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Romans 4:16-17

16. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

16. Propterea ex fide, ut secundum gratiam, quo firma sit promissio universo semini non ei quod est ex Lege solum, sed quod est ex fide Abrahæ, qui est pater omnium nostrum,

17. (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

17. (sicut scriptum est. Quod patrem multarum gentium posui te,) coram Deo, cui credidit, qua vivificat mortuos et vocat ea quæ non sunt tanquam sint.

16. It is therefore of faith, etc. This is the winding up of the argument; and you may summarily include the whole of it in this statement, — “If the heirship of salvation comes to us by works, then faith in it vanishes, the promise of it is abolished; but it is necessary that both these should be sure and certain; hence it comes to us by faith, so that its stability being based on the goodness of God alone, may be secured.” See how the Apostle, regarding faith as a thing firm and certain, considers hesitancy and doubt as unbelief, by which faith is abolished, and the promise abrogated. And yet this doubting is what the schoolmen call a moral conjecture, and which, alas! they substitute for faith.

That it might be by grace, etc. Here, in the first place, the Apostle shows, that nothing is set before faith but mere grace; and this, as they commonly say, is its object: for were it to look on merits, absurdly would Paul infer, that whatever it obtains for us is gratuitous. I will repeat this again in other words, — “If grace be everything that we obtain by faith, then every regard for works is laid in the dust.” But what next follows more fully removes all ambiguity, — that the promise then only stands firm, when it recumbs on grace: for by this expression Paul confirms this truth, that as long as men depend on works, they are harassed with doubts; for they deprive themselves of what the promises contain. Hence, also, we may easily learn, that grace is not to be taken, as some imagine, for the gift of regeneration, but for a gratuitous favor: for as regeneration is never perfect, it can never suffice to pacify souls, nor of itself can it make the promise certain.

Not to that only which is of the law, etc. Though these words mean in another place those who, being absurd zealots of the law, bind themselves to its yoke, and boast of their confidence in it, yet here they mean simply the Jewish nation, to whom the law of the Lord had been delivered. For Paul teaches us in another passage, that all who remain bound to the dominion of the law, are subject to a curse; it is then certain that they are excluded from the participation of grace. He does not then call them the servants of the law, who, adhering to the righteousness of works, renounce Christ; but they were those Jews who had been brought up in the law, and yet professed the name of Christ. But that the sentence may be made clearer, let it be worded thus, — “Not to those only who are of the law, but to all who imitate the faith of Abraham, though they had not the law before.”

Who is the father of us all, etc. The relative has the meaning of a causative particle; for he meant to prove, that the Gentiles were become partakers of this grace, inasmuch as by the same oracle, by which the heirship was conferred on Abraham and his seed, were the Gentiles also constituted his seed: for he is said to have been made the father, not of one nation, but of many nations; by which was presignified the future extension of grace, then confined to Israel alone. For except the promised blessing had been extended to them, they could not have been counted as the offspring of Abraham. The past tense of the verb, according to the common usage of Scripture, denotes the certainty of the Divine counsel; for though nothing then was less apparent, yet as God had thus decreed, he is rightly said to have been made the father of many nations. Let the testimony of Moses be included in a parenthesis, that this clause, “Who is the father of us all,” may be connected with the other, “before God,” etc.: for it was necessary to explain also what that relationship was, that the Jews might not glory too much in their carnal descent. Hence he says, “He is our father before God;” which means the same as though he had said, “He is our spiritual father;” for he had this privilege, not from his own flesh, but from the promise of God 142142     It appears from Pareus and Hammond, that some of the Fathers such as Chrysostom, and Theophylact, regarded κατέναντι in the sense of ὁμοίως, like, and have rendered the passage, “like God, in whom he believed;” that is, that as God is not partial, but the Father of all, so Abraham was. But this meaning is not consistent with the import of κατέναντι, nor with the context. The preposition is found in four other places, Mark 11:2; Mark 12:41; Mark 13:3; Luke 19:30, and invariably means before, or, over against. The Septuagint use it in Numbers 25:4, in the sense of before, κατέναντι τοῦ ἡλίου — “before the sun,” not “against the sun” as in our version; for the word in Hebrew is נגד, Coram, in conspectu. The context also requires this meaning: Abraham was a father of many nations before God, or, in the view or estimation of God, and not in the view or estimation of men, because God, as it is said at the end of the verse, regards things which are not, as though they were. Hence Abraham was already in God’s view, according to his purpose, the father of many nations.
   The collocation of the words is said by Wolfius to be an instance of Atticism, the word θεοῦ, being separated from its preposition: and οὗ is put for ᾧ by the grammatical law of attraction; and Stuart brings three similar instances of the relative being regulated by the case of its noun, though preceding it in the sentence, Mark 6:16, Acts 21:16; and Romans 6:17

17. Whom he believed, who quickens the dead, etc. In this circuitous form is expressed the very substance of Abraham’s faith, that by his example an opening might be made for the Gentiles. He had indeed to attain, in a wonderful way, the promise which he had heard from the Lord’s mouth, since there was then no token of it. A seed was promised to him as though he was in vigor and strength; but he was as it were dead. It was hence necessary for him to raise up his thoughts to the power of God, by which the dead are quickened. It was therefore not strange that the Gentiles, who were barren and dead, should be introduced into the same society. He then who denies them to be capable of grace, does wrong to Abraham, whose faith was sustained by this thought, — that it matters not whether he was dead or not who is called by the Lord; to whom it is an easy thing, even by a word, to raise the dead through his own power.

We have here also a type and a pattern of the call of us all, by which our beginning is set before our eyes, not as to our first birth, but as to the hope of future life, — that when we are called by the Lord we emerge from nothing; for whatever we may seem to be we have not, no, not a spark of anything good, which can render us fit for the kingdom of God. That we may indeed on the other hand be in a suitable state to hear the call of God, we must be altogether dead in ourselves. The character of the divine calling is, that they who are dead are raised by the Lord, that they who are nothing begin to be something through his power. The word call ought not to be confined to preaching, but it is to be taken, according to the usage of Scripture, for raising up; and it is intended to set forth more fully the power of God, who raises up, as it were by a nod only, whom he wills. 143143     The idea of commanding to existence, or of effecting, is given by many Commentators to the word καλοῦντος; but this seems not necessary. The simple notion of calling, naming, regarding, or representing, is more consistent with the passage, and with the construction of the sentence: and the various modes of rendering it, which critics have proposed, have arisen from not taking the word in its most obvious meaning. “The literal version is, and who calls things not existing as existing,” — και καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα. The reference is evidently to the declaration, “I have made thee the father of many nations.” This had then no real existence; but God represents it as having an existence already. Far-fetched meanings are sometimes adopted, when the plainest and the most obvious is passed by. — Ed.

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