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3. For what saith the Scripture? This is a proof of the minor proposition, or of what he assumed, when he denied that Abraham had any ground for glorying: for if Abraham was justified, because he embraced, by faith, the bountiful mercy of God, it follows, that he had nothing to glory in; for he brought nothing of his own, except a confession of his misery, which is a solicitation for mercy. He, indeed, takes it as granted, that the righteousness of faith is the refuge, and, as it were, the asylum of the sinner, who is destitute of works. For if there be any righteousness by the law or by works, it must be in men themselves; but by faith they derive from another what is wanting in themselves; and hence the righteousness of faith is rightly called imputative.
The passage, which is quoted, is taken from Genesis 15:6; in which the word believe is not to be confined to any particular expression, but it refers to the whole covenant of salvation, and the grace of adoption, which Abraham apprehended by faith. There is, indeed, mentioned there the promise of a future seed; but it was grounded on gratuitous adoption: 132132 The adoption is evidently included in the words, found in the first verse of this chapter, “I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” What follows is connected with this, and the promise of a numerous seed arose from what Abraham said respecting an heir. His believing then had an especial regard to the first promise, as the second, respecting his “seed,” was only, as it were, an enlargement of the first, or an addition to it. — Ed. and it ought to be observed, that salvation without the grace of God is not promised, nor God’s grace without salvation; and again, that we are not called to the grace of God nor to the hope of salvation, without having righteousness offered to us.
Taking this view, we cannot but see that those understand not the principles of theology, who think that this testimony recorded by Moses, is drawn aside from its obvious meaning by Paul: for as there is a particular promise there stated, they understand that he acted rightly and faithfully in believing it, and was so far approved by God. But they are in this mistaken; first, because they have not considered that believing extends to
the whole context, and ought not to be confined to one clause. But the principal mistake is, that they begin not with the testimony of God’s favor. But God gave this, to make Abraham more assured of his adoption and paternal favor; and included in this was eternal salvation by Christ. Hence Abraham, by believing, embraced nothing but the favor offered to him, being persuaded that it would not be void. Since this was imputed to him for righteousness, it follows, that he was not otherwise just,
than as one trusting in God’s goodness, and venturing to hope for all things from him. Moses does not, indeed, tell us what men thought of him, but how he was accounted before the tribunal of God. Abraham then laid hold on the benignity of God offered to him in the promise, through which he understood that righteousness was communicated to him. It is necessary, in order to form an opinion of righteousness, to understand this relation between the promise and faith; for there is in this respect
the same connection between God and us, as there is, according to the lawyers, between the giver and the person to whom any thing is given, (datorem et donatarium — the donor and the donee:) for we can no otherwise attain righteousness, than as it is brought to us, as it were, by the promise of the gospel; and we realize its possession by faith.
The foregoing observations contain a lucid and a satisfactory view of the character of Abraham’s faith, perfectly consistent with what is said of it by Paul in this chapter, and in the epistle to the Galatians. Some think that the principle of faith was the only thing which the Apostle had in view in referring to Abraham’s faith, and that he had no special regard to the object of justifying faith, that is, Christ. But that Christ was, in
a measure, revealed to him, is evident from the account given in Genesis, and from what Christ himself has said, — that Abraham saw his day and rejoiced, John 8:56. At the same time it was the promise of gratuitous mercy, as Calvin intimates, that formed the most distinctive object of Abraham’s faith, the promise of a free acceptance, without any regard to works. There are two things which the Apostle clearly
intended to show, — that imputation of righteousness is an act of gratuitous favor, — and that it is alone by faith.
There is some difference in the wording, though not in the meaning, of the sentence from Genesis 15:6. Paul gives it literally according to the Septuagint. The word “Abraham,” is put in; instead of “Jehovah,” it is “God;” the verb “count,” is made passive, and a preposition is placed before “righteousness.” The Hebrew is this, — “And he believed on Jehovah, and he counted it to him righteousness.” The “it,” no doubt, refers to what is included in the word “believed.” So Paul explains it in verse 9, where he expressly puts down πίστις, faith.
It has been said that this faith of Abraham was not faith in Christ, according to what the context shows in Genesis. And it was not so specifically: nor does Paul represent it as such; for this was not his object. He states it throughout as faith in God; it was believing the testimony of God; but that testimony embraced a promise respecting Christ; so that it included the Savior within its compass. We must remember that Paul’s object is to establish this truth, — that righteousness is attained by faith and not by works; and that for this end he adduces the examples both of Abraham and David. It was not his design to point out specifically the object of justifying faith. We must keep this in view, in order to understand the reasoning of the Apostle in this chapter: it is the power and efficacy of faith, in opposition to all works, that he particularly dwells upon, and the gracious promise of God was its object. — Ed.
How to reconcile what James says, which seems somewhat contrary to this view I have already explained, and intend to explain more fully, when I come, if the Lord will permit, to expound that Epistle.
Only let us remember this, — that those to whom righteousness is imputed, are justified; since these two things are mentioned by Paul as being the same. We hence conclude that the question is not, what men are in themselves, but how God regards them; not that purity of conscience and integrity of life are to be separated from the gratuitous favor of God; but that when the reason is asked, why God loves us and owns us as just, it is necessary that Christ should come forth as one who clothes us with his own righteousness.