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The Example of Abraham


What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. 6So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:


“Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,

and whose sins are covered;


blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”

9 Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” 10How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, 12and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.

God’s Promise Realized through Faith

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 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. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.


6. As David also defines, etc. We hence see the sheer sophistry of those who limit the works of the law to ceremonies; for he now simply calls those works, without anything added, which he had before called the works of the law. Since no one can deny that a simple and unrestricted mode of speaking, such as we find here, ought to be understood of every work without any difference, the same view must be held throughout the whole argument. There is indeed nothing less reasonable than to remove from ceremonies only the power of justifying, since Paul excludes all works indefinitely. To the same purpose is the negative clause, — that God justifies men by not imputing sin: and by these words we are taught that righteousness, according to Paul, is nothing else than the remission of sins; and further, that this remission is gratuitous, because it is imputed without works, which the very name of remission indicates; for the creditor who is paid does not remit, but he who spontaneously cancels the debt through mere kindness. Away, then, with those who teach us to redeem pardon for our sins by satisfactions; for Paul borrows an argument from this pardon to prove the gratuitous gift of righteousness. 135135     Speaking of this righteousness, Pareus says, “It is not ours, otherwise God would not gratuitously impute it, but bestow it as a matter of right; nor is it a habit or quality, for it is without works, and imputed to the ungodly, who have habitually nothing but iniquities; but it is a gratuitous remission, a covering, a non-imputation of sins.”
   It is a striking proof of what the Apostle had in view here, that he stop short and does not quote the whole verse from Psalm 32:2. He leaves out, “and in whose spirit there is no guile:” and why? Evidently because his subject is justification, and not sanctification. He has thus most clearly marked the difference between the two.

   Sins may be said to be “forgiven” or remitted, because they are debts, and “covered,” because they are filthy and abominable in the sight of God: and they are said to be “not imputed,” or not put to one’s account, in order to convey an assurance, that they are wholly removed, and shall be no more remembered. — Ed.
How then is it possible for them to agree with Paul? They say, “We must satisfy by works the justice of God, that we may obtain the pardon of our sins:” but he, on the contrary, reasons thus, — “The righteousness of faith is gratuitous, and without works, because it depends on the remission of sins.” Vicious, no doubt, would be this reasoning, if any works interposed in the remission of sins.

Dissipated also, in like manner, by the words of the Prophet, are the puerile fancies of the schoolmen respecting half remission. Their childish fiction is, — that though the fault is remitted, the punishment is still retained by God. But the Prophet not only declares that our sins are covered, that is, removed from the presence of God; but also adds, that they are not imputed. How can it be consistent, that God should punish those sins which he does not impute? Safe then does this most glorious declaration remain to us — “That he is justified by faith, who is cleared before God by a gratuitous remission of his sins.” We may also hence learn, the unceasing perpetuity of gratuitous righteousness through life: for when David, being wearied with the continual anguish of his own conscience, gave utterance to this declaration, he no doubt spoke according to his own experience; and he had now served God for many years. He then had found by experience, after having made great advances, that all are miserable when summoned before God’s tribunal; and he made this avowal, that there is no other way of obtaining blessedness, except the Lord receives us into favor by not imputing our sins. Thus fully refuted also is the romance of those who dream, that the righteousness of faith is but initial, and that the faithful afterwards retain by works the possession of that righteousness which they had first attained by no merits.

It invalidates in no degree what Paul says, that works are sometimes imputed for righteousness, and that other kinds of blessedness are mentioned. It is said in Psalm 106:30-31, that it was imputed to Phinehas, the Lord’s priest, for righteousness, because he took away reproach from Israel by inflicting punishment on an adulterer and a harlot. It is true, we learn from this passage, that he did a righteous deed; but we know that a person is not justified by one act. What is indeed required is perfect obedience, and complete in all its parts, according to the import of the promise, —

“He who shall do these things shall live in them.”
(Deuteronomy 4:1.)

How then was this judgment which he inflicted imputed to him for righteousness? He must no doubt have been previously justified by the grace of God: for they who are already clothed in the righteousness of Christ, have God not only propitious to them, but also to their works, the spots and blemishes of which are covered by the purity of Christ, lest they should come to judgment. As works, infected with no defilements, are alone counted just, it is quite evident that no human work whatever can please God, except through a favor of this kind. But if the righteousness of faith is the only reason why our works are counted just, you see how absurd is the argument, — “That as righteousness is ascribed to works, righteousness is not by faith only.” But I set against them this invincible argument, that all works are to be condemned as those of unrighteousness, except a man be justified solely by faith.

The like is said of blessedness: they are pronounced blessed who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways, (Psalm 128:1,) who meditate on his law day and night, (Psalm 1:2:) but as no one doeth these things so perfectly as he ought, so as fully to come up to God’s command, all blessedness of this kind is nothing worth, until we be made blessed by being purified and cleansed through the remission of sins, and thus cleansed, that we may become capable of enjoying that blessedness which the Lord promises to his servants for attention to the law and to good works. Hence the righteousness of works is the effect of the righteousness of God, and the blessedness arising from works is the effect of the blessedness which proceeds from the remission of sins. Since the cause ought not and cannot be destroyed by its own effect, absurdly do they act, who strive to subvert the righteousness of faith by works.

But some one may say, “Why may we not maintain, on the ground of these testimonies, that man is justified and made blessed by works? for the words of Scripture declare that man is justified and made blessed by works as well as by faith.” Here indeed we must consider the order of causes as well as the dispensation of God’s grace: for inasmuch as whatever is declared, either of the righteousness of works or of the blessedness arising from them, does not exist, until this only true righteousness of faith has preceded, and does alone discharge all its offices, this last must be built up and established, in order that the other may, as a fruit from a tree, grow from it and flourish.

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