1. And I say as long as the heir is a little child, he nothing differs from a slave, though he is lord of all;
2. But is under guardians and agents, up to the time appointed by his father.
As long as the heir is a child. The Apostle takes up the word heirs, which is the concluding word of the last chapter, in the Greek and in the Vulgate, and makes it the subject of the reflections and illustrations by which he expands and develops the idea, in this chapter. The heir when a child, and though the real possessor of all things round him, has nevertheless to be treated as if he were a servant, as regards the control of himself and choice of his movements and proceedings, on account of his inexperience of life. He himself is controlled by his guardians, and his property managed by agents and factors, under their superintendence, until his arrival at full age.
3. So we also, when were little children, were in service under the elements of the world.
So we, the Jews, though heirs of the promise, were like little children, and treated as such. Children in intelligence, we saw only outward signs, without understanding their significance, or understanding it imperfectly. Children in affection, we regarded only the temporal promises of the law, the gifts of God for this mortal life. We were instructed by the law of Moses, which God gave to the world as conveying the first elements or rudiments of piety and religion, the alphabet of faith, the elementa, or elevamenta, as Ambrose says, the first rudiments of education : like the first lessons given to infancy. We were in bondage or service to the ritual of the Hebrew religion, not perceiving that these things were only signs of something else; and controlled by threats or fear of punishment, to obedience to the commands of God.
4. And when the fulness of time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under law,
The fulness of the time. When the time came which was marked out and appointed by God the Father, for the fulfilment of the great promise made to Abraham, and when the race of man were ready to enter upon the inheritance then pledged to them, which was to be the benediction of all the nations: He sent Christ, the promise, the benediction, the inheritance, his only-begotten Son, born of woman, like all other men who have come into this world, and therefore human, but with no sire but his heavenly Father, because he was divine.
Made under the law, that is born of a Hebrew mother, and therefore subject to the obligation of the law, in consequence of which he received circumcision and practised the requirements of the Mosaic institutions, by his own free will.
5. To redeem us who were under law, that we might receive the adoption of the sons of God.
Not to be cleansed by the law, says St. Anselm, but to set at liberty those who were subject to the pressure of its claims. And that both Jews and Gentiles might receive the adoption 0f the sons of God. The Greek, receive the sonship. Recover that adoption as sons of God which was lost by the fall of Adam, and the restoration of which was promised to the sons of Abraham.
6. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba Father.
Because you are sons. Because you, Galatians, who were originally pagans and not Jews, have become by adoption sons of God, equally with those who were Jewsbefore they received the faith of Christ, therefore God has sent his Holy Spirit into your hearts, that is into your souls, into which you receive the grace of God, and by this filial love you are enabled and encouraged to say to God in Christ’s words, Our Father. See some further observations on this subject in the commentary on Rom 8:15. (I’ve appended the commentary on 8:15 to the end of this post).
7. Therefore now there is not a servant, but a son; and if a son, also an heir through God.
The Greek has: therefore thou art no more a servant, but a son. The Vulgate has the verb est for es. The spirit of God is called indifferently the Spirit of the Father, and the Spirit of the Son. The Apostle says in this place the Spirit of his Son, because he is engaged in proving the adoption of Christian believers to be the sons of God. The fact that the Galatian Christians had received the Spirit of God, was one that required no proof, because the miracles which had been wrought, and were even then wrought continually, among them, afforded an unanswerable demonstration of it. The Apostle’s argument is that you have undoubtedly received the Holy Spirit, and that spirit is the Spirit of the Son, therefore you have received the adoption of sons. If a son, you are an heir of God. A father will sometimes distribute to his sons, when of full age, a portion of his inheritance, as a pledge and earnest for the remainder which they are one day to inherit. God is our eternal inheritance, to be enjoyed in heaven; in pledge and earnest of which, and as a portion of it given in advance, he has sent ihe Spirit of his Son into our souls, the pledge of our sonship, and earnest of our inheritance, to be received in full hereafter.
Commentary on Romans 8:15:
15. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear: but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, in which we cry, Abba (Father).
You have not received the spirit of bondage again. Again, because the spirit of the law of Moses was a spirit of servitude and fear. Holy men under the old law were sons of God only in an imperfect manner, and in a lesser degree, like slaves, differing in nothing from servants, Gal 4:1. What you have received is the spirit of sonship or adoption, entitling you to say with Christ, and with all confidence, Our Father. As the divine Word gave himself to Christ, the Man, so that the Man named Christ, is the Son of God: so in proportion the Holy Spirit is given us in Baptism in such way as to make us Sons of God. Cornel, a Lap. in loc.
The Apostle contrasts the spirit of bondage not with the spirit of freedom, but the spirit of adoption; not merely free, but free as sons.
He does not say, we say Abba, but we cry; boldly, loudly, confidently, publicly. Instructed by holy precepts, and formed by divine institution, we venture to say, OurFather. Abba is the Hebrew or Syriac word for father, and to it he joins the Greek word with the same meaning, to signify that Jews and Gentiles are together called to the adoption of the sons of God. Saint Augustine, lib. de Spiritu et litcra, 32 de Cons. Evan. 4.
It is also possible that Saint Paul refers to the prayer of our Lord in the garden, Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; as an encouragement to address him by the same title, with the same confidence in his affection, under similar circumstances of trouble or despondency.
Before the coming of Christ the people of God were undoubtedly entitled in a certain sense to speak of God as their father, but only in a metaphorical sense, and on the ground of creation. “Now, Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our Maker” (Isa 64:8. In some translations, 64:7). This is clearly applicable to all the race of men. And on the ground of providence: “Thy Providence, Father, governs the world” (Wis 14:3). But not on the ground and by right of adoption, an honour reserved for those who are sons of God in Christ, and which is expressed in the formula of the Apostle, Abba, Father.