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Romans 4:14-15

14. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

14. Si enim ii qui sunt ex Lege hæredes sunt, exinanita est fides et abolita est promissio:

15. Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

15. Nam Lex iram efficit; siquidem ubi non est Lex, neque etiam transgressio.

14. For if they who are of the law, etc. He takes his argument from what is impossible or absurd, that the favor which Abraham obtained from God, was not promised to him through any legal agreement, or through any regard to works; for if this condition had been interposed — that God would favor those only with adoption who deserved, or who performed the law, no one could have dared to feel confident that it belonged to him: for who is there so conscious of so much perfection that he can feel assured that the inheritance is due to him through the righteousness of the law? Void then would faith be made; for an impossible condition would not only hold the minds of men in suspense and anxiety, but fill them also with fear and trembling: and thus the fulfillment of the promises would be rendered void; for they avail nothing but when received by faith. If our adversaries had ears to hear this one reason, the contest between us might easily be settled.

The Apostle assumes it as a thing indubitable, that the promises would by no means be effectual except they were received with full assurance of mind. But what would be the case if the salvation of men was based on the keeping of the law? consciences would have no certainty, but would be harassed with perpetual inquietude, and at length sink in despair; and the promise itself, the fulfillment of which depended on what is impossible, would also vanish away without producing any fruit. Away then with those who teach the common people to seek salvation for themselves by works, seeing that Paul declares expressly, that the promise is abolished if we depend on works. But it is especially necessary that this should be known, — that when there is a reliance on works, faith is reduced to nothing. And hence we also learn what faith is, and what sort of righteousness ought that of works to be, in which men may safely trust.

The Apostle teaches us, that faith perishes, except the soul rests on the goodness of God. Faith then is not a naked knowledge either of God or of his truth; nor is it a simple persuasion that God is, that his word is the truth; but a sure knowledge of God’s mercy, which is received from the gospel, and brings peace of conscience with regard to God, and rest to the mind. The sum of the matter then is this, — that if salvation depends on the keeping of the law, the soul can entertain no confidence respecting it, yea, that all the promises offered to us by God will become void: we must thus become wretched and lost, if we are sent back to works to find out the cause or the certainty of salvation.

15. For the law causeth wrath, etc. This is a confirmation of the last verse, derived from the contrary effect of the law; for as the law generates nothing but vengeance, it cannot bring grace. It can indeed show to the good and the perfect the way of life: but as it prescribes to the sinful and corrupt what they ought to do, and supplies them with no power for doing, it exhibits them as guilty before the tribunal of God. For such is the viciousness of our nature, that the more we are taught what is right and just, the more openly is our iniquity discovered, and especially our contumacy, and thus a heavier judgment is incurred.

By wrath, understand God’s judgment, which meaning it has everywhere. They who explain it of the wrath of the sinner, excited by the law, inasmuch as he hates and execrates the Lawgiver, whom he finds to be opposed to his lusts, say what is ingenious, but not suitable to this passage; for Paul meant no other thing, than that condemnation only is what is brought on us all by the law, as it is evident from the common use of the expression, and also from the reason which he immediately adds.

Where there is no law, etc. This is the proof, by which he confirms what he had said; for it would have been difficult to see how God’s wrath is kindled against us through the law, unless it had been made more apparent. And the reason is, that as the knowledge of God’s justice is discovered by the law, the less excuse we have, and hence the more grievously we offend against God; for they who despise the known will of God, justly deserve to sustain a heavier punishment, than those who offend through ignorance.

But the Apostle speaks not of the mere transgression of what is right, from which no man is exempt; but he calls that a transgression, when man, having been taught what pleases and displeases God, knowingly and willfully passes over the boundaries fixed by God’s word; or, in other words, transgression here is not a mere act of sin, but a willful determination to violate what is right. 141141     It is better to take this sentence, “Where there is no law, there is no transgression,” according to its obvious meaning; as it comports better with the former clause. The reasoning seems to be this, — “The promise is by faith, and not by the law; for the law brings wrath or condemnation: but where there is no law, there is no transgression to occasion wrath.” The same idea is essentially conveyed in verse Romans 4:16, where it is said, that the promise is sure, because it is through faith and by grace. Had it been by the law, there would have been transgression and wrath, and hence the loss of the promise.
   This verse is connected with the Romans 4:13 rather than with the 14th. It contains another reason, besides what Romans 4:14 gives, in confirmation of what is said in Romans 4:13. Hence Macknight renders γὰρ, in this verse, “farther,” which renders the connection more evident. “Where no law is, there is no transgression, and therefore no wrath or punishment; but where law is, there is transgression, wrath, and punishment.” — Pareus
The particle, οὖ, where, which I take as an adverb, some consider to be a relative, of which; but the former reading is the most suitable, and the most commonly received. Whichever reading you may follow, the meaning will be the same, — that he who is not instructed by the written law, when he sins, is not guilty of so great a transgression, as he is who knowingly breaks and transgresses the law of God.


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