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Romans 4:1-3

1. What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

1. Quid ergo dicemus, invenisse Abraham patrem nostrum secundum carnem?

2. For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

2. Si enim Abraham ex operibus justificatus est. habet quo glorietur, sed non apud Deum.

3. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 129129     This chapter, as Turrettin observes, divides itself into three parts. The first from 1 to 12 inclusive, the second from 13 to 17 inclusive, in which it is proved that the promises made to Abraham did not depend on the law; and the third from 18 to the end, in which the faith of Abraham is commended, and the Christian faith briefly referred to.
   But Pareus makes a different division: 1, Four proofs of justification by faith, from 1 to 16; 2, The dispensation of Abraham, from 17 to 22; 3, The application of the subject, from 23 to 25. — Ed.

3. Quid enim Scripture dicit’ Credidit Abraham Deo, et imputa tum est illi in justitiam.

1. What then, etc. This is a confirmation by example; and it is a very strong one, since all things are alike with regard to the subject and the person; for he was the father of the faithful, to whom we ought all to be conformed; and there is also but one way and not many ways by which righteousness may be obtained by all. In many other things one example would not be sufficient to make a common rule; but as in the person of Abraham there was exhibited a mirror and pattern of righteousness, which belongs in common to the whole Church, rightly does Paul apply what has been written of him alone to the whole body of the Church, and at the same time he gives a check to the Jews, who had nothing more plausible to glory in than that they were the children of Abraham; and they could not have dared to claim to themselves more holiness than what they ascribed to the holy patriarch. Since it is then evident that he was justified freely, his posterity, who claimed a righteousness of their own by the law, ought to have been made silent even through shame.

According to the flesh, etc. Between this clause and the word father there is put in Paul’s text the verb ἑυρηκέναι, in this order — “What shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?” On this account, some interpreters think that the question is — “What has Abraham obtained according to the flesh?” If this exposition be approved, the words according to the flesh mean naturally or from himself. It is, however, probable that they are to be connected with the word father. 130130     So did all the fathers according to Pareus, and so does the Vulgate. But later commentators have taken the words as they stand, and with good reason, for otherwise the correspondence between this and the following verse would not be apparent. Beza, Hammond, and Macknight take the words in their proper order; and this is what is done by the Syriac and Arabic versions.
   Κατὰ σάρκα is rendered by Grotius and Macknight, “by (per) the flesh. Some understand by the word “flesh,” circumcision, as Vatablus; others, natural powers, as Grotius But Beza and Hammond think that it is the same as what is meant “by works” in the next verse; and “flesh” evidently has this meaning: it signifies often the performance of what the law requires, the observance not only of ceremonial but also of moral duties. See Galatians 3:3; Galatians 6:12; and especially Philippians 3:3, 4; where Paul gives up “all confidence in the flesh,” and enumerates, among other things, his strict conformity to the law. — Ed.
Besides, as we are wont to be more touched by domestic examples, the dignity of their race, in which the Jews took too much pride, is here again expressly mentioned. But some regard this as spoken in contempt, as they are elsewhere called the carnal children of Abraham, being not so spiritually or in a legitimate sense. But I think that it was expressed as a thing peculiar to the Jews; for it was a greater honor to be the children of Abraham by nature and descent, than by mere adoption, provided there was also faith. He then concedes to the Jews a closer bond of union, but only for this end — that he might more deeply impress them that they ought not to depart from the example of their father.

2. For if Abraham, etc. This is an incomplete argument, 131131     Epicheirema; in Greek ἐπιχείρεμα, an attempted but an unfinished process of reasoning. It is not necessary to introduce this sort of syllogism, it being not the character of Scripture nor of any other writing to discuss matters in this form.
   The word for “glorying” here, καύχημα, is different from that in Romans 3:27, καύχησις, and means reason, ground, or cause for glorying, and is rendered by Grotiusunde laudem speret — whereby he may hope for praise;” and by Beza and Piscatorunde glorietur — whereby he may glory.” To complete the following clause, most repeat the words ἔχει καύχημα — “But he has no ground for glorying before God.” Vatablus gives another meaning, “But not with regard to God,” that is, with regard to what he has said in his word; and this view is confirmed by what immediately follows, “For what saith the Scripture?” In this case there is nothing understood. That πρὸς θεόν is used in a similar manner, is evident from other passages: τα πρὸς θεόν — “things which pertain to God,” i.e., to God’s work or service. See Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 5:1. — Ed.
which may be made in this form — “If Abraham was justified by works, he might justly glory: but he had nothing for which he could glory before God; then he was not justified by works.” Thus the clause but not before God, is the minor proposition; and to this must be added the conclusion which I have stated, though it is not expressed by Paul. He calls that glorying when we pretend to have anything of our own to which a reward is supposed to be due at God’s tribunal. Since he takes this away from Abraham, who of us can claim for himself the least particle of merit?

3. For what saith the Scripture? This is a proof of the minor proposition, or of what he assumed, when he denied that Abraham had any ground for glorying: for if Abraham was justified, because he embraced, by faith, the bountiful mercy of God, it follows, that he had nothing to glory in; for he brought nothing of his own, except a confession of his misery, which is a solicitation for mercy. He, indeed, takes it as granted, that the righteousness of faith is the refuge, and, as it were, the asylum of the sinner, who is destitute of works. For if there be any righteousness by the law or by works, it must be in men themselves; but by faith they derive from another what is wanting in themselves; and hence the righteousness of faith is rightly called imputative.

The passage, which is quoted, is taken from Genesis 15:6; in which the word believe is not to be confined to any particular expression, but it refers to the whole covenant of salvation, and the grace of adoption, which Abraham apprehended by faith. There is, indeed, mentioned there the promise of a future seed; but it was grounded on gratuitous adoption: 132132     The adoption is evidently included in the words, found in the first verse of this chapter, “I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” What follows is connected with this, and the promise of a numerous seed arose from what Abraham said respecting an heir. His believing then had an especial regard to the first promise, as the second, respecting his “seed,” was only, as it were, an enlargement of the first, or an addition to it. — Ed. and it ought to be observed, that salvation without the grace of God is not promised, nor God’s grace without salvation; and again, that we are not called to the grace of God nor to the hope of salvation, without having righteousness offered to us.

Taking this view, we cannot but see that those understand not the principles of theology, who think that this testimony recorded by Moses, is drawn aside from its obvious meaning by Paul: for as there is a particular promise there stated, they understand that he acted rightly and faithfully in believing it, and was so far approved by God. But they are in this mistaken; first, because they have not considered that believing extends to the whole context, and ought not to be confined to one clause. But the principal mistake is, that they begin not with the testimony of God’s favor. But God gave this, to make Abraham more assured of his adoption and paternal favor; and included in this was eternal salvation by Christ. Hence Abraham, by believing, embraced nothing but the favor offered to him, being persuaded that it would not be void. Since this was imputed to him for righteousness, it follows, that he was not otherwise just, than as one trusting in God’s goodness, and venturing to hope for all things from him. Moses does not, indeed, tell us what men thought of him, but how he was accounted before the tribunal of God. Abraham then laid hold on the benignity of God offered to him in the promise, through which he understood that righteousness was communicated to him. It is necessary, in order to form an opinion of righteousness, to understand this relation between the promise and faith; for there is in this respect the same connection between God and us, as there is, according to the lawyers, between the giver and the person to whom any thing is given, (datorem et donatarium — the donor and the donee:) for we can no otherwise attain righteousness, than as it is brought to us, as it were, by the promise of the gospel; and we realize its possession by faith. 133133     The foregoing observations contain a lucid and a satisfactory view of the character of Abraham’s faith, perfectly consistent with what is said of it by Paul in this chapter, and in the epistle to the Galatians. Some think that the principle of faith was the only thing which the Apostle had in view in referring to Abraham’s faith, and that he had no special regard to the object of justifying faith, that is, Christ. But that Christ was, in a measure, revealed to him, is evident from the account given in Genesis, and from what Christ himself has said, — that Abraham saw his day and rejoiced, John 8:56. At the same time it was the promise of gratuitous mercy, as Calvin intimates, that formed the most distinctive object of Abraham’s faith, the promise of a free acceptance, without any regard to works. There are two things which the Apostle clearly intended to show, — that imputation of righteousness is an act of gratuitous favor, — and that it is alone by faith.
   There is some difference in the wording, though not in the meaning, of the sentence from Genesis 15:6. Paul gives it literally according to the Septuagint. The word “Abraham,” is put in; instead of “Jehovah,” it is “God;” the verb “count,” is made passive, and a preposition is placed before “righteousness.” The Hebrew is this, — “And he believed on Jehovah, and he counted it to him righteousness.” The “it,” no doubt, refers to what is included in the word “believed.” So Paul explains it in verse 9, where he expressly puts down πίστις, faith.

   It has been said that this faith of Abraham was not faith in Christ, according to what the context shows in Genesis. And it was not so specifically: nor does Paul represent it as such; for this was not his object. He states it throughout as faith in God; it was believing the testimony of God; but that testimony embraced a promise respecting Christ; so that it included the Savior within its compass. We must remember that Paul’s object is to establish this truth, — that righteousness is attained by faith and not by works; and that for this end he adduces the examples both of Abraham and David. It was not his design to point out specifically the object of justifying faith. We must keep this in view, in order to understand the reasoning of the Apostle in this chapter: it is the power and efficacy of faith, in opposition to all works, that he particularly dwells upon, and the gracious promise of God was its object. — Ed.

How to reconcile what James says, which seems somewhat contrary to this view I have already explained, and intend to explain more fully, when I come, if the Lord will permit, to expound that Epistle.

Only let us remember this, — that those to whom righteousness is imputed, are justified; since these two things are mentioned by Paul as being the same. We hence conclude that the question is not, what men are in themselves, but how God regards them; not that purity of conscience and integrity of life are to be separated from the gratuitous favor of God; but that when the reason is asked, why God loves us and owns us as just, it is necessary that Christ should come forth as one who clothes us with his own righteousness.


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