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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 4 - Verse 1

 

ROMANS Chapter 4

Verse 1. The main object of this chapter is to show that the doctrine of justification by faith, which the apostle was defending, was found in the Old Testament. The argument is to be regarded as addressed particularly to a Jew, to show him that no new doctrine was advanced. The argument is derived, first, from the fact that Abraham was so justified, (Ro 4:1-5) secondly, from the fact that the same thing is declared by David, (Ro 4:6-8.)

A question might still be asked, whether this justification was not in consequence of their being circumcised, and thus grew out of conformity to the law? To answer this, the apostle shows (Ro 4:9-12) that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised; and that even his circumcision was in consequence of his being justified by faith, and a public seal or attestation of that fact.

Still further, the apostle shows that if men were to be justified by works, faith would be of no use; and the promises of God would have no effect. The law works wrath, (Ro 4:13,14) but the conferring of the favour by faith is demonstration of the highest favour of God, (Ro 4:16.) Abraham, moreover, had evinced a strong faith; he had shown what it was; he was an example to all who should follow. And he had thus shown that as he was justified before circumcision, and before the giving of the law, so the same thing might occur in regard to those who had never been circumcised. In chapters 2 and 3 the apostle had shown that all had failed of keeping the law, and that there was no other way of justification but by faith. To the salvation of the heathen, the Jew would have strong objections. He supposed that none could be saved but those who had been circumcised, and who were Jews. This objection the apostle meets in this chapter, by showing that Abraham was justified in the very way in which he maintained the heathen might be; that Abraham was justified by faith without being circumcised. If the father of the faithful, the ancestor on whom the Jews so much prided themselves, was thus justified, then Paul was advancing no new doctrine in maintaining that the same thing might occur now. He was keeping strictly within the spirit of their religion in maintaining that the Gentile world might also be justified by faith. This is the outline of the reasoning in this chapter. The reasoning is such as a serious Jew must feel and acknowledge. And keeping in mind the main object which the apostle had in it, there will be found little difficulty in its interpretation.

Verse 1. What shall we then say? See Ro 3:1. This is rather the objection of a Jew. "How does your doctrine of justification by faith agree with what the Scriptures say of Abraham? Was the law set aside in his case? Did he derive no advantage in justification from the rite of circumcision, and from the covenant which God made with him." The object of the apostle now is to answer this inquiry.

That Abraham our father. Our ancestor; the father and founder of the nation. See Barnes "Mt 3:9".

The Jews valued themselves much on the fact that he was their father; and an argument, drawn from his example or conduct, therefore, would be peculiarly forcible.

As pertaining to the flesh. This expression is one that has been much controverted. In the original, it may refer either to Abraham as their father "according to the flesh"—that is, their natural father, or from whom they were descended—or it may be connected with "hath found." "What shall we say that Abraham our father hath found in respect to the flesh?" kata sarka. The latter is doubtless the proper connexion. Some refer the word flesh to external privileges and advantages; others to his own strength or power, (Calvin and Grotius;) and others make it refer to circumcision. This latter I take to be the correct interpretation. It agrees best with the connexion, and equally well with the usual meaning of the word. The idea is, "If men are justified by faith; if works are to have no place; if, therefore, all rites and ceremonies, all legal observances, are useless in justification, what is the advantage of circumcision? What benefit did Abraham derive from it? Why was it appointed? And why is such an importance attached to it in the history of his life?" A similar question was asked in Ro 3:1.

Hath found. Hath obtained. What advantage has he derived from it?

{g} "as pertaining" Mt 3:9

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