Rev. Rousas John Rushdoony
For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest 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. (Galatians 4:27-31)
The religions of Paul’s day were anthropomorphic, i.e., they remade their god or gods in man’s image. As a result, what was predicated of man had to be predicated of the gods. The church fathers regularly called attention to the absurdities and the immoralities of the pagan gods. Thus, Firmicus Maternus wrote:
It is difficult to make the tally of all their adulteries, and to say who corrupted Amymone, who Alope, who Melanippe, who Chione and Hippothoe. Your god, forsooth, is said to have done these deeds. That very god who, as they maintain, corrects with stern oracles the sins of erring mankind, loves Sterope, kidnaps Aethyssa, ravishes Zeuxippe, woos Prothoe, and fondles Arsinoe in adulterous desire. But of that throng of corrupted women one girl vanished and thus vanquished the amatory god: Daphne was one whom the god who divines and foretells the future could not find nor ravish. Another person lets himself be used as a woman, and then seeks consolation for his womanized body: well, let him consider Liber and how he repaid his lover even after death the libidinous reward he had promised, by an imitation of shameful coitus. If anyone in the heat of preternatural passion arms himself to encompass the murder of his father, let him take Jupiter as exemplar. Whoever thirst for his brother’s blood may follow the pattern of the Corybantes. Those who crave incest should look to the examples set by Jupiter: he lay with his mother, wedded his sister, and, to round to the full crime of incest, approached his daughter also with the intent to corrupt her.1
Such accounts are common in the writings of the church fathers. Some called attention also to the fact some perversions were “invented” by the gods, i.e., Jupiter was cited as “the inventor of pederasty.”2 Jupiter planned the murder of his father Saturn but failed in the attempt.
Why did the philosophically sometimes sophisticated Greeks and Romans, and other pagans as well, accept such gods? The key is Dostoevsky’s comment, If God does not exist, everything is possible. For Dostoevsky, this possibility was a horror. For the epistemologically self-conscious pagans, it was freedom. Their religions were anthropomorphic; hence, their gods acted as degenerate fallen men will act when there is no law over them. They readily explored every repulsive possibility. For the pagans, this was religiously credible. Moreover, since their gods were deified men, these gods revealed what human potentiality is capable of attaining. As a result, their world of desired possibilities represented the developed depravities of fallen men.
Thus, the pagan gods were highly credible for pagan men, whereas the God of Scripture was offensive and impossible. The Greeks and Romans believed in ghosts or spirits; immortality was a common belief among them. The resurrection was difficult to accept, and the church fathers stressed it heavily because it was both basic to the gospel and a stumblingblock to the pagans. But this was not all. Regeneration was for them, as for our modern pagans, another incredible doctrine in its Biblical sense. They believed in man’s potentialities but not in God’s regenerating and renewing power. Closely related to this was the forgiveness of sins. Overlooking sins, winking at them, or trying to continue as though they did not exist, such attitudes were common. Julius Caesar applied it to his enemies, and they lived as a result to kill him. Caesar had hoped that his clemency would elicit a cooperative response from his enemies: he did not expect more than a pragmatic compliance, certainly nothing resembling regeneration. Rufinus (b. A.D. 345) wrote:
Pagans habitually make fun of us, saying that we deceive ourselves if we imagine that mere words can wipe out offences which haveactually been committed. “Is it possible,” they say, “for one who hascommitted murder to be no murderer, or for the perpetrator of adultery to be represented as no adulterer? How then is someone whois guilty of misdeeds like these going to be suddenly made holy? Faith, as I have pointed out, supplies a better answer to such charges than reason. He who has promised forgiveness is King of all things: He who assures us of it is Lord of heaven and earth. Are you reluctant for me to believe that He who made me a man out of mere clay can transform my guilt into innocence? Will He who caused me to see when I was blind and to hear when I was deaf, and who restored my powers of walking when I was lame, prove incapable of recovering my lost innocence for me?3
Since paganism then as now has no true forgiveness of sins, it cheapens sin as well as forgiveness. Sin becomes an ineradicable part of the human scene, and men accept it with complacence. Forgiveness then becomes a casual unconcern with sin and its consequences.
Paul faced such a world of anthropomorphic religion. Phariseeism was very much a part of it, although morally and intellectually a superior part. Payment for services rendered is basic to the human scene, a necessary part of it. If man is anthropomorphic in his religion, he ascribes to God a mentality like his own: he remakes God in his own human image. God must therefore be bought with works of law. The revelation given by God, His law-word, is thus put to work to serve man’s anthropomorphic theology.
Paul meets this humanism head on. In v. 27, he cites Isaiah 54:1, a statement which defies the humanistic order. The barren woman will have more children than the fruitful wife. The true believer and the true church may seem barren, but to them the Lord gives the great increase. Isaiah refers to Sarah’s long barrenness and sees it as revelatory of God’s sovereign over-ruling of man’s plans in history and in terms of His purposes. The saints in every era, during the Babylonian captivity and after, in the early church and until now, are to see themselves as heirs of the promise in Christ. “The Church is the fruit of God’s sovereign grace, not of human effort.”4
Since Isaiah 54:1 follows Isaiah 53:1-12, the Suffering Servant and His justifying of His people, it is clear that Paul has in mind Christ’s atonement as the great source of the power, growth, and fertility of the redeemed in Christ. Paul is saying that the barren, the Gentiles, will be blessed, whereas “the married wife,” physical Israel, will be set aside for a time because of its denial of grace. Isaiah 54:2 was used by William Carey to set forth his missionary mandate in Asia. Paul’s point in v. 31 is that, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, in Christ we are not reckoned as either but as citizens of the Jerusalem from above. We are, like Isaac, “the children of promise” (v. 28). Just as Ishmael persecuted young Isaac, so too, Paul says, physical Israel is now persecuting the true Israel of God, those “born after the Spirit” (v. 29). What is the solution? The Scripture says Paul, in Genesis 21:10, orders the bondwoman and her son to be cast out (v. 30). Hence, the Pharisees within the church must be cast out. The difference between Phariseeism and Christianity is irreconcilable. “Very important again is the characterization of the dual conflict by means of the words born after the flesh and (born) after the Spirit.”5 The able Lightfoot was again very heavy-footed here with his antinomianism, stating, “The Law must disappear before the Gospel.”6
Paul writes, not about a conflict between the law and the gospel, but between grace and blood. By adoption, an act of grace, the people of Christ, Jew or Gentile, are the heirs of the promise to Abraham, not the physical descendents. Anthropomorphism had projected man’s concept of payment and man’s concept of blood inheritance onto God’s plan. Against this, Paul speaks strongly and clearly. It leads to a humanistic slavery, but we are to be free in Christ (5:1).
The problem of anthropomorphism is very much with us today. Modernism insists on a naturalistic God, i.e., one roughly as subject to a scientific world view as man supposedly is. In the United States, the transcendentalists and Unitarians were vehement champions of anthropomorphic religion. Theodore Parker held, “The orthodox place the Bible above the soul, we the soul above the Bible.”7 Hence, Parker held, “In the soul let redemption be sought.”8
For him, man was his own savior. His anthropomorphism was a radical one. Because man at times needs a God to depend on, therefore, Parker held, God must exist: “I am, therefore God is.”9
This was a logical inference from Descartes’ premise, “I think, therefore I am.” Since Parker, the need for God has been denied by many, but not their anthropomorphism. As the humanists view the universe, they project their emptiness upon it. Because their lives have no coherence, they insist on cosmic meaninglessness and chance, on brute factuality. The psalmist declares:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
- Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
- There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
- Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Ps. 19:14)
This psalm, a celebration of the law of the Lord, tells us that all creation speaks of God and His law-word. The humanist, however, suppresses this truth in his injustice (Rom. 1:18). Instead of hearing the heavenly word, he reads his emptiness into the heavens and the earth. The end or conclusion of anthropomorphic religion is empty men and an empty faith.