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Abraham Justified While Still a Gentile
Summary —Abraham not Justified by Works, but by Faith. His Faith Reckoned for Righteousness. David Describes the same Blessedness. This Blessedness of Forgiveness for Gentiles as well as Jews. Abraham Counted Righteous Before He Was Circumcised. The Promise of a Redeemer and of a Land Made to Abraham Before He Was Circumcised. The Greatness of Abraham's Faith. To All, Whether Jew or Gentile, Righteousness will be Imputed, Who have Abraham's Faith.
The word justify, which Paul uses so frequently, should be clearly apprehended. To be justified is to be counted righteous, or guiltless, before God. He who has one sin recorded against him is not justified. He whose sins are all blotted out is justified. The sinner who believes upon Jesus Christ, clings to the mercy seat by an obedient, trusting faith, and finds mercy through Christ's redeeming blood, is justified. As no man could keep the law perfectly, no man could be justified by the works of the law. As we obtain God's mercy, the righteousness God bestows in Christ, by faith in Christ Jesus, so we are justified by a faith that leads us to Christ.
1–5. What shall we say then? Paul, having show that faith is the essential principle of justification, now inquires concerning Abraham's faith and justification. Abraham, our father. “Our forefather according to the flesh,” in the Revision. The ancestor of the Jewish race. Hath found. The thought is, Hath he found justification by works, or by faith? 2. Hath whereof to glory. If Abraham was justified by his own righteous works, he would have ground for glorying in himself. 3. What saith the Scripture? The passage quoted is found in Genesis 15:6, and is quoted three times in the New Testament—here, and in Gal. 3:6 and in James 2:23. God promised an heir to Abraham, 27and, although it seemed contrary to nature, he believed the promise. His faith in the promise was reckoned as righteousness. It was the ground of his acceptance with God. His faith was a trusting faith, which contained in it the element of obedience. No other faith justifies (see James 2:23). 4. To him that worketh. Who earns wages as a servant. To that one a reward is not of grace, a free gift, but a debt. If one has rendered himself righteous by his works, this is true of him. 5. But to him that worketh not. Does not trust his works for acceptance with God. But believeth, etc. Trusts in the mercy of him who justifies sinners who come to him penitent and believing. His faith, etc. It is made the ground of his acceptance with God. By faith he clings to Christ, the Savior.
6–8. David also. Paul has shown that Abraham's justification was through faith, rather than through works. He next cites David as describing a justification which is not due to our own righteousness, but to God's mercy. Such names as that of Abraham, the father of their race, and David, the great king, would be authoritative with the Jews. The quotation is from Psalm 32:1, 2. David himself had been a great sinner, and had been forgiven. 7. Blessed are they. The class described as blessed are those whose sins are forgiven, counted righteous because their sins are blotted out. 8. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. This is another form of the thought of verse 7. One whose sins have been forgiven will not find them imputed to him at judgment. We obtain this blessedness by a faith in Christ which leads us to accept the gospel.
9–12. Cometh this blessedness upon the circumcision only. The next question is, Who shall enjoy this blessing of forgiveness? Shall it be Jews only, or shall the uncircumcision, the Gentiles, enjoy it? Abraham's faith was counted for righteousness; will this be true of all, both Jews and Gentiles? 10. How was it then reckoned? To settle the question, whether this blessedness applies to Gentiles as well as Jews, the inquiry is made whether Abraham was a Jew or Gentile when it was said of him, “His faith was counted for righteousness.” He was not circumcised for at least fourteen years after this statement was made of him. Compare Gen. 15:6 with Gen. 17:25. He was then justified, without circumcision, while yet a Gentile. 11. He received the sign of circumcision. The outward mark in the flesh. A seal. A seal is often appended to a legal document as a proof. The covenant is made before the seal is annexed. Circumcision was not the covenant, but an outward mark of a covenant that before existed. The righteousness, of which it was a seal, had been acknowledged many years before. That he might be the father of all them that believe. Both 28Jews and Gentiles, circumcised and uncircumcised. The righteous, uncircumcised Abraham belonged to the latter class. 12. The father of circumcision. Of the circumcision described in chap. 2:29. Abraham is the “great father,” the father, not of the circumcision only, but of all who have such faith as he had before he was circumcised. When Abraham was “counted righteous through faith,” there was no difference between Jew and Gentile. Christianity, by its revelation of “righteousness through faith,” leads back to the same condition.
13–15. For the promise. The reference is to the substance of various promises to Abraham for himself and his seed. See Gen. 12:7; 13:14; 15:18. Was not … through the law. Was not through law, the article being wanting in the Greek. No body of law had been given. The Mosaic law was given many years afterward. The law of circumcision had not been enacted. It was through the righteousness of faith, not of law, or works of law, that Abraham secured the promise. 14. For if they which are of the law (of law, the article wanting) are heirs. If keeping law makes men heirs, then faith is void. It sets aside God's plan of “counting faith as righteousness,” and destroys the promise which depends on faith. 15. Because the law worketh wrath. The law threatens punishment to all who break its enactments, and since none keep it perfectly, it works punishment for all. Whereas, if no law had been given, there could be no transgression of its demands.
16–22. Therefore it is of faith. The inheritance promised to Abraham and his seed. It comes through faith, and hence is a free gift (of grace). That it might be sure. It could not be sure if it had to be secured by the righteousness that is of law, since none can keep the law perfectly. But all can secure it through faith. To all the seed. To all children of Abraham, whether those of the law, the Jews, or those of the faith of Abraham, who become his children by exercising his faith, whether Jew or Gentile. See Gal. 3:7. 17. As it is written. Gen. 17:5. A father of many nations. The name of the patriarch was changed from Abram (a father) to Abraham (father of a multitude). Before him whom he believed. This is to be joined with verse 16, “who is the father of us all … before … God.” Who quickeneth the dead. Abraham had to believe that the Divine power, which can give life to the dead, would give new life to his aged body and that of Sarah. 18. Who against hope. Though an old man, and his wife an aged woman, far beyond the time of child-bearing, he yet believed the promise that he would have numerous offspring. 19. Being not weak in faith. Strong in faith, though weak in body. His own body now dead. Its vital powers exhausted. But God could quicken the dead, and he had the promise of God. 20. He 29staggered not. He accepted the promise with unfaltering faith. 21. Being fully persuaded. He was certain that God not only could, but would do what he promised. 22. Therefore it was imputed, etc. The faith that secures God's righteousness is a faith that does not falter, but accepts and acts upon God's promises.
23–25. Now it was not written for his sake alone. But in order that we might have an example of God's plan of justification. 24. For us also. If we believe our faith shall save us. On him that raised Jesus. The same God who quickened Abraham's body, as good as dead, raised up our Lord. 25. Who was delivered for our offences. “He died for us;” “was made sin for us.” He was to be “cut off, but not for himself.” Raised again for our justification. The resurrection of Christ was his own justification against the condemnation of the world. In his justification, all for whom he died, who have laid hold on him by faith and are found in him, are justified with him, in that their sins are forgiven. Without the resurrection, the sepulcher of Christ would be the grave of all our hopes. This is beautifully symbolized in baptism. “We are buried by baptism into death,” his death, “planted in the likeness of his death,” figuratively die with him. We are also “planted in the likeness of his resurrection.” We rise with him, “new creatures,” justified by his resurrection. 29
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