Dickson On The Covenants Of Works And Grace In Galatians 3

Vers. 1. O Foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

Because he knew that the minds of the Galatians were prepossessed with a false opinion, Therefore lest they should faint upon the following disputation, he by a grave objurgation [rebuke] shake them out of their drowsiness, and pricks their consciences, as it were, with four stings. For first of all he calls them foolish and unadvised, because they suffer themselves foully to be deceived, although not out of malice, yet by their own imprudence. (2) He calls them bewitched, i.e., deluded by the delusions of impostors. (3) He objects to them their defection from the saving truth of the Gospel, concerning the grace of Christ. (4) He amplifies their crime from this, that Christ was so evidently preached among them, and his sufferings with the causes of them so clearly explained, as if the whole matter (as in a painted table) had been set before their eyes. The preface being premised, he goes on to confirm, that justification is by faith, and not by the works of the Law; in four and twenty arguments.

Vers. 2. This only would I learn of you, Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?

Argum. 1. You have not received the Spirit of regeneration and other graces (by which the preaching of the Gospel is sealed among you) by works, or by doctrine received from the covenant of works, but by faith, or by the doctrine of the covenant of grace applied by faith: Therefore you are not justified by works, but by faith.

Vers. 3. Are you so foolish, having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?

Argum. 2. Although some impostors have persuaded you that the beginning of justification is by faith, but the accomplishment of it is to be had from works, yet this opinion is to be condemned of folly, because it is impossible, that the spiritual way of justifying by faith, should consist with that carnal way of justifying by works, much less, that it should take its perfection from this: Therefore we are not justified by works, but by faith. righteousness by works is called flesh. (1) Because although now this kind of justification is impossible, yet it is a common and foolish surmise of corrupt nature, that we are justified by works, and by the pride and vaunting of the flesh, this is every where defended. (2) Because all the works of the unregenerate, or a man not justified by faith, all his works, by which he seeks justification, are mere flesh, or the effects of corrupt flesh, as they come from those that are not justified: It is as absurd therefore to say that a man is justified by the continual violation of the Law, or can acquire righteousness by sinning. But as touching works which follow justification, or the remission of sins, they cannot be the cause of a thing already past before they were or could be, except you take justification for the declaration of justification among men already passed and pronounced by God.

Vers. 4. Have you suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.

Argum. 3. If in your foolishness you proceed to seek for justification by works, or to be justified partly by faith, partly by works, you will lose all the fruit of your constancy hitherto, and afflictions, which you have through faith already suffered for the defense of righteousness by faith, but I hope better things: Therefore you are not justified by works, but by faith alone.

Vers. 5. He therefore that ministers to you the Spirit, and works miracles among you, does he it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?

Argum. 4. The ministers by whom God gives his Spirit, and works miracles among you, are only they, which teach justification not by works, but only by faith in Christ: Therefore justification by faith alone is approved by God, but not that which is feigned to be by works.

Vers. 6. Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

Argum. 5. Abraham although he did very much abound in virtues, yet he was justified by faith alone; for he believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. For God has promised to bless all Nations in his seed, i. e. in Christ. He has applied this blessing, (which contains in itself righteousness, and life eternal in Christ) to himself by believing: Therefore we are justified not by works, but by faith.

Vers. 7. Know therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.

Argum. 6. Those alone who are justified by faith, or seek to be justified by faith, and not by works, are the Sons of Abraham: Therefore the only cause of justification is by faith.

Vers. 8. And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.

Argum. 7. The Spirit which is the author of the Scriptures, has known this to be the Counsel of God, that the Gentiles should be justified by faith, and foreseeing that this would come to pass, he preached the Doctrine to Abraham, concerning the blessing of the Gentiles in him, as in the Father, the example and type of the faithful: in him in whom the blessed seed Christ was included, as being in his loins, as it is said of Levi, Heb. 7. 10. Therefore necessarily this way alone of justification is firm.

Vers. 9. So then, they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

Argum. 8. The faithful alone, or they which by faith seek righteousness, do obtain a blessing with faithful Abraham: Therefore this way of righteousness by faith is only solid.

Vers. 10. For as many as are of the works of the Law, are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them.

Argum. 9. How many soever are justified by the Law, or seek justification by the works of the Law, are under a curse, because they adhere to the covenant of works, yet perform not the condition of this covenant, that is, perfect obedience to the Law. Therefore justification is not of works, but of faith.

It is written] He confirms the antecedent, because out of the Scripture, Deut. 27:26. Cursed is every one that fulfills not the whole Law: For they that seek justification by works, do not fulfill the whole Law: Therefore they are cursed.

Vers. 11. But that no man is justified by the Law in the sight of God, it is evident, for the just shall live by faith.

Argum. 10. The Scripture, Hab. 2. 4. pronounces that the just one shall live by faith, therefore no man by the Law, or by works shall be justified in the sight of God: He adds in the sight of God, because he does not deny but that we are justified by works in the sight of men. For justification before men is nothing else but the acknowledgement and declaration of justification already made by faith in the sight of God, by reason of the fruits of faith that are manifested.

Vers. 12. And the Law is not of faith: but the man that does them, shall live in them.

Argum. 11. Proving the consequence of the former Argument: The Law or the cause of justifying by works, does not consist with faith, or with justification by faith, because the legal promise is of giving life to him that does, and performs the Law, or to him who has perfect inherent righteousness. For faith brings righteousness imputed to them that believe in him who justifies the ungodly, or brings righteousness to him, who is destitute of righteousness from himself: Therefore if any righteousness be given, it is given by faith, and not by the Law, and consequently righteousness of faith is alone to be acknowledged.

Vers. 13. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree.

Argum. 12. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us upon the Cross, undergoing a cursed death upon the Cross for us, as it is manifest from Scripture, which declares that kind of death, which Christ by the Counsel of God was to undergo (to wit, the hanging on a tree) cursed: Therefore justification is not by the Law, but by faith in Christ, who freed us from the curse of the Law.

Vers. 14. That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Argum. 13. For this end Christ was made a curse, that in Christ apprehended by faith, the blessing of Abraham, i. e. righteousness, and life eternal in the blessed seed, might appear to the Gentiles, who are destitute of works to which they may pretend to trust: Therefore justification is by faith, and not by works.

That we might receive] He changes the person, and joins himself, and the other believing Jews to the believing Gentiles, adding Arg. 14. Christ for this end, is made a curse, that all we believers being Jews and Gentiles, becoming one seed of Abraham, might receive the promised Spirit of adoption by faith. Therefore the justification of all us Gentiles and Jews is by faith, unless we affirm that Christ was frustrated of his end.

Vers. 15. Brothers, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disanulls or adds thereto.

16. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made: He saith not, And to your seeds, as of many, but as of one, and to your seed, which is Christ.

17. And this I say, that the covenant that was confirmed before of Christ, the Law which was four hundred and thirty years after cannot disanul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

In these three verses is Argum. 15. confirming the former: covenants and Agreements justly performed, even amongst men, cannot be made void, or be changed by superaddition, vers. 15. But a covenant is duly made between God and Abraham for the uniting all the faithful, both Jews and Gentiles, into one seed, Christ, an incorporation being made of Christ the head, and all his members, into one Christ mystical, by faith, vers. 16. Therefore this covenant cannot be made void, nor by the superaddition of the Law be changed, and so justification by faith shall stand. That this Argument might be understood, vers. 15. The Apostle prevents an Objection, some might say, That the way of justifying is changed, neither is there the same reason of justifying Abraham before the Law, and his posterity, with whom the Law was made. For latter things use to derogate from former. He answers, that in a ratified covenant, and now confirmed by Will and Testament, nothing even among men can be made void or changed, much less in the divine covenant, now established after the manner of a Will. Furthermore vers. 16. he assumes, that so God covenanted with Abraham concerning a blessing freely to be given to those that believe in Christ, that he might take into one body his seed (which consists both of Gentiles and Jews) by the words of the covenant: This he proves from the words of the promise, because God said not to Seeds (as if there should be more seeds, to wit, Gentiles asunder, and Jews asunder) but he said to your Seed, as of one, viz. meaning Christ, in whom the faithful both of Jews and Gentiles become one seed, i. e. one Christ mystical by faith.

Lastly, vers. 17. He concludes that this covenant confirmed by a sacrifice after the manner of a Will, and established by God, with relation unto Christ, could not be made void, or of none effect by the Law, which was given four hundred and thirty years after.

The promise] He includes a reason why this covenant could not be changed by the Law, viz. because the covenant is God’s absolute promise, which, as it were, obliges God promising, that he cannot change it: But the Law has the nature of a commandment, which binds not the legislators, but the subject: For the Legislator can change Laws, but he cannot change absolute promises. Therefore the Law after so many years made, cannot disannul [nullify] the covenant, or the promise absolutely made to Abraham.

Vers. 18. For if the inheritance be of the Law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

Lest any one should object that the Law and the Promise may be conjoined: He answers, and adds, Arg. 16. If the inheritance be of the Law, or works, then not of the free promise, for the one of these takes away the other; but the inheritance is freely given to Abraham by a free promise: Therefore nor of the Law, and consequently, because the inheritance, or life eternal is not of the Law, or any works, neither shall justification be by the Law, but only by grace through faith.

Vers. 19. Wherefore then serves the Law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come, to whom the promise was made, and it was ordained by Angels in the hand of a Mediator.

20. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

He moves a question concerning the use of the Law, inquiring to what purpose the Law was made; he answers and adds, Arg. 17. The Law is given, that transgressions might be manifest, and held in as it were with some bridle until Christ should come, who is the seed to whom the promise of blessing is made. Therefore seeing that only the manifestation of sin comes by the Law, justification is not by the Law, but by Christ, or by faith: And it was necessary to the manifestation of sin, that the Law should be renewed, because the Jews sinned, and yet did neither acknowledge the power of sin, nor their own impotency to obey the Law: Therefore the Law was urged, until that complete seed arose, made up of Jews and Gentiles, united (the partition Wall between the Jews and the Gentiles being thrown down) into one body with their head Christ by faith.

Ordained] Argum. 18. A terrible manner of giving the Law, by the ministry of angels, and by the hand of a messenger or mediator; it was a sign father of discord, than of peace and concord between God and men: Because a mediator or a messenger useless not to be only of one party (seeing no man disagrees with himself) but of parties, whereof one has made a breach with the other; But God is one, and always constant to himself: Therefore the disagreeing party is man, and the manner of making the Law did both signify and argue that; This is the force of the argument; which being granted, reconciliation is not made, but discord between God and man remains by that justification is not: But the Law being given, reconciliation is not made, but discord between God and the people remains, as it appears from the manner of giving the Law: Therefore justification is not by the Law.

Vers. 21. Is the Law then against the Promises of God? God forbid: For if there had been a Law given, which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the Law.

He propounds another question, whether the Law is contrary to the promise, showing to men the contrary ways of justifying.

He answers by denying, and adds Argum. 19. If a Law had been given, which could communicate life to sinners, and strength for the performing those things that were commanded, surely justification had been by the Law; we may assume; But such a law is neither given to sinners, nor can be, Rom. 8. 3. Therefore justification is not by the Law.

Vers. 22. But the Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of [in] Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

Argum. 20. The Law of God, and the whole Scripture has concluded all men, and whatsoever comes from man, under sin, and renders all men guilty of sin, that now nothing else can remain to man, but faith in Jesus Christ: by which the promise of free blessing belongs to all that believe: Therefore justification is not by the Law, but by faith: For if all are sinners, no man by works, no man, but by faith can be saved.

Vers. 23. But before faith came, we were kept under the Law, shut unto the faith, which should afterwards be revealed.

Argum. 21. From the end and use of external discipline, before the coming of Christ in the church of the Jews, who were daily urged under a curse to perform obedience to the Law, according to the covenant. They were daily instructed by the yoke and observance of ceremonies imposed touching due obedience to the commands, of their impotence to obey the Law, and of their manifold sins; they were also daily taught that they should fly to the altar, to sacrifice, to washings, that by this discipline they might acknowledge themselves to be sinners, and not to be freed, but by the oblation of the Lamb of God that was to come, and by expiation in his blood, or by faith in the promised Messiah.

From hence is the argument, we Jews before the coming of Christ, or before the full revelation of the doctrine of faith come, were kept under the external discipline of the legal covenant, as under a garrison circumscribed with boundaries, that we might not by any way turn our selves from the curse, unless unto that faith alone which was to be revealed, i. e to seek righteousness, and a blessing in the promised Messiah: Therefore we are so far from justification by the Law, that on the other side, by the discipline of the Law, the ancient church was shut up in straits, and compelled to look unto justification alone by faith. But the discipline of the Law is abused by many to a contrary end, yet this was the end of the legal discipline instituted by God.

Vers. 24. Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Argum. 22. Illustrating and confirming the former, The Law or the external form of the legal covenant like a school-master sent to us by God, did instruct our childish church, and lead it by the hand to Christ, that we might be justified by faith: Therefore we are so far from justification by the Law, that on the other side, unless we be justified by faith, the Law is frustrated in its end. For what else did the Law do by propounding moral precepts, than that, (as in a mirror) it might show to the Church how far men are distant from righteousness? what else did legal promises and threatenings speak, if you cannot perform these conditions; if now you do shamefully violate all those, you are undone, and utterly lost, unless thou take another course for salvation? Lastly, To the same end did the ceremonies tend. For what purpose were sacrifices and washings, but that they should be exercised in the daily meditation of their filthiness, and deserved damnation, and should behold in the image of an innocent Creature killed before their eyes, the necessity of their Redemption by a Messiah (who is that immaculate Lamb of God) and believing in him to justification.

Vers. 25. But after faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

Argum. 23. From the abolition of the external Discipline of the Legal covenant, which he intimates, vers. 23. when he determined that the use of his Discipline was before the time of the Gospel, and until the time of faith; and vers. 24. when he compared this Discipline to a schoolmaster (whose office is only appointed for our childish age.) The Argument is propounded; After Christ was manifested, and the time of the Gospel, the time of manifesting the free covenant, or the time of faith is now come, we are no more under the pedagogy of the Legal covenant, or the external Discipline wherewith the Church was exercised, only until the coming of Christ, i. e. until, and not beyond the time of faith: Therefore we are so far from being justified by the Law, that the whole of the external legal discipline is now abolished under the Gospel. He does not say that the Moral Law is abolished, but he saith that that pedagogical manner of urging the legal covenant, together with the appendages of ceremonies, is abolished. For although the faithful are freed from the Law, as a covenant, or as it imports the covenant of works; yet they are not freed from the Law commanding, or as it is the rule of manners, but rather they are obliged with a nearer and sweeter tie by the covenant of grace to obey the Law.

—David Dickson, An Exposition of All St. Paul’s Epistles… (London, 1659), 97–99. [spelling, punctuation, and some vocabulary modernized]

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