THE BEGGARLY PRINCIPLES OF LAW (Gal. 4:9b)
Paul has really finished the great argument for salvation by true faith apart from law-works of mere man. The keystone of the argument we saw in the foregoing verses: we are now sons, and not at all servants. If sons, heirs through God we are! (Gal. 4:6, 7)
Paul is now in a position td capitalize on this basic argument which he has given and to make an appeal to the Galatians to come to their spiritual senses, and to stand in the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free! (Gal. 5:1) He will do so by pointing out to them that returning to “weak and beggarly principles” is not standing unmoved in the hope of the Gospel of liberty in Christ’s blood.
Let us attempt to see this together.
To what does Paul refer when he speaks of “weak” and “beggarly” principles, “elements”?
The term “elements” in the Greek means in non-Bible Greek: a little step. Figuratively this means: an element, elementary sound, a letter in the alphabet. And thus it is used by philosophers of first principles from which we can learn more and greater things concerning the entire field of learning. In Biblical Greek the term has a variety of usages. It is used in II Peter 3:10of the elements of the world, the smallest elements of being in nature, the component parts of the physical world. That is the application of the term in the view of physics. The term is also employed in the first a-b-c of the instruction in the church: the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2) Here the KJV translates: first principles.
In this passage of Paul in Gal. 4:9b the term refers to the basic elements which form the teaching of all work-religions, whether this be outright Paganism or Jewish legalism. All teach and live by the rule: the man that doeth the law (whether the law as understood by the Pagans or by the Jews), shall live by it. That is the blessed life which gives peace to the conscience. That is the “elements” here referred to by Paul. This is clear from the entire context here in Galatians. He is speaking here of the rudiments of the world! A comparison with what Paul writes in Colossians 2:20 will bear this out. The term “rudiments” (elements=principles) has reference to the teaching and the instruction of the world apart from Christ, His revelation, His Cross and resurrection. (Col. 2:10-15) It is a denial and a letting go of Christ as the head of the church and of all things. Yes, it dealt with the great question of what is good for man: what constitutes blessedness, happiness, salvation. And it consisted in works: touch not, taste not, handle not. Salvation lies in escape from the world of reality. The physical world is evil. This too is the “principles” of this world. It is not Christianity but moralism, asceticism! In Colossians, we are told that we have tied unto this principle, this rudiment of the world!
Now all these world-rudiments stand on the rock of impotence!
Paul calls them “weak” and “poor=beggarly.” Indeed they are weak. They are not able to help us, lift us up, make us alive. They are such that Paul says “if there had been a law given which could make us alive, verily righteousness would have been by law.” (Gal. 3:21) This is true of every Levitical ordinance, every civil law in Israel. It is also true of the several commandments of the Decalogue. As “law” they are weak. Why? Because of sin! (Rom. 8:3) In our flesh dwells no good thing. And so the law cannot make the unwilling sinner willing. The law, in the church, makes the willing people of God walk in healthy piety. But that is because we are “under grace” and not “under law.” (Rom. 6:1-23) It is the gift of God which is eternal life. But, all that is not within this gift, is weak and beggarly. Yes, it is not only weak, but it is also beggarly. It is poor. It cannot make the poor sinner rich. It cannot give tried gold in the fire, white raiment to clothe the shame of our nakedness and eye-salve so that we may receive our sight. The law can not cleanse the lepers and grant forgiveness to the poor and needy, and cannot open the doors of the prison of our spiritual captivity.
The law is poor and beggarly!
And now the Galatians return from riches to rags. Yes, that is what they were doing in very deed. Their riches was that they were sons of God, the Father. They were sons by adoption in Christ’s coming in this world, made from a woman and made under law. What a riches and honor! They are heirs of God, heirs of the world in Christ. They are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Abraham is heir of the world in Christ by promise; and as sons of Abraham, belonging to Christ, we too are heirs through God’s marvelous wonder of grace. (Rom. 4:13) The Galatians have the right to sit at the table of the Lord and to have a place in the Father’s house with its many mansions. Yes, they have the right to all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places, even as they were elected in him from before the foundation of the world.
From such riches they now are enticed to return to rags by evil and corrupt preachers!
What a riches to have the Spirit of Christ crying in their hearts: Abba, Father! No, they have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear. They are now not filled with dread of God’s avenging wrath; nay, now we have the courage, the joyful certainty of the- full assurance of faith, that we have a high priest in heaven, Who ever lives to intercede for us. (Heb. 7:27; Rom. 8:34) And now nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord!
Yes, it was a turning from riches to rags. It was a turning to that which Paul accounts to be but loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, his Lord. (Phil. 3:7, 8)
THE HORRIBLE INCONSISTENCY OF THE GALATIANS (Galatians 4:9a)
There is such a thing as the “logic” of folly. We see this in the conduct of these Galatians, who seem verily to have been bewitched. Their return from riches to rags, from the glory and riches of the grace in Christ Jesus, defies all wisdom and understanding. And we should notice that Paul speaks of their “turning again=back” (palin) to weak and beggarly principles of Jewry. This might seem to be an error. How could these Gentile Christians, who have never been in the Jews’ religion as had been a Paul and Peter (Gal. 2:15), turn back to these Jewish principles? The solution is easy, as Calvin would say. Paul is not speaking of the particular ritual of the Jews and of the Pagans which they had in common, but he is speaking of their common beggarly principles, which is such when viewed in the light of the Gospel. Jew and Greek both have a bankrupt religion. They both operate under the principle of “law,” if you will, under law-principle.
There is a meeting point of the law-principle of the Jewish and of the Pagan religion. Writes Lightfoot on this interesting question:
“. . . The Mosaic dispensation was a foreshadowing, a germ of the Gospel; and thus, when Christ came, its spiritual element was of necessity extinguished or absorbed by its successor. Deprived of this it was a mere mass of lifeless ordinances, differing only in degree, not in kind, from any other ritualistic system.”
“Thus the ritualistic element alone remains to be considered, and here is the meeting point of Judaism and Heathenism. In Judaism this was as much lower as its spiritual element, as in Heathenism it was higher. Hence the two systems approach within such a distance to each other that they can under certain limitations be classed together. They have at least so much in common that a lapse into Judaism can be regarded as a relapse to the position of unconverted Heathenism. Judaism was a system of bondage like Heathenism. Heathenism had been a disciplinary training like Judaism.
“It is a fair inference, I think, from St. Paul’s language here, that he does place Heathenism in the same category with Judaism in this last respect. . . .” (Lightfoot, Page 172-173)
Apart from the view of Lightfoot concerning Heathenism being “disciplinary training like Judaism,” we believe that what he writes is very helpful and enlightening. If we take “Judaism” in its most technical sense, it could only gender to bondage of Phariseeism, and that was equally true of the moralism of the Heathen religions and philosophies. Plato and Gamaliel are on the same line! Neither one brings us to the Cross.
And so, when these Galatians now turn to Judaism and once more are “under law,” they return to their old and forsaken position of the Pagan and Heathen religion. Both are enemies of the Cross of Christ and they are the wisdom of men which God puts to nought at Calvary.
Now the walk and confession of these Galatians was very understandable when aforetime they “did not know God.” They were walking in the blindness of Heathendom, where God had left them walk in their own ways. (Acts 14:15, 16; Rom. 1:21-23) Thus were these Galatians once as were all we of the Gentiles who were brought to the faith. Then they were under the law principle and that because they had never heard of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. But now, all is different! He that knoweth to believe and believeth not, to him it is sin. (James 4:17) Such shall be beaten with many stripes. The unenlightened Pagan unbeliever shall be beaten with fewer stripes than the informed and instructed unbeliever. (Luke 12:47, 48)
Riches for rags! Yes, and that after having heard the One who called them unto faith and life. Look at their ritualistic form of religion. They have become faddists in days, months, years, and times. Very scrupulously they keep these days now. The term “parateereisthe” means to watch very narrowly. These Judaizers here very “narrow” in their own way, without walking in the straight and narrow way that leads to life. Interesting it is to note that the verb here is also used of the scrutiny whereby the Jews watched Jesus in his words and work. (Mark 3:2) They watched him closely whether he would heal a man on the Sabbath. (Luke 14:1) And so these Galatians very measurely and very minutely and exactly went back to the observance of the Old Testament Levitical days. Each Weekly was closely and minutely observed. They had to keep totally the “day.” The monthly new moon sabbaths too were again kept. The special times were observed such as the Passover feasts, the feast of the first fruits of the full harvest, and the sacred years, such as the year of Jubilee. And there was a just reward that in so doing they would have an added advantage toward being just before God. It was a basis for salvation. And it was a tacit denial that Jesus had died as the great Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. It was once more willing to be under law. Resurrection Sunday was really denied as the fulfilment of all the promises of God, which He made to the fathers.