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3. Faith or Observance of the Law

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. 5He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 6Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

7Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 10For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 16Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. 19Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. 20Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

23But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Having appealed to facts and experience, he now gives quotations from Scripture. And first, he brings forward the example of Abraham. Arguments drawn from examples are not always so conclusive, but this is one of the most powerful, because neither in the subject nor in the person is there any ground of exception. There is no variety of roads to righteousness, and so Abraham is called “the father of all them that believe,” (Romans 4:11,) because he is a pattern adapted to all; nay, in his person has been laid down to us the universal rule for obtaining righteousness.

6. Even as Abraham. We must here supply some such phrase as but rather; for, having put a question, he resolved instantly to cut off every ground of hesitation. At least the phrase “even as,” (καθὼς,) refers only to the verse immediately preceding, to the “ministration of the Spirit and of miracles by the hearing of faith;” as if he had said, that, in the grace bestowed on them, a similarity might be found to the case of Abraham.

Believed God. By this quotation he proves both here, and in the 4th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, that men are justified by faith, because the faith of Abraham was accounted to him, for righteousness. (Romans 4:3.) We must here inquire briefly, first, what Paul intends by faith; secondly, what is righteousness; and thirdly, why faith is represented to be a cause of justification. Faith does not mean any kind of conviction which men may have of the truth of God; for though Cain had a hundred times exercised faith in God when denouncing punishment against him, this had nothing to do with obtaining righteousness. Abraham was justified by believing, because, when he received from God a promise of fatherly kindness, he embraced it as certain. Faith therefore has a relation and respect to such a divine promise as may enable men to place their trust and confidence in God.

As to the word righteousness, we must attend to the phraseology of Moses. When he says, that

“he believed in the Lord,
and he counted it to him for righteousness,” (Genesis 15:6,)

he intimates that that person is righteous who is reckoned as such in the sight of God. Now, since men have not righteousness dwelling within themselves, they obtain this by imputation; because God holds their faith as accounted for righteousness. We are therefore said to be “justified by faith,” (Romans 3:28; 5:1,) not because faith infuses into us a habit or quality, but because we are accepted by God.

But why does faith receive such honor as to be entitled a cause of our justification? First, we must observe, that it is merely an instrumental cause; for, strictly speaking, our righteousness is nothing else than God’s free acceptance of us, on which our salvation is founded. But as the Lord testifies his love and grace in the gospel, by offering to us that righteousness of which I have spoken, so we receive it by faith. And thus, when we ascribe to faith a man’s justification, we are not treating of the principal cause, but merely pointing out the way in which men arrive at true righteousness. For this righteousness is not a quality which exists in men, but is the mere gift of God, and is enjoyed by faith only; and not even as a reward justly due to faith, but because we receive by faith what God freely gives. All such expressions as the following are of similar import: We are “justified freely by his grace.” (Romans 3:24.) Christ is our righteousness. The mercy of God is the cause of our righteousness. By the death and resurrection of Christ, righteousness has been procured for us. Righteousness is bestowed on us through the gospel. We obtain righteousness by faith.

Hence appears the ridiculousness of the blunder of attempting to reconcile the two propositions, that we are justified by faith, and that we are justified at the same time by works; for he who is “just by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 Hebrews 10:38) is poor and destitute of personal righteousness, and relies on the grace of God alone. And this is the reason why Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, concludes that Abraham, having obtained righteousness by faith, had no right to glory before God. (Romans 4:2.) For it is not said that faith was imputed to him for a part of righteousness, but simply for righteousness; so that his faith was truly his righteousness. Besides, faith looks at nothing but the mercy of God, and a dead and risen Christ. All merit of works is thus excluded from being the cause of justification, when the whole is ascribed to faith. For faith, — so far as it embraces the undeserved goodness of God, Christ with all his benefits, the testimony of our adoption which is contained in the gospel, — is universally contrasted with the law, with the merit of works, and with human excellence. The notion of the sophists, that it is contrasted with ceremonies alone, will presently be disproved, with little difficulty, from the context. Let us therefore remember, that those who are righteous by faith, are righteous out of themselves, that is, in Christ.

Hence, too, we obtain a refutation of the idle cavilling of certain persons who evade Paul’s reasoning. Moses they tell us, gives the name of righteousness to goodness; and so means nothing more than that Abraham was reckoned a good man, because he believed God. Giddy minds of this description, raised up in our time by Satan, endeavor, by indirect slanders, to undermine the certainty of Scripture. Paul knew that Moses was not there giving lessons to boys in grammar, but was speaking of a decision which God had pronounced, and very properly viewed the word righteousness in a theological sense. For it is not in that sense in which goodness is mentioned with approbation among men, that we are accounted righteous in the sight of God, but only where we render perfect obedience to the law. Righteousness is contrasted with the transgression of the law, even in its smallest point; and because we have it not from ourselves, it is freely given to us by God.

But here the Jews object that Paul has completely tortured the words of Moses to suit his own purpose; for Moses does not here treat of Christ, or of eternal life, but only mentions an earthly inheritance. The Papists are not very different from the Jews; for, though they do not venture to inveigh against Paul, they entirely evade his meaning. Paul, we reply, takes for granted, what Christians hold to be a first principle, that whatever promises the Lord made to Abraham were appendages of that first promise,

“I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”
(Genesis 15:1.)

When Abraham received the promise,

“In multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore” (Genesis 22:17,)

he did not limit his view to that word, but included it in the grace of adoption as a part of the whole, and, in the same manner, every other promise was viewed by him as a testimony of God’s fatherly kindness, which tended to strengthen his hope of salvation. Unbelievers differ from the children of God in this respect, that, while they enjoy in common with them the bounties of Providence, they devour them like cattle, and look no higher. The children of God, on the other hand, knowing that all their blessings have been sanctified by the promises, acknowledge God in them as their Father. They are often directed, in this way, to the hope of eternal life; for they begin with the faith of their adoption, which is the foundation of the whole. Abraham was not justified merely because he believed that God would “multiply his seed,” (Genesis 22:17,) but because he embraced the grace of God, trusting to the promised Mediator, in whom, as Paul elsewhere declares, “all the promises of God are yea and amen.” (2 Corinthians 1:20.)


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