Galatians iv. 7. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
I say, writes St. Paul, in the epistle which you heard read just now, 'that the heir, as long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors, until the time appointed by his father. Even so,' he says, we, 'when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son made of a woman, made under a law, to redeem them that were under a law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.'
When we were children. He is not speaking of the Jews only; for these Galatians to whom he was writing were not Jews at all, any more than we are. He was speaking to men simply as men. He was speaking to the Galatians as we have a right to speak to all men.
Nor does he mean merely when we were children in age. The Greek word which he uses, means infants, people not come to years of discretion. Indeed, the word which he uses means very often a simpleton, an ignorant or foolish person; one who does not know who and what he is, what is his duty, or how to do it.
Now this, he says, was the state of men before Christ came; this is the state of all men by nature still; the state of all poor heathens, whether in England or in foreign countries.
They are children--that is, ignorant and unable to take care of themselves; because they do not know what they are. St. Paul tells us what they are. That they are all God's offspring, though they know it not. He likens them to young children, who, though they are their father's heirs, have no more liberty than slaves have; but are kept under tutors and masters, till they have arrived at years of discretion, and are fit to take their places as their father's sons, and to go out into the world, and have the management of their own affairs, and a share in their father's property, which they may use for themselves, instead of being merely fed and clothed by, and kept in subjection to him, whether they will or not. This is what he means by receiving the adoption of sons. He does not mean that we are not God's children till we find out that we are God's children. That is what some people say; but that is the very exact contrary to what St. Paul used to say. He told the heathen Athenians that they were God's children. He put them in mind that one of their own heathen poets had told them so, and had said, 'We are also God's offspring.' And so in this chapter he says, You were God's children all along, though you did not know it. You were God's heirs all along, although you differed nothing from slaves; for as long as you were in your heathen ignorance and foolishness, God had to treat you as His slaves, not as His children; and so you were in bondage under the elements of the world, till the fulness of time was come.
And, then, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under a law, to redeem those who were under a law--that is, all mankind. The Jews were keeping, or pretending to keep, Moses' law, and trying to please God by that. The heathens were keeping all manner of old superstitious laws and customs about religion which their forefathers had handed down to them. But heathens, and indeed Jews too, at that time, all agreed in one thing. These laws and customs of theirs about religion all went upon the notion of their being God's slaves, and not his children. They thought that God did not love them; that they must buy His favours. They thought religion meant a plan for making God love them.
Then appeared the love of God in Jesus Christ. As at this very Christmas time, the Son of God, Jesus Christ the Lord, in whose likeness man was made at the beginning, was born into the world, to redeem us and all mankind. He told them of their Heavenly Father; He preached to them the good news of the kingdom of God; that God had not forgotten them, did not hate them, would freely forgive them all that was past; and why? Because He was their Father, and loved them, and loved them so that He spared not His only begotten Son, but freely gave Him for them. And now God looks at us human beings, not as we are in ourselves, sinful and corrupt, but he looks at us in the light of Jesus Christ, who has taken our nature upon Him, and redeemed it, and raised it up again, so that God can look on it now without disgust, and henceforth no one need be ashamed of being a man; for to be a man is to be in the likeness of God. Man was created in the image and likeness of God, and who is the image and likeness of God but Jesus Christ? Therefore man was created at first in Jesus Christ, and now, as St. Paul says, he is created anew in Jesus Christ; and now to be a man is to partake of the same flesh and blood which the Lord Jesus Christ wore for us, when He was made very man of the substance of his mother, and that without spot of sin, to show that man need not be sinful, that man was meant by God to be holy and pure from sin, and that by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ we, every one of us, can become pure from sin. This is the blessedness of Christmas-day. That one man, at least, has been born into the world spotless and free from sin, that He might be the firstborn of many brethren. This is the good news of Christmas-day. That now, in Christ's light, and for Christ's sake, our Father looks on us as His sons, and not His slaves.
Therefore is every child who comes into the world baptized freely into the name of God. Baptism is a sign and warrant that God loves that child; that God looks on it as His child, not for itself or its own sake, but because it belongs to Jesus Christ, who, by becoming a man, redeemed all mankind, and made them His property and His brothers. Therefore every child, when it is brought to be baptized, promises, by its godfathers and godmothers, repentance and faith, when it comes to years of understanding. It is not God's slave, as the beasts are. It is God's child. But God does not wish it to remain merely His child, under tutors and governors, forced to do what is right outwardly, and whether it likes or not. God wishes each of us to become His son, His grown-up and reasonable son. To know who we are;--to work in His kingdom for Him;--to guide and manage our own wills, and hearts, and lives in obedience to Him;--to claim and take our share as men of God of the inheritance which He has given us. And that we can only do by faith in Jesus Christ. We must trust in Him, our Lord, our King, our Saviour, our Pattern. We must confess that we are nothing in ourselves, that we owe all to Him. We must follow in his footsteps, giving up our wills to God's will, doing not our own works, but the good works which God has prepared for us to walk in; and then we shall be truly confirmed; not mere children of God, under tutors, governors, schoolmasters and lawgivers, but free, reasonable, willing, hearty Christians, perfect men of God, the sons of God without rebuke.
Oh, my friends, will you claim your share in the Spirit of God, whom the Lord bought for us with His precious blood, that Spirit who was given you at your baptism, which may be daily renewed in you, if you pray for it; who will strengthen and lift you up to lead lives worthy of your high calling? Or will you, like Esau of old, despise your birthright, and neglect to pray that God's Spirit may be renewed in you, and so lose more and more day by day the thought that God is your Father, and the love of holy and godlike things? Alas! take care that, like Esau, you hereafter find no room for repentance, though you seek it carefully with tears! It is a fearful thing to despise the mercies of the living God; and when you are called to be His sons, to fall back under the terrors of His law, in slavish fears and a guilty conscience, and remorse which cannot repent.
And do not give way to false humility, says St. Paul. Do not say, 'This is too high an honour for us to claim.' Do not say, 'It seems too conceited and assuming for us miserable sinners to call ourselves sons of God. We shall please God better, and show ourselves more reverent to Him, by calling ourselves His slaves, and crouching and trembling before Him, as if we expected Him to strike us dead, and making all sorts of painful and tiresome religious observances, and vain repetitions of prayers, to win His favour;' or by saying, 'We dare not call ourselves God's children yet; we are not spiritual enough; but when we have gone through all the necessary changes of heart, and frames, and feeling, and have been convinced of sin, and converted, and received the earnest, God's Spirit, by which we cry, Abba, Father! then we shall have a right to call ourselves God's children.'
Not so, says St. Paul, all through this very Epistle to the Galatians. That is not being reverent to God. It is insulting Him. For it is despising the honour which He has given you, and trying to get another honour of your own invention, by observances, and frames, and feelings of your own. Do not say, 'When we have received the earnest of God's Spirit, by which we can cry, Abba, Father! then we shall become God's children;' for it is just because you are God's children already--just because you have been God's children all along, that God has taught you to call Him Father. The Lord Jesus Christ told men that God was their Father. Not merely to the Apostles, but to poor, ignorant, sinful wretches, publicans and harlots, He spoke of their Father in heaven, who, because He is a perfect Father, sends His sun to shine on the evil and the good, and His rain to fall on the just and on the unjust. The Lord Jesus Christ taught men--all men, not merely saints and Apostles, but all men, when they prayed--to begin, 'Our Father.' He told them that that was the manner in which they were to pray, and therefore no other way of praying can we expect God to hear. No slavish, terrified, superstitious coaxing and flattering will help you with God. He has told you to call Him your Father; and if you speak to Him in any other way, you insult Him, and trample under foot the riches of His grace.
This is the good news which the Bible preaches. This is the witness of God's Spirit, proclaiming that we are the sons of God; and, says St. Paul in another place, 'our spirit witnesses' to that glorious news as well. We feel, we know--why, we cannot tell, but we feel and know that we are the sons of God. When we are most calm, most humble, most free from ill-temper and self-conceit, most busy about our rightful work, then the feeling comes over us--I have a Father in heaven. And that feeling gives us a strength, a peace, a sure trust and hope, which no other thought can give. Yes, we are ready to say, I may be miserable and unfortunate, but the Great God of heaven and earth is my Father; and what can happen to me? I may be borne down with the remembrance of my great sins; I may find it almost too hard to fight against all my bad habits; but the Great God who made heaven and earth is my Father, and I am His son. He will forgive me for the past; He will help me to conquer for the future. If I do but remember that I am God's son, and claim my Father's promises, neither the world, nor the devil, nor my own sinful flesh, can ever prevail against me.
This thought, and the peace which it brings, St. Paul tells us is none of our own; we did not put it into our own hearts; from God it comes, that blessed thought, that He is our Father. We could never have found it out for ourselves. It is the Spirit of the Son of God, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, which gives us courage to say, 'Our Father which art in heaven,' which makes us feel that those words are true, and must be true, and are worth all other words in the world put together--that God is our Father, and we his sons. Oh, my friends, believe earnestly this blessed news! the news of Christmas-day, that you are not God's slaves, but his sons, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;--joint-heirs with Christ! In what? Who can tell? But what an inheritance of glory and bliss that must be, which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is to inherit with us--an inheritance such as eye hath not seen, and incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, preserved in heaven for us; an inheritance of all that is wise, loving, noble, holy, peaceful--all that can make us happy, all that can make us like God Himself. Oh, what can we expect, if we neglect so great salvation? What can we expect, if when the Great God of heaven and earth tells us that we are His children, we turn away and fall down, become like the brutes, and the savages, or worse, like the evil spirits who rebel against God, instead of growing up to become the sons of God, perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect? May He keep us all from that great sin! May He awaken each and every one of you to know the glory and honour which Jesus Christ brought for you when He was born at Bethlehem--the glory and honour which was proclaimed to belong to you when you were christened at that font! May He awaken you to know that you are the sons of God, and to look up to Him with loving, trustful, obedient souls, saying from your hearts, morning and night 'Our Father which art in heaven,' and feeling that those words give you daily strength to conquer your sins, and feel assurance of hope that your Heavenly Father will help and prosper you, His family, every time you struggle to obey His commandments, and follow the example of His perfect and spotless Son, Jesus Christ the Lord!