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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 4 - Verse 3

Verse 3. For what saith the Scripture? The inspired account of Abraham's justification. This account was final, and was to settle the question. This account is found in Ge 15:6.

Abraham believed God. In the Hebrew, "Abraham believed Jehovah." The sense is substantially the same, as the argument turns on the act of believing. The faith which Abraham exercised was, that his posterity should be like the stars of heaven in number. This promise was made to him when he had no child, and of course when he had no prospect of such a posterity. See the strength and nature of this faith further illustrated in Ro 4:16-21. The reason why it was counted to him for righteousness was, that it was such a strong, direct, and unwavering act of confidence in the promise of God.

And it. The word "it" here evidently refers to the act of believing. It does not refer to the righteousness of another —of God, or of the Messiah; but the discussion is solely of the strong act of Abraham's faith, which in some sense was counted to him for righteousness. In what sense this was, is explained directly after. All that is material to remark here is, that the act of Abraham, the strong confidence of his mind in the promises of God, his unwavering assurance that what God had promised he would perform, was reckoned for righteousness. The same thing is more fully expressed in Ro 4:18-22. When, therefore, it is said that the righteousness of Christ is accounted or imputed to us; when it is said that his merits are transferred and reckoned as ours; whatever may be the truth of the doctrine, it cannot be defended by this passage of Scripture. Faith is always an act of the mind. It is not a created essence which is placed within the mind. It is not a substance created independently of the soul, and placed within it by almighty power. It is not a principle, for the expression a principle of faith is as unmeaning as a principle of joy, or a principle of sorrow, or a principle of remorse. God promises; the man believes; and this is the whole of it. While the word faith is sometimes used to denote religious doctrine, or the system that is to be believed, (Ac 6:7; 15:9; Ro 1:5; 10:8; 16:26; Eph 3:17; 4:5; 1 Ti 2:7, etc.) yet, when it is used to denote that which is required of men, it always denotes an acting of the mind exercised in relation to some object, or some promise, or threatening, or declaration of some other being. See Barnes "Mr 16:16".

 

Was counted—(elogisyh.) The same word in Ro 4:22 is rendered "it was imputed." The word occurs frequently in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, the verb

HEBREW, (hashab,) which is translated by the word logizomai, means, literally, to think, to intend, or purpose; to imagine, invent, or devise; to reckon, or account; to esteem; to impute, i.e. to impute to a man what belongs to himself, or what ought to be imputed to him. It occurs only in the following places: 1 Sa 18:25; Es 8:3; 9:24,25; Isa 33:8; Jer 49:20; 50:45; La 2:8; 2 Sa 14:14; Jer 49:30; Ge 1:20; Job 35:2; 2 Sa 14:13; Eze 38:10; Jer 18:8

Ps 21:11; 140:2,4; Jer 11:19; 48:2; Am 6:5; Ps 10:2; Isa 53:3, Jer 26:3; Mic 2:3; Nah 1:11; Jer 18:11; Job 13:24; 41:27,29, Ps 32:2; 35:5; Isa 10:7; Job 19:11; 33:10; Ge 15:6; 38:15; 1 Sa 1:13; Ps 52:2; Jer 18:18; Zec 7:10; Job 6:26; 19:11; Isa 13:17; 1 Ki 10:21; Nu 18:27,30; Ps 88:4; Isa 40:17; La 4:2; Isa 40:17; La 4:2; Isa 40:15; Ge 31:15. I have examined all the passages, and, as the result of my examination, have come to the conclusion, that there is not one in which the word is used in the sense of reckoning or imputing to a man that which does not strictly belong to him; or of charging on him that which ought not to be charged on him as a matter of personal right. The word is never used to denote imputing in the sense of transferring, or of charging that on one which does not properly belong to him. The same is the case in the New Testament. The word occurs about forty times, (see Schmidius' Concord.,)and in a similar signification. No doctrine of transferring, or of setting over to a man what does not properly belong to him, be it sin or holiness, can be derived, therefore, from this word. Whatever is meant by it here, it evidently is declared that the act of believing is that which is intended, both by Moses and by Paul.

For righteousness. In order to justification; or to regard and treat him in connexion with this as a righteous man; as one who was admitted to the favor and friendship of God. In reference to this we may remark,

(1.) that it is evidently not intended that the act of believing, on the part of Abraham, was the meritorious ground of acceptance; for then it would have been a work. Faith was as much his own act, as any act of obedience to the law.

(2.) The design of the apostle was to show that by the law, or by works, man could not be justified, Ro 3:28; 4:2.

(3.) Faith was not that which the law required. It demanded complete and perfect obedience; and if a man was justified by faith, it was in some other way than by the law.

(4.) As the law did not demand this, and as faith was something different from the demand of the law, so if a man were justified by that, it was on a principle altogether different from justification by works. It was not by personal merit. It was not by complying with the law. It was in a mode entirely different.

(5.) In being justified by faith, it is meant, therefore, that we are treated as righteous; that we are forgiven; that we are admitted to the favour of God, and treated as his friends.

(6.) In this act, faith is a mere instrument, an antecedent, a sine qua non, that which God has been pleased to appoint as a condition on which men may be treated as righteous. It expresses a state of mind which is demonstrative of love to God; of affection for his cause and character; of reconciliation and friendship; and is therefore that state to which he has been graciously pleased to promise pardon and acceptance.

(7.) As this is not a matter of law; as the law could not be said to demand it; as it is on a different principle; and as the acceptance of faith, or of a believer, cannot be a matter of merit or claim, so justification is of grace, or mere favour. It is in no sense a matter of merit on our part, and thus stands distinguished entirely from justification by works, or by conformity to the law. From beginning to end, it is, so far as we are concerned, a matter of grace. The merit by which all this is obtained is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom this plan is proposed, and by whose atonement alone God can consistently pardon and treat as righteous those who are in themselves ungodly. See Ro 4:5. In this place we have also evidence that faith is always substantially of the same character. In the case of Abraham it was confidence in God and his promises. All faith has the same nature, whether it be confidence in the Messiah, or in any of the Divine promises or truths. As this confidence evinces the same state of mind, so it was as consistent to justify Abraham by it, as it is to justify him who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ under the gospel. See Heb 11:1 and following.

 

 

{i} "Abraham believed" Ge 15:6

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