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20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

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20. Nor did he through unbelief make an inquiry, etc. Though I do not follow the old version, nor Erasmus, yet my rendering is not given without reason. The Apostle seems to have had this in view, — That Abraham did not try to find out, by weighing the matter in the balance of unbelief, whether the Lord was able to perform what he had promised. What is properly to inquire or to search into anything, is to examine it through diffidence or mistrust, and to be unwilling to admit what appears not credible, without thoroughly sifting it. 146146     The verb is διεκρίθη, which Calvin renders “disquisivit.” The most common meaning of the verb is to hesitate, to doubt: it has the sense of exploring and examining, in the active voice, as in 1 Corinthians 11:31, but not in the passive — See Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:23, Acts 10:20. The version of Pareus is, “non disceptavit — he disputed not,” and also of Macknight But the fathers, and many moderns, such as Beza, Hammond, Stuart, and others, have rendered the sentence, “He doubted not:” Phavorinus says, as quoted by Poole, that διακρίνεσθαι, is to doubt, to hesitate, to dispute, to distrust, (diffidere.) — Ed. He indeed asked, how it could come to pass, but that was the asking of one astonished; as the case was with the virgin Mary, when she inquired of the angel how could that be which he had announced; and there are other similar instances. The saints then, when a message is brought them respecting the works of God, the greatness of which exceeds their comprehension, do indeed burst forth into expressions of wonder; but from this wonder they soon pass on to lay hold on the power of God: on the contrary, the wicked, when they examine a message, scoff at and reject it as a fable. Such, as you will find, was the case with the Jews, when they asked Christ how he could give his flesh to be eaten. For this reason it was, that Abraham was not reproved when he laughed and asked, how could a child be born to a man an hundred years old, and to a woman of ninety; for in his astonishment he fully admitted the power of God’s word. On the other hand, a similar laughter and inquiry on the part of Sarah were not without reproof, because she regarded not the promise as valid.

If these things be applied to our present subject, it will be evident, that the justification of Abraham had no other beginning than that of the Gentiles. Hence the Jews reproach their own father, if they exclaim against the call of the Gentiles as a thing unreasonable. Let us also remember, that the condition of us all is the same with that of Abraham. All things around us are in opposition to the promises of God: He promises immortality; we are surrounded with mortality and corruption: He declares that he counts us just; we are covered with sins: He testifies that he is propitious and kind to us; outward judgments threaten his wrath. What then is to be done? We must with closed eyes pass by ourselves and all things connected with us, that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true.

But he was strengthened, etc. This is of the same import with a former clause, when it is said, that he was not weak in faith. It is the same as though he had said, that he overcame unbelief by the constancy and firmness of faith. 147147     “Doubt,” says Pareus, has two arguments — will God do this? and can God do this? Faith has also two arguments — God will do it, because He has promised; and he can do it, because He is omnipotent.” No one indeed comes forth a conqueror from this contest, but he who borrows weapons and strength from the word of God. From what he adds, giving glory to God, it must be observed, that no greater honor can be given to God, than by faith to seal his truth; as, on the other hand, no greater dishonor can be done to him, than to refuse his offered favor, or to discredit his word. It is hence the chief thing in honoring God, obediently to embrace his promises: and true religion begins with faith.

21. That what he had promised, etc. As all men acknowledge God’s power, Paul seems to say nothing very extraordinary of the faith of Abraham; but experience proves, that nothing is more uncommon, or more difficult, than to ascribe to God’s power the honor which it deserves. There is in deed no obstacle, however small and insignificant, by which the flesh imagines the hand of God is restrained from working. Hence it is, that in the slightest trials, the promises of God slide away from us. When there is no contest, it is true, no one, as I have said, denies that God can do all things; but as soon as anything comes in the way to impede the course of God’s promise, we cast down God’s power from its eminence. Hence, that it may obtain from us its right and its honor, when a contest comes, we ought to determine thus, — That it is no less sufficient to overcome the obstacles of the world, than the strong rays of the sun are to dissipate the mists. We are indeed wont ever to excuse ourselves, that we derogate nothing from God’s power, whenever we hesitate respecting his promises, and we commonly say, “The thought, that God promises more in his word than he can perform, (which would be a falsehood and blasphemy against him,) is by no means the cause of our hesitation; but that it is the defect which we feel in ourselves.” But we do not sufficiently exalt the power of God, unless we think it to be greater than our weakness. Faith then ought not to regard our weakness, misery, and defects, but to fix wholly its attention on the power of God alone; for if it depends on our righteousness or worthiness, it can never ascend to the consideration of God’s power. And it is a proof of the unbelief, of which he had before spoken, when we mete the Lord’s power with our own measure. For faith does not think that God can do all things, while it leaves him sitting still, but when, on the contrary, it regards his power in continual exercise, and applies it, especially, to the accomplishment of his word: for the hand of God is ever ready to execute whatever he has declared by his mouth.

It seems strange to me, that Erasmus approved of the relative in the masculine gender; for though the sense is not changed, we may yet come nearer to the Greek words of Paul. The verb, I know, is passive; 148148     The verb is, ἐπήγγελται, used here, and perhaps in one other place, Hebrews 12:26, in an active sense. It is usually found, in the sense of promising, in the middle voice, as in Mark 14:11; Acts 7:5; Hebrews 6:13, etc. It is an anomaly that is to be met with sometimes in Greek authors. — Ed. but the abruptness may be lessened by a little change.