Romans 4:18

18. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

18. Qui præter (vel supra) spem super spe credidit, ut esset 1 pater multarum gentium, secundum quod dictum erat, Sic erit semen tuum.

18. Who against hope, etc. If we thus read, the sense is, that when there was no probable reason, yea, when all things were against him, he yet continued to believe. And, doubtless, there is nothing more injurious to faith than to fasten our minds to our eyes, that we may from what we see, seek a reason for our hope. We may also read, "above hope," and perhaps more suitably; as though he had said that by his faith he far surpassed all that he could conceive; for except faith flies upward on celestial wings so as to look down on all the perceptions of the flesh as on things far below, it will stick fast in the mud of the world. But Paul uses the word hope twice in this verse: in the first instance, he means a probable evidence for hoping, such as can be derived from nature and carnal reason; in the second he refers to faith given by God; 2 for when he had no ground for hoping he yet in hope relied on the promise of God; and he thought it a sufficient reason for hoping, that the Lord had promised, however incredible the thing was in itself.

According to what had been said, etc. So have I preferred to render it, that it may be applied to the time of Abraham; for Paul meant to say, that Abraham, when many temptations were drawing him to despair, that he might not fail, turned his thoughts to what had been promised to him, "Thy seed shall equal the stars of heaven and the sands of the sea;" but he resignedly adduced this quotation incomplete, in order to stimulate us to read the Scriptures. The Apostles, indeed, at all times, in quoting the Scriptures, took a scrupulous care to rouse us to a more diligent reading of them.

1 "Ut esset:" this may indeed be rendered according to our version, "that he might become;" but the drift of the comment seems to favor the other view, that he believed that he should be, and not that he believed in order to be, or that he might be, the father of many nations eijv to< gene>sqai ajuto<n, "that he should be," is the rendering of Hammond, Doddridge, and Stuart; and it is indeed what is consistent with the drift of the passage, and with what is recorded in Genesis. Wolfius says, that eijv here does not signify the final cause, but the subject or the object of faith and hope; Abraham believed the promise, that he should be the father of many nations. -- Ed.

2 This is a striking instance of the latitude of meaning which some words have in Scripture. Here hope, in the first instance, means the ground of hope; and in the second, the object of hope. So faith, in Romans 4:5, and in other places, must be considered as including its object, the gracious promise of God; for otherwise it will be a meritorious act, the very thing which the Apostle throughout repudiates with regard to man's justification. Faith, as it lays hold on God's promise of free acceptance and forgiveness, can alone, in the very nature of things, be imputed for righteousness: it is not indispensably necessary that the way, or medium, or the meritorious cause of acceptance and forgiveness, should be clearly known and distinctly seen; the gracious promise of God is enough, so that faith may become a justifying faith.