The Revelation of the Cross
The "tree" brings us to the inexhaustible subject presented in Galatians 2:20 and 3:1--the ever-present cross:
(1) The redemption from sin and death is accomplished through the cross, Galatians 3:13.
(2) The gospel is all contained in the cross. For the gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who have faith." Romans 1:16. and "to us who are being saved" the cross of Christ "is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18.
(3) Christ is revealed to fallen men only as the crucified and risen One. There is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby salvation may be obtained. Acts 4:12. Therefore it is all that God sets forth before men, since He does not wish to confuse them. "Christ and Him crucified" is all that Paul wished to know. It is all that any man needs to know. The one thing that men need is salvation. If they get that, they get all things. But salvation is found only in the cross of Christ. Therefore God puts before the eyes of men nothing else; He gives them just what they need. Jesus Christ is by God set forth openly crucified before the eyes of every man, so that there is no excuse for any to be lost or to continue in sin
(4) Christ is set forth before men as the crucified Redeemer; and since men need to be saved from the curse, He is set forth as bearing the curse. Wherever there is any curse, there is Christ bearing it. We have already seen that Christ bore and still bears our curse of the earth itself, for He bore the crown of thorns, and the curse pronounced on the earth was, "Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth." Genesis 3:18. So the whole creation, which now groans under the curse, has been redeemed through the cross of Christ. See Romans 8:19-23.
(5) On the cross Christ bore the curse. His being made a curse for us was indicated by His hanging on the cross. The cross is the symbol of not only the curse, but also the deliverance from the curse, since it is the cross of Christ, the conqueror and Deliverer.
(6) Where is the curse? Ah, where is it not? The blindest can see it if he will but acknowledge the evidence of his own senses. Imperfection is a curse, yes, that is the curse. And imperfection is on everything connected with this earth. Man is imperfect, and even the finest plant that grows from the earth is imperfect in some respect. Nothing meets the eye but that it shows the possibility of improvement, even if our untrained eyes cannot see the absolute necessity of it. When God made the earth, everything was "very good," or, as the Hebrew idiom has it, "good exceedingly." God Himself could see no chance, no possibility, of improvement. But now it is different. The gardener spends his thought and labor trying to improve the fruits and flowers under his care. And since the best that the earth produces reveals the curse, what need be said of the gnarled, stunted growths, the withered and blasted buds and leaves and fruits, and the noxious, poisonous weeds? Everywhere "a curse devours the earth." Isaiah 24:6.
(7) Should we therefore be discouraged? No. "For God hath not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 5:9. Although the curse is visible everywhere, yet things live, and men live. But the curse is death, and no man and no thing in creation can bear death and still live. Death kills. But Christ is the living One; He died, but He is alive forevermore. Revelation 1:18. He alone can bear the curse--death--and on the basis of his own merits return to life. There is life on the earth and in man, in spite of the curse, because Christ died on the cross. Every blade of grass, every leaf of the forest, every shrub and tree, every flower and fruit, even the bread that we eat, is stamped with the cross of Christ. In our own bodies is the stamp of Christ crucified. Everywhere is the evidence of that cross. The preaching of the cross, the gospel, is the power of God, revealed in all things that He has made. That is "the power at work in us." Ephesians 3:20. A comparison of Romans 1:16-20 with 1 Corinthians 1:17, 18 shows clearly that the evidence of the cross of Christ is seen in all the things that God has made--even in our own bodies.
Courage From Despair
"Innumerable evils have compassed me about; mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me." Psalm 40:12, KJV. But not only may we with confidence cry unto God "out of the depths," but God in His infinite mercy has so ordered it that the very depths themselves are a source of confidence. The fact that although we are in the depths of sin we yet live is proof that God Himself, in the person of Christ on the cross, is present with us to deliver us. So through the Holy Spirit everything, even what is under the curse (for everything is under the curse), preaches the gospel. Our own weakness, instead of being a cause of discouragement, is, if we believe the Lord, a pledge of redemption. "Out of weakness" we are "made strong." "In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Romans 8:37. Truly, God has not left Himself without witness among men. "He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself." 1 John 5:10.
The Blessing From the Curse
Christ bore the curse in order that the blessing might come to us. Death to Him is life to us. If we willingly bear about in our bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus, the life also of Jesus will be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Corinthians 4:10. He was made to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21. The blessing we receive through the curse He bears is the blessing of deliverance from sin. For as the curse results from the transgression of the law (Galatians 3:10), the blessing consists in being turned away from our iniquities (Acts 3:26). Christ suffered the curse, even sin and death, "that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ."
The blessing of Abraham is, as Paul points out in another letter, righteousness by faith: "David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." Romans 4:6-8, KJV.
He shows further that this blessing rests on the Gentiles who believe, as well as on the Jews who believe, because Abraham received it when he was uncircumcised "to make him the father of all who believe." Verse 11.
The blessing is freedom from sin, even as the curse is the doing of sin. As the curse reveals the cross, so that very curse is by the Lord made to proclaim the blessing. The fact that we physically live, although we are sinners, assures us that deliverance from the sin is ours. "While there's life there's hope," says the adage, because the Life is our hope.
Thank God for the blessed hope! The blessing has come upon all men. For "as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." Romans 5:18, KJV. God, who is no respecter of persons, "has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." Ephesians 1:3. The gift is ours to keep. If anyone has not this blessing, it is because he has not recognized the gift, or has deliberately thrown it away.
A Finished Work
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law," from sin and death. This He did by "being made a curse for us," and so we are freed from all necessity of sinning. Sin can have no dominion over us if we accept Christ in truth and without reserve. This was just as much a present truth in the days of Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah, as it is today. More than seven hundred years before the cross was raised on Calvary, Isaiah, who testified of the things which he understood because his own sin had been purged by a "live coal" from God's alter, said: "Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. . . . He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. . . . The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:4-6, KJV. "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, they transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee." Isaiah 44:22, KJV. Long before Isaiah's time, David wrote: "He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us." Psalm 103:10, 12, KJV.
"We who have believed enter that rest," because the "works were finished from the foundation of the world." Hebrews 4:3. The blessing that we received is "the blessing of Abraham." We have no other foundation than that of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Himself as the Chief Cornerstone. Ephesians 2:20. It is a full and complete salvation that God has provided. It awaits us as we come into the world. And we do not relieve God of any burden by rejecting it, nor do we add to His labor by accepting it.
"The Promise of the Spirit"
Christ has redeemed us "that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Do not make the mistake of reading this as though it were "that we might receive the promise of the gift of the Spirit." It does not say that, and it does not mean that, as a little thought will show. Christ has redeemed us, and that fact proves the gift of the Spirit, for it was only "through the eternal Spirit" that He offered Himself without spot to God. Hebrews 9:14. But for the Spirit, we should not know that we were sinners. Much less should we know redemption. The Spirit convinces of sin and of righteousness. John 16:8. "It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth." 1 John 5:6, KJV. "He that believeth . . . hath the witness in himself." Verse 10, KJV. Christ is crucified for every man. That, as we have already seen, is shown in the fact that we are all under the curse, and Christ alone on the cross bears the curse. But it is through the Spirit that Christ dwells on earth among men. Faith enables us to receive the testimony of this witness and rejoice in that which the possession of the Spirit assures.
Note further: The blessing of Abraham comes on us in order that we may receive the promise of the Spirit. But it is only through the Spirit that the blessing comes. Therefore the blessing cannot bring to us the promise that we shall receive the Spirit. We already have the Spirit with the blessing. But, having the blessing of the Spirit (namely, righteousness), we are sure of receiving that which the Spirit promises to the righteous, namely, an everlasting inheritance. In blessing Abraham, God promised him an inheritance. The Spirit is the pledge of all good.
The Spirit, the Pledge of Inheritance
All God's gifts are in themselves promises of more. There is always much more to follow. God's purpose in the gospel is to gather together in one all things in Jesus Christ, "in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, . . . in whom also after that [or when] ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory." Ephesians 1:11-14, KJV.
Of this inheritance we must speak further later on. Suffice it now to say that it is the inheritance promised to Abraham, whose children we become by faith. The inheritance belongs to all who are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And the Spirit that marks our sonship is the promise, the pledge, the firstfruits of that inheritance. Those who accept Christ's glorious deliverance from the curse of the law--redemption not from obedience to the law, for obedience is not a curse, but from disobedience to the law--have in the Spirit a taste of the power and the blessing of the world to come.
. Verses 15-18.
To give a human example, brethren: no one annuls even a man’s will, or adds to it, once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ?"And to offsprings," referring to many; but referring to One, "And to your offspring," which is Christ. This is what I mean: the law which came four hundred theiry years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; bit God gave to Abraham by a promise
The gospel of worldwide salvation was preached to Abraham. He believed and received the blessing of righteousness. All who believe are blessed with the Abraham who believed. Those who are "of faith" are the children of Abraham. "the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring." "If the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise." The promise made to us is the same promise made to Abraham, the promise of an inheritance in which we share as his children.
"And to His Offspring"
Here is no play upon words. The issue is vital. The controversy is over the way of salvation, whether by Christ alone, or by something else, or by Christ and something or somebody else. Many people imagine that they must save themselves by making themselves good. Many others think that Christ is a valuable adjunct, a good Assistant to their efforts. Others are willing to give Him the first place, but not the only place. They regard themselves as good seconds. It is the Lord and they who do the work. But our text shuts off all such assumption and self-assertion. Not "offsprings," but the "offspring." Not many, but one. "'And to your offspring," which is Christ." Christ is the One.
Not Two Lines
We can contrast the "spiritual offspring" with the "fleshly offspring" of Abraham. The opposite of spiritual is fleshly, and the fleshly children, unless they are also spiritual children, have no share whatever in the spiritual inheritance. It is possible for men walking about in the body in this world to be wholly spiritual. And such they must be or else they are not children of Abraham. "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Romans 8:8. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." 1 Corinthians 15:50. There is only one line of spiritual descendants from Abraham, only one set of real spiritual children, and they are those who are "of faith"—those who, by receiving Christ by faith, receive power to become sons of God.
Many Promises in One
But while the "offspring" is singular, the promises are plural. God has nothing for any man that was not promised to Abraham. All the promises of God are conveyed in Christ, in whom Abraham believed. "For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why we utter the Amen through Him, to the glory of God." 2 Corinthians 1:20.
The Promised inheritance
That the thing promised, and the sum of all the promises, is an inheritance is clearly seen from Galatians 3:15-18. The sixteenth verse tells us that the law, coming in four hundred and thirty years after the promise was made and confirmed, cannot make that promise of none effect. "For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise." Verse 18. What this promised inheritance is may be seen by comparing the verse just quoted with Romans 4:13: "The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith." And so, although the heavens and earth which are now "reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men," when "the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat," "we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." 2 Peter 3:7, 12, 13, KJV. This is the heavenly country for which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob looked.
An Inheritance Without Curse
"Christ redeemed us from the curse . . . that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." This "promise of the Spirit" we have seen to be the possession of the whole earth made new--redeemed from the curse. For "the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God." Romans 8:21. The earth fresh and new from the hand of God, perfect in every respect, was given to man from the hand of God, perfect in every respect, was given to man for a possession. Genesis 1:27, 28, 31. Man sinned and brought the curse upon himself. Christ has taken the whole curse, both of man and of all creation, upon Himself. He redeems the earth from the curse, that it may be the everlasting possession that God originally designed it to be; and He also redeems man from the curse, that he may be fitted for the possession of such an inheritance. This is the sum of the gospel. "The free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23. This gift of eternal life is included in the promise of the inheritance, for God promised the land to Abraham and to his seed for "an everlasting possession." Genesis 17:8. It is an inheritance of righteousness, because the promise that Abraham should be heir of the world was through the righteousness of faith. Righteousness, eternal life, and a place in which to live eternally—these are all in the promise, and they are all that could possibly be desired or given. To redeem man, but to give him no place in which to live, would be an incomplete work. The two actions are parts of one whole. The power by which we are redeemed is the power of creation, by which the heavens and the earth are made new. When all is accomplished, "there shall be no more curse." Revelation 22:3, KJV.
The Covenants of Promise
The covenant and promise of God are one and the same. This is clearly seen from Galatians 3:17, where Paul asserts that to disannul the covenant would be to make void the promise. In Genesis 17 we read that God made a covenant with Abraham to give him the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. Galatians 3:18 says that God gave it to him by promise. God's covenants with men can be nothing else than promises to them: "Who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things." Romans 11:35, 36, KJV.
After the Flood God made a "covenant" with every beast of the earth, and with every fowl; but the beasts and the birds did not promise anything in return. Genesis 9:9-16. They simply received the favor at the hand of God. That is all we can do—receive. God promises us everything that we need, and more than we can ask, or think, as a gift. We give Him ourselves, that is, nothing. And He gives us Himself, that is, everything. That which makes all the trouble is that even when men are willing to recognize the Lord at all they want to make bargains with Him. They want it to be an equal, "mutual" affair—a transaction in which they can consider themselves on a par with God. But whoever deals with God must deal with Him on His own terms, that is, on a basis of fact—that we have nothing and are nothing, and He has everything and is everything and gives everything.
The Covenant Ratified
The covenant (that is, the promise of God to give men the whole earth made new after having made them free from the curse) was "previously ratified by God." Christ is the Surety of the new covenant, even the everlasting covenant. "For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why we utter the Amen through Him, to the glory of God." 2 Corinthians 1:20. In Him we have obtained the inheritance (1 Peter 1:3, 4), for the Holy Spirit is the firstfruits of the inheritance, and the possession of the Holy Spirit is Christ Himself dwelling in the heart by faith. God blessed Abraham, saying, "In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed," and this is fulfilled in Christ, whom God has sent to bless us in turning us away from our iniquities. Acts 3:25, 26, KJV.
It was the oath of God that ratified the covenant made to Abraham. That promise and that oath to Abraham become our ground of hope, our strong consolation. They are "sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19), because the oath sets forth Christ as the pledge, the surety, and "He always lives" (Hebrews 9:25). He upholds all things by His word of power. Hebrews 1:3. "In Him all things hold together." Colossians 1:17. Therefore "when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, he interposed with an oath." Hebrews 6:17. This is our consolation and hope in fleeing for refuge from sin. He pledged His own existence, and with it the entire universe, for our salvation. Surely a firm foundation for our hope is laid in His excellent Word!
The Law Cannot Make the Promise Void
Do not forget as we proceed that the covenant and the promise are the same thing, and that it conveys land, even the whole earth made new, to Abraham and his children. Remember also that since only righteousness will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth, the promise includes the making righteous of all who believe. This is done in Christ, in whom the promise is confirmed. Now, "no one annuls even a man's will, or adds to it, once it has been ratified." How much more must this be the case with God's "will"!
Therefore, since perfect and everlasting righteousness was assured by the "will" made with Abraham, which was also confirmed in Christ, by the oath of God, it is impossible that the law which was spoken four hundred and thirty years later could introduce any new feature. The inheritance was given to Abraham by promise. But if after four hundred and thirty years it should develop that now the inheritance must be gained in some other way, then the promise would be of no effect, and the "will" or covenant would be made void. But that would involve the overthrow of God's government and the ending of His existence. For He pledged His own existence to give Abraham and his seed the inheritance and the righteousness necessary for it. "For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith." Romans 4:13, KJV. The gospel was as full and complete in the days of Abraham as it has ever been or ever will be. No addition to it or change in its provisions or conditions could possibly be made after God's oath to Abraham. Nothing can be taken away from it as it thus existed, and not one thing can ever be required from any man more than what was required of Abraham.
Verses 19, 20.
Why then the law? It as added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one; but God is one.
"Why then the law?" The apostle Paul asks this question that he may the more emphatically show the place of the law in the gospel. The question is a very natural one. Since the inheritance is wholly by promise, and a "will" or covenant confirmed cannot be changed (nothing can be taken from it, and nothing added to it), why did the law come in four hundred and thirty years afterward? "Why then the law?" What business has it here? What part does it act? Of what use is it?
"It was added because of transgressions." Let it be understood that "the entering of the law" at Sinai was not the beginning of its existence. The law of God existed in the days of Abraham and was kept by him. Genesis 26:5. The law of God existed before it was spoken upon Sinai. Exodus 16:1-4, 27, 28. It was "added" in the sense that at Sinai it was given in more explicit detail.
"Because of transgressions" "Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound" (Romans 5:20, KJV), in other words, "that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful" (Romans 7:13, KJV). It was given under circumstances of the most awful majesty as a warning to the children of Israel that by their unbelief they were in danger of losing the promised inheritance. They did not, like Abraham, believe the Lord; and "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." Romans 14:23. But the inheritance was promised "through the righteousness of faith." Romans 4:13. Therefore the unbelieving Jews could not receive it.
So the law was spoken to them to convince them that they had not the righteousness necessary for the possession of the inheritance. For, although righteousness does not come by the law, it must be "witnessed by the law." Romans 3:21, KJV. In short, the law was given to show them that they had not faith and so were not true children of Abraham, and were therefore in a fair way to lose the inheritance. God would have put His law into their hearts even as He put it into Abraham's heart, if they had believed. But when they disbelieved, yet still professed to be heirs of the promise, it was necessary to show them in the most marked manner that their unbelief was sin. The law was spoken because of transgression, or (what is the same thing) because of the unbelief of the people.
Self-confidence Is Sin
The people of Israel were full of self-confidence and of unbelief in God, as is shown by their murmuring against God's leading and by their assumption of the ability to do anything that God required, to fulfill His promises. They had the same spirit as their descendants, who asked, "What must we do, to be doing the work of God?" John 6:28. They were so ignorant of God's righteousness that they thought that they could establish their own righteousness as an equivalent. Romans 10:3. Unless they saw their sin, they could not avail themselves of the promise. Hence the necessity of the speaking of the law.
The Ministration of Angels
"Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?" Hebrews 1:14. Just what office the thousands of angels who were at Sinai had to perform we cannot know. But we do know that angels have a close and deep interest in everything that concerns man. When the foundations of the earth were laid, "all the sons of God shouted for joy." Job 38:7. A multitude of the heavenly host sang praises when the birth of the Saviour of mankind was announced. These beings who "excel in strength" attend the King of kings, waiting to do His pleasure, "harkening unto the voice of His word." Psalm 103:20, KJV. The fact that they were present at the giving of the law shows that it was an event of the greatest magnitude and importance.
"Through an Intermediary"
The law was given to the people from Sinai "through an intermediary" (or "mediator," KJV). Who was this Mediator? There can be only one answer: There is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus." 1 Timothy 2:5. "Now an intermediary implies more than one; but God is one." God and Christ Jesus are one. Christ Jesus is both God and man. In mediating between God and man, Christ Jesus represents God to man and man to God. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" 2 Cor. 5:19. There is and can be no other mediator between God and men. "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Acts 4:12, KJV.Pioneer Writings, Index