The Foregoing Doctrine of Justification by
Faith Illustrated from the Old Testament.
First: Abraham was justified by faith.
1-3. What shall we say then that Abraham, our
father as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?—that is, (as
the order in the original shows), "hath found, as pertaining to
('according to,' or 'through') the flesh"; meaning, "by all his natural
efforts or legal obedience."
2. For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath
whereof to glory; but not before God—"If works were the
ground of Abraham's justification, he would have matter for boasting;
but as it is perfectly certain that he hath none in the sight of God,
it follows that Abraham could not have been justified by works." And to
this agree the words of Scripture.
3. For what saith the, Scripture? Abraham believed
God, and it—his faith.
was counted to him for
Romish expositors and Arminian Protestants make this to mean that God
accepted Abraham's act of believing as a substitute for complete
obedience. But this is at variance with the whole spirit and letter of
the apostle's teaching. Throughout this whole argument, faith is
set in direct opposition to works, in the matter of
justification—and even in Ro 4:4, 5. The meaning, therefore, cannot possibly
be that the mere act of believing—which is as much a work as any
other piece of commanded duty (Joh 6:29; 1Jo 3:23)—was counted to Abraham for all
obedience. The meaning plainly is that Abraham believed in the promises
which embraced Christ (Ge 12:3; 15:5, &c.), as we believe in Christ
Himself; and in both cases, faith is merely the instrument that puts us
in possession of the blessing gratuitously bestowed.
4, 5. Now to him that worketh—as a
servant for wages.
is the reward not reckoned of grace—as
a matter of favor.
but of debt—as a matter of right.
5. But to him that worketh not—who,
despairing of acceptance with God by "working" for it the work of
obedience, does not attempt it.
but believeth on him that justifieth the
ungodly—casts himself upon the mercy of Him that justifieth
those who deserve only condemnation.
his faith, &c.—(See on Ro 4:3).
Second: David sings of the same
6-8. David also describeth—"speaketh,"
the blessedness of the man unto whom the Lord
imputeth righteousness without works—whom, though void of all
good works, He, nevertheless, regards and treats as righteous.
7, 8. Saying, Blessed,
&c.—(Ps 32:1, 2). David here sings in express terms only
of "transgression forgiven, sin covered, iniquity not imputed"; but as
the negative blessing necessarily includes the positive, the passage is
strictly in point.
9-12. Cometh this blessedness then,
&c.—that is, "Say not, All this is spoken of the
circumcised, and is therefore no evidence of God's
general way of justifying men; for Abraham's justification took
place long before he was circumcised, and so could have no dependence
upon that rite: nay, 'the sign of circumcision' was given to Abraham as
'a seal' (or token) of the (justifying) righteousness which he had
before he was circumcised; in order that he might stand forth to
every age as the parent believer—the model man of
justification by faith—after whose type, as the first public
example of it, all were to be moulded, whether Jew or Gentile, who
should thereafter believe to life everlasting."
13-15. For the promise, &c.—This is
merely an enlargement of the foregoing reasoning, applying to the
law what had just been said of circumcision.
that he should be the heir of the
world—or, that "all the families of the earth should be
blessed in him."
was not to Abraham or to his seed through
the law—in virtue of obedience to the law.
but through the righteousness of
faith—in virtue of his simple faith in the divine
14. For if they which are of the law be
heirs—If the blessing is to be earned by obedience to the
faith is made void—the whole divine
method is subverted.
15. Because the law worketh wrath—has
nothing to give to those who break is but condemnation and
for where there is no law, there is no
transgression—It is just the law that makes transgression, in
the case of those who break it; nor can the one exist without the
16, 17. Therefore, &c.—A general
summary: "Thus justification is by faith, in order that its
purely gracious character may be seen, and that all who follow
in the steps of Abraham's faith—whether of his natural seed or
no—may be assured of the like justification with the parent
17. As it is written, &c.—(Ge 17:5). This is quoted to justify his
calling Abraham the "father of us all," and is to be viewed as a
before—that is, "in the reckoning
him whom he believed—that is, "Thus
Abraham, in the reckoning of Him whom he believed, is the father of us
all, in order that all may be assured, that doing as he did, they shall
be treated as he was."
even God, quickeneth the dead—The
nature and greatness of that faith of Abraham which we are to copy is
here strikingly described. What he was required to believe being above
nature, his faith had to fasten upon God's power to surmount physical
incapacity, and call into being what did not then exist. But God having
made the promise, Abraham believed Him in spite of those obstacles.
This is still further illustrated in what follows.
18-22. Who against hope—when no ground
for hope appeared.
believed in hope—that is, cherished
the believing expectation.
that he might become the father of many nations,
according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be—that
is, Such "as the stars of heaven," Ge 15:5.
19. he considered not, &c.—paid no
attention to those physical obstacles, both in himself and in Sarah,
which might seem to render the fulfilment hopeless.
20. He staggered—hesitated
not … but was strong in faith, giving
glory to God—as able to make good His own word in spite of
21. And being fully persuaded,
&c.—that is, the glory which Abraham's faith gave to God
consisted in this, that, firm in the persuasion of God's ability to
fulfil his promise, no difficulties shook him.
22. And therefore it was imputed,
&c.—"Let all then take notice that this was not because of
anything meritorious in Abraham, but merely because he so
23-25. Now, &c.—Here is the
application of this whole argument about Abraham: These things were not
recorded as mere historical facts, but as illustrations for all time of
God's method of justification by faith.
24. to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe in
him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead—in Him that
hath done this, even as Abraham believed that God would
raise up a seed in whom all nations should be blessed.
25. Who was delivered for—"on account
our offences—that is, in order to
expiate them by His blood.
and raised again for—"on account of,"
that is, in order to.
our justification—As His resurrection
was the divine assurance that He had "put away sin by the sacrifice of
Himself," and the crowning of His whole work, our justification is
fitly connected with that glorious act.
Note, (1) The doctrine of justification by
works, as it generates self-exaltation, is contrary to the first
principles of all true religion (Ro 4:2; and see on Ro
3:21-26, Note 1). (2) The way of a sinner's justification
has been the same in all time, and the testimony of the Old Testament
on this subject is one with that of the New (Ro 4:3, &c., and see on Ro 3:27-31, Note 1). (3) Faith and works, in the
matter of justification, are opposite and irreconcilable, even as grace
and debt (Ro 4:4, 5;
and see on Ro 11:6). If God "justifies the
ungodly," works cannot be, in any sense or to any degree, the ground of
justification. For the same reason, the first requisite, in order to
justification, must be (under the conviction that we are "ungodly") to
despair of it by works; and the next, to "believe in Him that
justifieth the ungodly"—that hath a justifying righteousness to
bestow, and is ready to bestow it upon those who deserve none, and to
embrace it accordingly. (4) The sacraments of the Church were never
intended, and are not adapted, to confer grace, or the blessings
of salvation, upon men. Their proper use is to set a divine seal
upon a state already existing, and so, they presuppose,
and do not create it (Ro 4:8-12).
As circumcision merely "sealed" Abraham's already existing acceptance
with God, so with the sacraments of the New Testament. (5) As Abraham
is "the heir of the world," all nations being blessed in him, through
his Seed Christ Jesus, and justified solely according to the pattern of
his faith, so the transmission of the true religion and all the
salvation which the world will ever experience shall yet be traced back
with wonder, gratitude, and joy, to that morning dawn when "the God of
glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia,
before he dwelt in Charran," Ac 7:2 (Ro 4:13). (6) Nothing gives more glory to
God than simple faith in His word, especially when all things seem to
render the fulfilment of it hopeless (Ro 4:18-21). (7) All the Scripture examples of
faith were recorded on purpose to beget and encourage the like faith in
every succeeding age (Ro 4:23, 24; and compare Ro 15:4). (8) Justification, in this
argument, cannot be taken—as Romanists and other errorists
insist—to mean a change upon men's character; for besides
that this is to confound it with Sanctification, which has its
appropriate place in this Epistle, the whole argument of the present
chapter—and nearly all its more important clauses, expressions,
and words—would in that case be unsuitable, and fitted only to
mislead. Beyond all doubt it means exclusively a change upon men's
state or relation to God; or, in scientific language, it
is an objective, not a subjective change—a change
from guilt and condemnation to acquittal and acceptance. And the best
evidence that this is the key to the whole argument is, that it opens
all the wards of the many-chambered lock with which the apostle has
enriched us in this Epistle.