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Romans 4:4-5

4. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

4. Ei quidem qui operatur merces non imputatur secundum gratiam, sed secundum debitum:

5. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

5. Ei vero qui non operatur, credit autem in eum qui justificat impium, imputatur fides sua in justitiam.

4. To him indeed who works, etc. It is not he, whom he calls a worker, who is given to good works, to which all the children of God ought to attend, but the person who seeks to merit something by his works: and in a similar way he calls him no worker who depends not on the merit of what he does. He would not, indeed, have the faithful to be idle; but he only forbids them to be mercenaries, so as to demand any thing from God, as though it were justly their due.

We have before reminded you, that the question is not here how we are to regulate our life, but how we are to be saved: and he argues from what is contrary, — that God confers not righteousness on us because it is due, but bestows it as a gift. And indeed I agree with Bucer, who proves that the argument is not made to depend on one expression, but on the whole passage, and formed in this manner, “If one merits any thing by his work, what is merited is not freely imputed to him, but rendered to him as his due. Faith is counted for righteousness, not that it procures any merit for us, but because it lays hold on the goodness of God: hence righteousness is not due to us, but freely bestowed.” For as Christ of his own good-will justifies us through faith, Paul always regards this as an evidence of our emptiness; for what do we believe, except that Christ is an expiation to reconcile us to God? The same truth is found in other words in Galatians 3:11, where it is said, “That no man is justified by the law, it is evident, for the just shall by faith live: but the law is not by faith; but he who doeth these things shall live in them.” Inasmuch, then, as the law promises reward to works, he hence concludes, that the righteousness of faith, which is free, accords not with that which is operative: this could not be were faith to justify by means of works. — We ought carefully to observe these comparisons, by which every merit is entirely done away.

5. But believes on him, etc. This is a very important sentence, in which he expresses the substance and nature both of faith and of righteousness. He indeed clearly shews that faith brings us righteousness, not because it is a meritorious act, but because it obtains for us the favor of God. 134134     Some have stumbled at this sentence, — “his faith is counted for righteousness,” and have misapplied it, as though faith were in itself the cause of righteousness, and hence a meritorious act, and not the way and means of attaining righteousness. Condensed sentences will not submit to the rules of logic, but must be interpreted according to the context and explanations elsewhere found. “His faith” means, no doubt, his faith in the Promise, or in God who promises, or in him who, as is said in this verse, “justifies the ungodly:” hence what is believed, or the object of faith, is what is counted for righteousness. This accords with the declarations, — that “man is justified by faith,” Romans 3:28, and that “the righteousness of God” is “by faith,” Romans 3:22. If by faith, then faith itself is not that righteousness.
   “Beware,” says Chalmers, “of having any such view of faith as will lead you to annex to it the kind of merit, or of claim, or of glorying under the gospel, which are annexed to works under the law. This, in fact, were just animating with a legal spirit the whole phraseology and doctrine of the gospel. It is God who justifies. He drew up the title-deed, and he bestowed the title-deed. It is ours simply to lay hold of it...Any other view of faith than that which excludes boasting must be altogether unscriptural.” — Ed.
Nor does he declare only that God is the giver of righteousness, but he also arraigns us of unrighteousness, in order that the bounty of God may come to aid our necessity: in short, no one will seek the righteousness of faith except he who feels that he is ungodly; for this sentence is to be applied to what is said in this passage, — that faith adorns us with the righteousness of another, which it seeks as a gift from God. And here again, God is said to justify us when he freely forgives sinners, and favors those, with whom he might justly be angry, with his love, that is, when his mercy obliterates our unrighteousness.


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