the ordinary course of generation, for “after the flesh” signifies to the carnal counsel which Sarah gave to Abraham, and by the mere strength of nature. In connection with the birth of Ishmael there was not any special promise given, nor any extraordinary divine interposition. Vastly different was it in the case of Isaac, for he was the child of promise and born in direct consequence of the miracle working power of God, and was under the benefit of that promise as long as he lived. What is here specially emphasized by the apostle is that the son of the slave was in an inferior condition from the very beginning.
“Which things are an allegory” (v. 24). An allegory is a parabolic method of conveying instruction, spiritual truths being set forth under material figures. Allegories are in words what hieroglyphics are in printing, both of which abound among the Orientals—Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the best-sustained allegory in the English language. “For these (feminine) are the two covenants” (v. 24). Here the apostle proceeds to give us the occult meaning of the historical facts alluded to in the preceding verse. He affirms that the domestic incidents in the family of Abraham constituted a divinely ordained illustration of the basic principles in regard to the condition of spiritual slaves and of spiritual freemen, and are to be regarded as adumbrating the bondage which subjection to the law of Moses produced and the liberty which submission to the gospel secures.
“These are the two covenants.” This cannot of course be understood literally, for it was neither intelligible nor true that Sarah and Hagar were actually two covenants in their own persons. The words is and are frequently have the force of represent. When Christ affirmed of the sacramental bread “This is my body,” He meant, this bread emblemizes My body. When we read of the cliff smitten by Moses in the wilderness (out of which gushed the stream of living water) “that rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4), it obviously signifies, that rock prefigured Christ. So too when we are told “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (Rev. 1:20), we are to understand that the one symbolized the other.
“These are the two covenants.” There has been much difference of opinion as to exactly which covenants are intended. Some insist that the reference is to the everlasting covenant of grace and the Adamic or covenant of works; others argue it is the Abrahamic or covenant of promise and the Sinaitic; while others conclude it is the Sinaitic and the Christian or that which is made with the people of God in the gospel. Really, it is more a matter of terms than anything else, for whatever nomenclature we adopt it comes to much the same thing. “The one from mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Hagar” (v. 24): by which is meant, that order of things under which the nation of Israel was placed at Sinai, appointed for the purpose of keeping them a separate people, and which because of its legalistic nature was fitly foreshadowed by the bondslave.
“The one [covenant] from mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage” or produces those of a servile spirit, for it made slaves of all who sought justification and salvation by their own doings. It is to be carefully borne in mind that the relation entered into between God and Israel at Sinai was entirely a natural one, being made with the nation as such; and consequently all their descendants, upon their being circumcised, automatically became subjects of it without any spiritual change being wrought in them. “So far as this covenant gave birth to any children, those were not true children of God, free, spiritual, with hearts of filial confidence and devoted love; but miserable bondmen, selfish, carnal, full of mistrust and fear. Of these children of the Sinaitic covenant we are furnished with the most perfect exemplar in the Scribes and Pharisees of our Lord’s time” (P. Fairbairn).
“For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia” (v. 25). Here again “is” signifies “represents”: Hagar prophetically anticipated and prefigured Mount Sinai-not the literal mount, but that covenant which Jehovah there entered into with the nation of Israel. Nor is this mode of expression by any means unusual in Scripture: when representing Samaria and Jerusalem by two women the prophet said, “Samaria is Aholah and Jerusalem Aholibah” (Ezek. 23:4). “And answereth to Jerusalem which now is” (v. 25). “Answereth to” signifies “corresponds with,” or as the margin gives it, “is in the same rank with”: the origin, status, and condition of Hagar supplied an exact analogy to the state of Jerusalem in the apostle’s time. Jerusalem, which was the metropolis of Palestine and the headquarters of its religion, stands for Judaism.
“And is in bondage with her children” (v. 25). Judaism was subject to an endless round of ceremonial institutions, which the apostles themselves declared to be a yoke “which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10). Those under it enjoyed none of that spiritual liberty which the gospel bestows upon those who submit to its terms. That large part of the nation which had no interest in the covenant of promise made with Abraham (whereof faith was an indispensable prerequisite for entering into the good of it), was indeed outwardly a part of Abraham’s family and members of the visible church (as Hagar was a member of his family); yet (like Ishmael) they were born in servitude, and all their outward obedience was of a slavish character, and their privileges (as his) but carnal and temporal.
“But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (v. 26). Here Paul shows what was prefigured by Sarah. Three things are said in describing the covenant and constitution of which she was the appropriate emblem, each of which must be duly noted in the framing of our definition.
1. “Jerusalem which is above.” This word “above” (ano) is generally employed of location, and would thus signify the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22) in contrast from the earthly. But here it is placed in antithesis from “which now is” (v. 25) and would thus mean the prior and primitive Jerusalem, of which Melchizedek was king (Heb. 7:2) and to whose order of priesthood Christ’s pertains. Or the “above” may have the force of excellency or supremacy, as in “high calling” (Phil. 3:14). Combining the three: Sarah shadowed forth the entire election of grace, all true believers from the beginning to the end of time.
2. Which “is free”: such was the status and state of Sarah in contrast from that of Hagar, the bondslave. Suitably did Sarah set forth that spiritual liberty which is to be found in Christ, for He redeems all His people from the bondage of sin and death. Believing Gentiles are freed from the curse of the moral law, and believing Jews are freed from the dominion of the ceremonial law as well.
3. “Which is the mother of us all.” The reference is not to the church either visible or invisible, for she cannot be the parent of herself; rather is it the everlasting covenant of grace which is in view, in which were included all true believers. Thus the differences between the systems represented by Hagar and Sarah are: the one was earthly, carnal, slavish, temporary; the other, heavenly, spiritual, free, eternal.
“For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that barest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath a husband” (v. 27). This was obviously brought in by Paul to confirm the interpretation he had made of the covenant allegory. It is a quotation from the predictions of Isaiah. Four things call for our consideration: (1) the needs-be for this comforting promise which God then gave; (2) the precise place in Isaiah’s prophecy from which this quotation is taken; (3) the particular manner in which it is here introduced; (4) its striking pertinency to the apostle’s purpose.
The needs-be for this reassuring word given by the Lord to His believing yet sorrowing people in the days of Isaiah is not difficult to perceive, if we bear in mind the exact terms of the promise originally given to the patriarch and his wife, and then consider the state of Israel under Judaism. The grand promise to Abraham was that he should be “a father of many nations” (Gen. 17:4) and that Sarah should be “a mother of nations” (Gen. 17:16). But at Sinai Sarah’s natural children were placed under a covenant which erected a middle wall of partition, shutting them off from all other nations. How rigorous the restrictions of the covenant were and the exclusiveness it produced, appear plainly in the unwillingness of Peter (till supernaturally authorized by God) to enter the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:28).
The Sinaitic covenant consisted largely in “meats and drinks and carnal ordinances”; yet was it imposed only “till the time of reformation” (Heb. 9:10). It was well adapted to Israel after the flesh, for it encouraged them to obedience by the promise of temporal prosperity and restrained by fear of temporal judgments. Amid the great mass of the unregenerate Jews there was always a remnant according to the election of grace, whose heart God had touched (I Sam. 10:26), in whose heart was His law (Isa. 51:7). But the nation as a whole had become thoroughly corrupt by the time of Isaiah, being deaf to the voice of Jehovah and fast ripening for judgment (1:2-6). The godly portion had diminished to “a very small remnant” (1:9), and the outlook was fearfully dark. It was to strengthen the faith of the spiritual and comfort their hearts that Isaiah was raised up.
The quotation here made by Paul was from Isaiah 54:1, and its very location intimated clearly that it looked forward to gospel times; for coming immediately after that graphic description of the Redeemer’s sufferings in the previous chapter, it at once suggests that we are then given a picture of those new covenant conditions which followed His death. This is ever God’s way: in the darkest night He causes the stars of hope to shed forth their welcome light, bidding His people to look beyond the gloomy present to the brighter future. God had not forgotten His promise to the patriarch; and though many centuries had intervened, the coming of His Son would make good the ancient oracles, for all the divine promises are established in Christ (2 Cor. 1:19, 20).
Let us next note the manner in which Paul introduces Isaiah’s prediction into his discussion: “For it is written.” It is clear that the apostle cites the prophet to establish what he had affirmed regarding the allegorical significance of the circumstances of Abraham’s household. This at once fixes for us the elucidation of the prophecy. Paul had pointed out that Abraham had sons by two diverse wives, that those sons represented the different type of worshipers which the two covenants produced, that Sarah (as representing the Abrahamic covenant), which he here likened unto “Jerusalem which is above,” is “the mother of us all.” In turn, Isaiah refers to two women, views them allegorically, apostrophizing the one as “barren” and contrasting her from one “who had a husband,” assuring the former of a far more numerous progeny.
How pertinent Isaiah’s prediction was to the apostle’s argument is evident. His design was to turn away the hearts of the Galatians from Judaism, and to accomplish this he demonstrates that that system had been superseded by something far more blessed and spiritually productive. “For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren.” Whom was the prophet there addressing? Immediately, the godly remnant in Israel, the children of faith, those who had their standing in and derived their blessing from the Abrahamic covenant. Isaiah addressed them in the terms of the allegory. Just as the historical Sarah was childless for many years after she became the wife of Abraham, so the mystical Sarah (Abrahamic covenant) had for long centuries shown no sign whatever of coming to fruition. But as the literal Sarah ultimately became a mother, so the mystical one should bear a numerous seed.
Marvelous indeed are the ways of God, and remarkably is His decree wrought out through His providences. That parable in action in the household of Abraham contemplated that which took thousands of years to unfold. First, was the marriage between Abraham and Sarah, which symbolized the covenant union between God and His people. Second, for many years Sarah remained barren, foreshadowing that lengthy period during which God’s purpose in that covenant was suspended. Third, Hagar, the bondslave, took Sarah’s place in the family of Abraham, typifying his natural descendants being placed under the Sinaitic covenant. Fourth, Hagar did not permanently supplant Sarah, adumbrating the fact that Judaism was of but temporary duration. Fifth, ultimately Sarah came into her own and was divinely enabled to bear a supernatural seed-emblem of the spiritual children of God under the new covenant.
“Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not.” The Abrahamic covenant is here represented as a wife who (like Sarah) had long remained childless. Comparatively few real children had been raised up to God among the Jews from Moses onward. True, the nation was in outward covenant with Him, and thus was (like Hagar in the type) “she who hath a husband”; but all the fruit they bore was like unto Ishmaelthat which was merely natural, the product of the flesh. But the death of Christ was to alter all this: though the Jews would reject Him, there should be a great accession to the spiritual family of Abraham from among the Gentiles, so that there would be a far greater number of saints under the new covenant than had pertained under the old.
“Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise” (v. 28). Here the apostle begins his application of the allegory. As Sarah prefigured the covenant of grace, so Isaac represented the true children of God. Paul was here addressing himself to his spiritual brethren, and therefore the “we” includes all who are born from above believing Gentiles as well as Jews. “We,” the children of the new covenant, represented in the allegory by Isaac. Our standing and state is essentially different from Ishmael’s, for he (like the great mass of those under the Sinaitic covenant) belong to the ordinary course of mere nature; whereas genuine Christians are “the children of promise”—of that made to Abraham, which, in turn, made manifest what God had “promised before the world began” (Titus 1:2). The relation into which believers are brought with God originates in a miracle of grace which was the subject of divine promise.
“But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now” (v. 29). Here the apostle brings in a further detail supplied by the allegory which was germane to his subject. He refers to the opposition made against Isaac by the son of Hagar, recorded in Genesis 21:9. This received its counterpart in the attitude of the Judaizers toward Christians. They who still adhered to the old covenant were hostile to those who enjoyed the freedom of the new. Probably one reason why the apostle mentioned this particular was in order to meet an objection: How can we be the “children of promise” (God’s high favorites) seeing we are so bitterly hated and opposed by the Jews? The answer is, No marvel, for thus it was from the beginning: the carnal have ever persecuted the spiritual.
“Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman” (v. 30). Here is the final point in the allegory (taken from Gen. 21:10, 12) and which incontestably clinched the apostle’s argument that Israel after the flesh are finally set aside by God. Hagar represented the Sinaitic covenant and Ishmael its carnal worshipers, and their being cast out of Abraham’s household prophetically signified God’s setting aside of Judaism and the fact that the natural descendants of Abraham had no place among his spiritual children and could not share their heritage (cf. John 8:34, 35). The two cannot unite: pure Christianity necessarily excludes Judaism. In its wider application (for today): none who seek salvation by law keeping shall enter heaven.
“So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free” (v. 31). Here the plain and inescapable conclusion is drawn: since Christians are the children of promise, they and not carnal Jews are the true heirs of Abraham. Since the new covenant is superior to the old and believers in Christ are freed from all debasing servitude, it obviously follows they must conduct themselves as the Lord’s free-men. The time had now arrived when to cling to Judaism was fatal. The controversy turned on the question of who are the real heirs of Abraham-see 3:7, 16, 29. In chapter 4 the apostle exposes the empty pretensions of those who could claim only fleshly descent from the patriarch. We are the children of Abraham, said the Judaizers. Abraham had two sons, replies Paul-the one of free, the other of servile birth: to which line do you belong? whose spirit have you received?
To sum up. Paul’s design was to deliver the Galatians from the Judaizers. He showed that by submitting to Judaism they would forfeit the blessings of Christianity. This he accomplished by opening up the profound significance of the covenant allegory, which presented three principal contrasts: birth by nature as opposed to grace; a state of bondage as opposed to liberty; a status of temporary tenure as opposed to permanent possession. Just as Hagar was rightfully the handmaid of Sarah but was wrongfully accorded the position of Abraham’s wife, so the Sinaitic covenant was designed to supplement the Abrahamic but was perverted by the Jews when they sought from it salvation and fruitfulness.
The traditional method of Scriptural interpretation used by Protestants is well summed by the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), Chapter 1, Article 9:
Historic Baptist/Protestant View
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.
Viewed from another vantage point is Augustine’s oft quoted saying that “the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and that the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed“.
According to Plan (Goldsworthy)
One small modern book that teaches Bible students how to study the Bible in light of the full revelation of Christ is Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. Goldsworthy highlights the key events of the Bible, such as creation, the fall, the promises to Noah, the call of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt to Israel, the giving of the law, the wilderness temptation, the conquest of Canaan, the beginning of the monarchy, the Exile of Israel to Babylon, the prophetic promises, the coming of Christ, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the future consummation. He does so in a way which emphasizes that all of Scripture points to Christ and finds its ultimate fulfillment in Him.
Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
In his own words:
“In doing biblical theology as Christians, we do not start at Genesis 1 and work our way forward until we discover where it is all leading. Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in the light of the gospel” (According to Plan, pg 55)
There is a modern system of interpretation that finds itself threatened by this approach to Scripture. An example of this school is Dr. Keith Essex, graduate of Dallas Seminary and professor at The Masters Seminary (associated with radio personality John MacArthur).
Dr. Essex takes particular exception to the preceeding quote from Goldsworthy. He strongly disagrees with the approach that the New Testament can be used as an interpretive aid in understanding the Old. Says Dr. Essex: “In contrast to Goldsworthy, the present reviewer would affirm that biblical theology should proceed from Genesis 1 and OT prophecies should be understood literally.”
Literal Interpretation: But What Does It Mean?
Now, all conservative Bible students agree that the Bible should be interpreted ‘literally’; but only IF by ‘literally’ we mean in a normal and natural way (contra allegoricalism). But, this is not ALL the Dispensationalist means when he says ‘literal’. By literal, the Dispensationalist means that the Old Testament prophecies were intended to be understood by first generation of hearers entirely within their own historical context and culture. Given this interpretive grid, the reader must understand that all Old Testament prophecy must be comprehended (and must find their fulfillment) within the context of Old Covenant Temple Judaism without regard for future revelation or fulfillment.
Errors of Dispensationalism
The errors of this method are that it assumes that: 1) the original hearers were intended to fully understand the mysteries of God revealed to them, and 2) that we can only understand the Scriptures by understanding this original historical context.
Response to Dispensationalism
According to the Apostle Paul, Gentiles during the Old Covenant were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise” (Eph 2:12). But now that Christ has come, believing Gentiles are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). In these verses, the apostle is revealing that Gentiles can be (“contrary to nature”, Rom 11:24) fellow citizens of Israel and of the one people of God.
The Dispensationalist simply will not (cannot) accept this! If the Dispensational Bible student believes that Israelite hearers under the Old Covenant would have understood God’s promises to Israel to exclude Gentiles, then no later revelation can include them. For Dispensationalists, the Old has a sort of logical priority over the new.
The Apostle continues into chapter 3, writing of the same theme. He states:
…by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.
According to Paul, the things he himself wrote about Gentiles being engrafted into Israel were a mystery in “other ages” and were “not made known to the sons of men”. If indeed these matters were a mystery under the Old Covenant, it should only make rational sense that we would not try to understand them fully there.
The further issue I have with Dispensationalism is with the arrogant assumption that we can create models of interpretation, that if followed, allow us to fully understand Old Testament prophecy as the original hearers understood it. Not only is this arrogant, but within this there is a false assumption that everything revealed in Scripture was even intended to be fully comprehended by the generation that received it (a denial of mystery). In the end, I think our forefathers had it right. We should let the final and fuller revelation interpret the shadowy and less clear.