Self or Christ? | Galatians 4:21-31; 5:1

“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to Jerusalem, which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now, we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. 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. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 4:21-31; 5:1).

The first covenant depended upon the promises of a people, who knew only the birth of the flesh. These promises were that they would keep the Ten Commandments “indeed.” But, knowing only the birth of the flesh, they were, at the time, transgressors of the law of God, and so were in bondage to sin. And knowing only the birth of the flesh, and having only the mind of the flesh, their promise to obey the law of God “indeed,” was worthless, because “the minding of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).

If they had made no promise at all to obey the law, they would have broken it; because they knew only the birth of the flesh, and “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Therefore, without any promise to keep the law, without the new birth, they would have continued in the bondage of sin. And when they promised to keep the law “indeed,” and then broke their promise (which, having only the mind of the flesh, it was inevitable that they would do), this brought them only yet deeper into bondage, because to “vow a vow unto the Lord,” and then “slack to pay it,” is “sin in thee” (Deut. 23:21).

Therefore, that covenant being entered into by those who were already in bondage, and being a covenant which, by its terms, gendered to bondage, it was only a covenant of bondage—a covenant in which their very efforts to deliver themselves from the bondage in which they already were, brought them only deeper into bondage, the bondage of sin, the bondage of their own works and broken promises, which were only sin.

Consequently, all that was seen, or could be seen, in the first covenant was, and is, the broken law. And that this should be forever so plain that no one could fail to see it, when Moses came down from the mount and saw their idolatry, he, having the tables of the law of God in his hands,cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount” (Ex. 32:19).

They were at first breakers of the law. They promised never more to break the law. They again broke both the law and their promise not to break it. And when, therefore, because of this, Moses cast out of his hands the tables of the law of God, and broke them, this was to give to them, and to all people forever, a divine object lesson, that in the first covenant, in all their efforts at self-righteousness, and in all their promises not to break the law, no one can ever see anything but THE BROKEN LAW.

But, there was then and there present the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant of faith, God’s everlasting covenant, to deliver them from the bondage and the yoke of bondage that was upon them because of the covenant of works, of unbelief, into which they had entered. “They could not hope for the favor of God through a covenant which they had broken” —through a covenant in which nothing could be seen but the broken law of God. “And now, seeing their sinfulness and their need of pardon, they were brought to feel their need of the Saviour, revealed in the Abrahamic covenant and shadowed forth in the sacrificial offerings.”

It was the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which Moses pleaded to God, for mercy to the people worshiping the golden calf at the foot of the mount, while he was yet in the mount, before he had come down the first time. Notice: in Ex. 32:1-6 is given the account of the people’s making the golden calf and worshiping it. In verse seven “the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou brought out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten calf, and have worshiped it . . .. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them” (Ex. 32:7-10).

“And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? . . . Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swore by thine own self, and said unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it forever. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” (Ex. 32:11-14).

Thus it was the Abrahamic covenant, God’s everlasting covenant that saved the people from the bondage and the curse of their sins, in the first covenant. And so it is ever. (Heb. 9:15.)

Then Moses came down from the mount, with the tables of the law in his hands, and cast out of his hands the tables of the law, and broke them, thus “signifying that as they had broken their covenant with God, so God had broken his covenant with them;” and signifying that in that covenant there was nothing to be seen but the broken law; and that they “could not hope for the favor of God through a covenant which they had broken.” And “now, seeing their sinfulness and their need of pardon, they were brought to feel their need of the Saviour revealed in the Abrahamic covenant, and shadowed forth in the sacrificial offerings. Now by faith and love they were bound to God as their deliverer from the bondage of sin. Now they were prepared to appreciate the blessings of the new covenant” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 373).

Thus the covenant from Sinai brought them to the covenant with Abraham. The first covenant brought them to the second covenant. The old covenant brought them to the new covenant. And thus the law, which was the basis of that covenant, —the broken law, —was the schoolmaster to bring them to Christ, that they might be justified by faith.

Thus “the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these table the words that were in the first tables, which thou breakest” (Ex. 34:1). And, says Moses, “I made an ark of shittim wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in mine hand. And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the Ten Commandments, which the Lord spoke unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the Lord gave them unto me. And I turned myself and came down from the mount, and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they be, as the Lord commanded me” (Deut. 10: 3-5).

There was then established among the people the sanctuary service, with “the Saviour shadowed forth in the sacrificial offerings;” and with Christ, “the Mediator of the new covenant,” the “one Mediator between God and men,” represented by the high priest in his ministration in the sanctuary. To that sanctuary they brought, in penitence and faith, their offering, and confessed their sin. The blood of their offering was taken by the high priest into the sanctuary, atonement was made for them, and the sin was forgiven. And in the great Day of Atonement the blood of the offering for all the people was sprinkled upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat, which was upon the top of the ark, over the tables of the law.

Thus between the sinner and the law there was always the sacrifice, representing Christ (and which, in his faith, was Christ, the Surety of the “better testament”), by which was brought to the sinner the forgiveness of sins, and the righteousness of God, which satisfied all the demands of the law. And thus, through faith in Christ, in this covenant in which Christ is Mediator, and of which he is the Surety, there is seen only the unbroken law.

Such was, and is, the true meaning of the new order of things at Sinai, after the breaking of the table, and after the complete nullification of the first covenant. It was the way of faith, the way of the “righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe” (Rom. 3:22).

But, behold, in their unbelief Israel afterward turned all this into a system of works, precisely as was the first covenant. And those sacrifices and offerings, and the ceremonies connected therewith, were given by the Lord to be altogether the expression of faith. But Israel, in their unbelief, missed all this, and made it only a system of works, of ceremonialism. Instead of righteousness coming by faith, and the sacrifices and offerings being but the expression of the faith, they expected righteousness by means of the offering itself, and because of their good work in making the offering.

Thus it was in the time of Christ on earth, and in the time of Paul and the Galatians. Thus it was with “the Pharisees, which believed,” who had confused the Galatians and driven them back from righteousness by faith to righteousness by works and ceremonialism. And, therefore, Paul could write, and did write, “that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children” (Gal. 4:22-25).

Thus the very means that God had given to deliver them from the bondage of the old covenant they, through unbelief, had turned into a system of bondage, which corresponded exactly to that bondage of the old covenant. They had, indeed, perverted the new covenant as then expressed, into the very principle of the old covenant—righteousness by works. That which was the gospel as expressed in the sacrifices, offerings, and ministry of that time, they perverted to the bondage of righteousness by works, and ceremonialism, exactly as among the Galatians the “Pharisees, which believed” were perverting the gospel as expressed in the sacrifice and ministry of Christ himself.

And just as Hagar and Ishmael were cast out, that God’s covenant with Abraham might be fully enjoyed; and just as the covenant at Sinai had to be repudiated and cast out, that the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, the new covenant, might be enjoyed; so when Christ came, and, by the sacrifice and offering of himself and by his own ministration, brought in the fullness of the gospel, —in order that this should be fully enjoyed, there must be repudiated and cast out that system of ceremonies and ceremonialism, that system of righteousness by works, into which Israel had perverted that which in its time was indeed the expression of the true gospel, of righteousness by faith. “Jerusalem which now is . . . is in bondage with her children . . . 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.” “Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all . . . Now, we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.”

And thus was cast out forever the very principle of ceremonialism, —the very principle of the bondage of righteousness by works in whatever form it might present itself; and there was established it its place the principle of divine liberty in righteousness by faith. “So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” And because of this there is sounded to all people forever the blessed rallying cry, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).

The old covenant, the covenant from Sinai, is summed up in the word “SELF.” The new covenant, the everlasting covenant, is summed up in the word “CHRIST.”

The old covenant is self and his righteousness. The new covenant is Christ and the righteousness of God.

The old covenant is self and the bondage of sin and works of law. The new covenant is Christ and the liberty of righteousness, which is by faith.

The old covenant—self—must be cast out, and utterly repudiated, that the new covenant—Christ—may have its proper place and may manifest its saving power, for the son of the bondwoman can never be heir with the son of the free.

[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | July 31, 1900]