“Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto [“were in bondage to,” R. V. and Greek] them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.”
The Galatians, having been Gentiles, knew not God, and, accordingly, were in bondage to them, which by nature were no gods at all. To them the gospel had been preached. They had believed the gospel, and so were delivered from bondage, and had received the adoption of sons of God, and were, therefore, no more bondmen, but sons; and, being sons, were heirs of God, through Christ. But the Pharisees which believed, knowing nothing of true faith and freedom which Christ gives, had come among the Galatians, with their perverted gospel, which was not the gospel at all, had confused them, and turned them from faith to works: from the Spirit to the flesh, as the means of justification, and the hope of salvation. Gal. 3:1-3.
But when the Galatians were turned from faith to works, they did not stop with the works which the Pharisees recommended and urged. Having at first been heathen, and having now been driven back from faith to works, they took up their own heathen works, as well as the works which the Pharisees recommended. Having been turned from the Spirit to the flesh, it was only to be expected that they would do this: seeing that the ways of the heathen were more satisfying to their flesh than the ways of the Pharisees could be, because these were the things to which their flesh had formerly been accustomed.
This is certain from the very words of the text, in the inquirt: “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” The apostle had just stated that before they knew God, they were in bondage unto them, which by nature are no gods, and now, having been turned from God, they turned AGAIN to those things, and AGAIN to that bondage. And, as seen in the former lesson, these elements whereunto they were formerly in bondage, and to which they were now AGAIN in bondage, were “the elements of the world:” and the only elements of the world are “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life:” the works of the flesh—in a word—are only sin.
Among these things in which they had formerly done service unto them which by nature are no gods, were the observances of certain days, and months, and times, and years: to the very things of the heathen which the Lord, even in ancient times had condemned, as it is written: “When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shall not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shalt not be found among you any one that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are a abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect [“upright, or sincere” margin] with the Lord thy God. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee to do so.” Deut. 18:9-14.
In the Galatian backsliding some of these things had entered; for the text says: “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” Well enough, therefore, might Paul write, “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.”
The one great lesson in this particular phase of the experience of the Galatians, is that there is no power but that which is in the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ, that can save man from the evil that is naturally in him: there is no half-way ground between the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh. Every man is either in the freedom of the Spirit and of the righteousness of God, or else in the bondage of the flesh and of sin.
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | May 15, 1900]