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Bible Commentaries

Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

Romans 4

Verse 1


1. “Then what we say that Abraham, our father according to the flesh, hath found?

Verse 2

2. “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath boasting, but not before God.” The covenant which God stipulated with Abraham is identical with the covenant of redemption which he made with His Son in heaven, pursuant to which the mediatorial, involving the redemption of the world, was launched (Galatians 3:16). This covenant two thousand years subsequently God renewed and confirmed with Abraham, being ultimately verified in the incarnation of Christ and ratified by His atoning blood. It was pertinent that God should elucidate the plan of salvation by the stipulation of the mediatorial covenant with some human being, who should give it notoriety and thus normally receive the paternity of faith on the earth. This glorious honor, in His wisdom, God conferred on Abraham. The very fact that the Abrahamic is identical with the mediatorial covenant involves the conclusion that human salvation is restricted to that covenant. Hence we see that all the people who seek justification by works are without hope, because out of harmony with Abraham, who was justified by faith alone without works. Hence the utter and hopeless futility of all the legalistic systems, which, like fallen Judaism, have girdled the globe for ages.

“For what saith the Scripture? But Abraham believed God and it was imputed unto him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

Verse 4

4. “But to him that worketh the reward is not reckoned according to grace, but according to indebtedness;

Verses 5-9

5. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” This argument is so plain, clear and explicit that he who runs may read and not be mistaken. Here Paul so utterly annihilates all the dogmas of justification by water baptism, sacraments, legal obedience, church rites, priestcraft, prelacy, popery or ecclesiastical loyalty as to put the gainsayer in the awful attitude of flatly contradicting God Almighty. How strange that people reading these plain and unequivocal statements of the Holy Ghost, by which they are to be judged in the great day, can still swallow down Satan’s lies, proclaimed from fallen pulpits, and go off after legalistic rites, vainly seeking justification where they will never find it. In order to set this matter clear and unequivocal, God actually justified Abraham twenty-four years before he became a member of the visible church, or received circumcision, lest somebody might be stupid enough to identify justification with legal obedience. Now, remember, if you are not identified with the Abrahamic covenant, you have no interest in Christ (Galatians 3:29). If you are a bona fide member of that covenant you are justified by faith alone, without works, like Abraham, whom God converted through faith alone twenty- four years before he received a solitary church ordinance. If you do not belong to the faithful paternity of Abraham, you have no participation in the Fatherhood of God, but, on the contrary, you are a child of the devil (John 8:44), with all your boasted church membership and legal obedience.

6. “Therefore indeed David speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness without works [Psalms 31:0 ]:

7. “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered,

8. “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord may not impute sin.

9. “Therefore cometh this blessedness on the circumcision, or indeed upon the uncircumcision? For we say, that faith was imputed unto Abraham for righteousness.

Verse 10

10. “How then was it imputed? to him being in circumcision or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.” This is a continued evolution of this wonderful and unanswerable Pauline argument, actually the most prolix in all the Bible, confirmatory of justification full and free for all the world by the free grace of God in Christ, received and appropriated by faith alone, without work of law. The very fact that this took place in the case of Abraham twenty four years before the organization of the visible church in his house, teaches us a grand and impressive lesson; i. e., that God in His infallible administration, by putting twenty-four years between the two transactions, forever annihilates the possibility of their identification by sensible, honest people. What an awful job the devil has on his hands to prove the essentiality of water baptism or any other church ordinance to justification, when Abraham, God’s paragon saint and the representative of every other, was justified by the free grace of God in Christ twenty-four years before he received a church ordinance! I know there is a disposition on the part of many superficial, bogus theologians flippantly to pass over the Abrahamic covenant. This is wholesale murder, because Abraham had no covenant, but was simply the recipient of the renovation of the Messianic covenant by which the world is redeemed. Hence the Scriptures positively identify the Abrahamic with the Mediatorial covenant. Then, if you are not justified like Abraham, becoming one of his legitimate spiritual posterity, you have no interest in Christ (Galatians 3:25). Mark this long quotation from the Psalms of David, descriptive of God’s “blessed man,” whose sins are covered, and to whom he does not impute iniquity. If it turns out that you are not that “blessed man,” the devil gets you to an absolute certainty, whether in the pulpit, the pew or the world. Now you see clearly how Paul identifies this “blessed man” with the Abrahamic covenant, because he is justified by faith alone, without works, like father Abraham, who actually got converted twenty-four years before he was baptized. Do not forget the inspired epithet, “blessed,” which God applies to the man who, like Abraham, is justified by faith without legal obedience. “Blessed” literally means “happy.” You take the poor legalists, all round, and you find anything but a happy people. They are blue as indigo. It is a regular long-faced Christianity Satan’s counterfeit. Take the people who have nothing but Jesus and depend on nothing but God, and you will find “happy” pilgrims every time. That is the reason why Satan’s legalistic church members can not keep away from theaters, dances, card tables, circuses, horse races and saloons. It is because they have no happiness in their religion. Hence they have to go to the devil for joy to keep them from dying of the blues. There is nothing in the Abrahamic covenant but Jesus. Hence the children of father Abraham are a jolly set.

Verse 11

11. “And he received the sign of circumcision, the seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had in uncircumcision, that he should be the father of all those believing through uncircumcision, that righteousness may be imputed to them:

Verse 12

12. “And the father of circumcision not only to them who walk in the tracks of the faith of our father Abraham which he had in uncircumcision.” We see here that the normal attitude of Abraham’s children is in uncircumcision, as he was converted twenty-four years before he entered the visible church. Here we have it revealed that salvation is only for those who walk in the steps of Abraham, i. e., get justified by faith alone. These belong to class number one, i. e., the normal children of Abraham. In the second place, provision is made for those who belong to the circumcision, i. e., the visible church, that they may also come into the covenant by faith and become the children of Abraham if they will walk in the steps of that faith which he had in uncircumcision. Hence we see the preeminence in the covenant is given to those who get converted before they join the church. It is a mistake to receive the unconverted into the visible church, lest they may lean on it and stop short of experimental salvation, and in that case lose their souls. I joined the church before I was converted, God showing me mercy and leading me on into an intelligent experience, though Satan did his utmost to get me to rest in church membership.

Verse 13


13. “For the promise to Abraham and his seed, that he should be the heir of the world, was not through the works, but through the righteousness of faith.” The covenant with Abraham was simply the renovation of the Messianic (Galatians 3:16), by which Christ purchased this world with His blood. Hence it is here stated that Abraham is to inherit the world. A title made to a man is valid to his children forever. Hence Abraham’s seed, i. e., Christ, is to inherit the whole earth in the millennium, in due time renovated, and possess it forever. Hence, if you would be a member of the glorified Bridehood and reign with Christ a thousand years (Revelation 20:4-6), you must be a child of Abraham. Hence it is positively specified that this inheritance is not through the law, i. e., you do not get it by good works, but through faith.

Verse 14

14. “For if the heirs were from the law, faith is made empty and the promise of none effect.” The great promise which God made to Abraham to redeem the world by the gift of His Son, which was utterly unnecessary if they could be saved by legal obedience. The law was here four thousand years before Christ came; there was plenty of water to baptize people, and every other conceivable facility of legal obedience. Therefore if salvation had been possible through the law, the condescension and death of Christ were unnecessary, null and void. The utter incompetency of fallen humanity to be saved in any other way superinduced the absolute necessity for Christ to come and die, thus redeeming us from sin, death and hell. Hence legalism is so abominable in the sight of God; from the ostensible fact that it treats with contempt the vicarious atonement which cost the life of His Son.

Verse 15

15. “For the law worketh out wrath; for where is no law, there is no transgression.” While the law is perfectly pure and holy, yet it is utterly incapable of love and mercy. All it can do is to condemn the criminal. Hence the silly nonsense of salvation by obedience, which could only turn over the whole human race to endless punishment. The law is the exponent of the penalty, and must be prefinite to all transgression.

Verse 16

16. “There it is by faith, in order that it may be by grace, that the promise may be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” “Seed” here means all truly elect in Christ, i. e., all who will be saved by the atonement in all ages. You see that faith and grace are counterparts of the same plan of salvation, i. e., the antithetical hemispheres of the same glorious globe of human redemption. Hence, like Siamese twins, they must live and die together. Hence you see legalism nullifies the grace of God and slights the whole scheme of redemption. If salvation had been by works, the thief on the cross might have been left out. Millions of people die out of reach of interceding priests and water baptism; yet they are not beyond the reach of God’s redeeming grace. The elect of God are, in all nations and ages, indiscriminately dispersed in all the earth. Grace reaches every one of them utterly independent of human instrumentality. God can use anything or nothing in the salvation of souls. Faith is the human side of the glorious plan, and grace the divine side. The former is coexistent with humanity and the latter with God. Hence the silly pusillanimity of laying a human embargo on the divine prerogative.

Verse 17

17. “As has been written, that I have made thee a father of many nations.” What a wonderful honor is the Abrahamic paternity! Just as God is the spiritual Father of all the saved of all ages and nations, i. e., all the elect who avail themselves of the redemption in Christ, so God renovated the mediatorial covenant with Abraham, which He made with Christ to redeem the world, before the Fall, thus honoring Abraham as His “friend,” making him the human representative in the covenant of redemption, complimenting him with the fatherhood of the faithful, i. e., the elect, the saved of all ages and nations. This transaction with Abraham is of infinite value to us all, because in his case we have an illustrative example, setting forth the human side of the gracious economy. What is it? Oh, how plain and simple! Wayfaring men, though fools, can not err therein.” We are saved by grace through faith alone. What is grace? It is the free gift of God in Christ, saving all who will receive Him. What is faith? It is the hand which you reach out and receive Christ, i. e., you just take God at His word and believe His wonderful promises. Is this all? Certainly it is all. Abraham is our illustrative example. We are to be saved precisely as he was, otherwise we have no interest in Christ (Galatians 3:29). How was he justified? “He believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness, i. e., justification (Genesis 15:6). This took place twenty-five years before he received circumcision, i. e., joined the church; but some one might think baptism, sacrament, or church membership had something to do with his salvation. It is true, long after he was saved by grace through faith alone, he became a paragon church member, which was all right in its place, i. e., the school of Christ, but never did have anything to do with personal salvation, which is the work of God alone, and consequently through faith alone. Grace being the divine and faith the human, they are counter hemispheres of the same globe of salvation! Hence, grace alone means faith alone. The devil rages over faith alone, because it knocks out the pope and the priest and smashes his arrangements generally, giving God all the glory. Whenever you poke in water baptism or anything else to help God save a soul, you offer Him a downright insult and plunge into idolatry, because He turns away with disgust and leaves you and the water god to work the matter out. The very insinuation that God needs any help to save a soul is a blasphemous insult to His majesty. “Before God whom he believed, who createth life in the dead and calleth things which are not as though they are.” When God made the covenant with Abraham, He saw every soul that would ever be saved standing before Him, and conferred on that patriarch the faithful paternity of that mighty host, assuring him, “In thy seed, i. e., Christ, shall the families of the earth be blessed.” That fulfillment is yet future, reserved for the millennium, when Satan will be cast out and Jesus reign in every home on the face of the whole earth, when Abraham’s family will girdle the globe, verifying God’s promise that he shall inherit the world. What a memorable transaction, when God revealed to Abraham his family enveloping the whole earth and possessing it without a rival! The Jews and Mohammedans, uncompromising rivals either to other, have fought, bled and died to appropriate the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, which never were restricted to any race or church, but were always universal as the mercies of God covenanted in Christ, reaching every faithful soul in all ages and nations, regardless of creed, race, or color.

Verse 18

18. “Who against hope believed, pursuant to hope that he should be the father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be.

Verse 19

19. “And not being weak in faith, he considered not his own body already dead, being a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb:

Verse 20

20. “And he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was filled up with dynamite through faith, giving glory to God,

Verse 21

21. “Truly being fully assured that God is able to perform that which he has promised.” Of course the whole plan of salvation must be ratified by the incarnation of Christ, and this covenant sealed by His precious blood, without which the scheme of redemption must collapse forever.

Consequently the grand salient fact in the Abrahamic covenant is the Messianic incarnation and the progenitorship of Christ in his family. At this point all natural possibilities take their everlasting flight, permanently superseded by the supernatural, in view of the physical impossibilities of natural posterity, arising from the fact that both Abraham and Sarah had long passed the age of fertility. This fact clearly illustrates the supernaturalism indispensable to all genuine saving faith; as none but the children of Abraham have part in the covenant of redemption. Hence it is only the faith supernaturally inspired by the Holy Ghost that can make you a son of Abraham and an heir of the promised redemption. That is the reason why true faith has always been a scarce article in this wicked world.

“Moreover then the Son of man having come, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

The answer is in the negative. The faithful people having been taken up in the rapture, when the Lord comes in His awful pre-millennial judgments on a wicked world and fallen church, He will not find true faith in all the earth. This is the grand salient point in the plan of salvation, faith being the great fundamental grace underlying the superstructure and appropriating the benefits of the redemptive scheme involved in the Abrahamic covenant. Oh, how Satan counterfeits human faith, eliminating the supernatural and leaving it a loathsome old corpse (James 2:26). Unless the Holy Ghost inspire in the soul this super natural faith such as Abraham had, you never can be one of his children, a participant of the redemption in Christ (Galatians 3:29). Without this inspired supernatural faith you will always be “staggering” at the promises of God. Now, remember that, if you would be saved, you must walk in the steps of Abraham (5:12), who not only “staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief, but was filled up with dynamite through faith.” The peculiarity of natural faith, which is Satan’s counterfeit, is its destitution of the dynamite which the Holy Ghost alone can give, constituting the supernatural in justifying and sanctifying faith. Here we read that Abraham not only believed the promises of God which contradicted the laws of nature relative to the incarnation, but being so inundated with the dynamite of supernatural faith, he actually leaped for joy, giving glory to God. Hence, if you would be a son of Abraham, you must have that supernatural faith which so fills you up with spiritual dynamite that you not only triumph over all unbelief, but laugh at impossibilities and give glory to God, counting His promises already done without any visible manifestations of the fact, as Abraham without the shadow of a doubt leaped for joy in anticipation of His Omnipotent Son, the world’s Redeemer, two thousand years before the angels sang their gaudeamus over the manger of Bethlehem.

Verse 23

23. “But it was not written for the sake of him alone that it was imputed unto him,

Verse 24

24. “But truly for the sake of us unto whom he is about to impute it,” i. e., “to those who believed on him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” You see from these Scriptures that we are justified precisely like Father Abraham. Oh, how simple! He just believed God, and it was counted unto him for justification. Here it is positively specified that it was not written for the sake of Him alone, but for us, that we may know how to be saved. People are constantly stumbling over the very simplicity of God’s saving grace. Satan is constantly decoying us away after big things, lest we believe the simple truth of God and be saved.

Verse 25

25. “Who was delivered for our transgressions and arose for our justification.” Christ became our literal, actual, vicarious substitute, taking our place, dying in our room and stead. While He thus paid the penalty and redeemed every son and daughter of Adam’s ruined race, so perfectly and satisfactorily as to preclude all necessity of human condemnation, thus actually blockading hell against the ingress of every soul, and opening the pearly gates, with angelic shouts welcoming every poor victim of sin and sorrow to the fadeless glories of the heavenly hope, yet redemption is one thing and our participation of redeeming grace quite another. The latter we can not only secure through faith in the promises of God, unbelief climaxing an eternal forfeiture. Many have appeared on the earth claiming to be Christ, but they all fail to rise from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the grand Archimedean lever inspiring universal faith in His Christhood.

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Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Romans 4". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament".