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In chapter four the apostle proceeds to show, by means of Abraham and David, how all this is witnessed by the law and the prophets. Abraham is taken from the Pentateuch, the books of the law; David from the Psalms, which are linked with the Prophets.
What then do we see in Abraham? Was he justified before God by his works? If so, he had this to boast in, that he had righteously deserved the divine approval. But what does the Scripture say? In Genesis 15:6 we are told that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” This is the very principle the apostle has been pressing and explaining so clearly.
To earn salvation by works would be to put God in man’s debt. He would owe it to the successful worker to save him. This is the very opposite of grace, which is mercy shown “to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly.” It is his faith that is counted for righteousness. To this then Abraham bears testimony. And David too is heard singing the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness without works, when he cries in Psalms 32:1-2 - “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” In the psalm the Hebrew word for “covered” means “atoned for.” This is the gospel. Atonement has been made. Therefore God does not impute sin to the believer in His Son, but imputes righteousness instead.
Luther called the 32nd Psalm “a Pauline Psalm.” It teaches in no uncertain way the same glorious doctrine of justification apart from human merit. The non-imputation of sin is equivalent to the imputation of righteousness. Augustine of Hippo had these words painted on a placard, and placed at the foot of his bed where his dying eyes could rest upon them. To myriads more they have brought, peace and gladness in the knowledge of transgression forgiven and sin atoned for, as the Hebrew word in the Old Testament translated “covered” really means.
This blessedness was not-is not-for a chosen few only, but is freely offered to all. Faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness when he was on Gentile ground before the covenant sign of circumcision was placed upon his flesh. It was really a seal of what was already true, as in the case of Christian baptism; because he was justified he was commanded to be circumcised. In the centuries since the Jews had come to regard the sign as of more importance than the faith. People ever exalt the visible at the expense of the invisible.
Abraham is called “the father of circumcision,” for through him the ordinance began. But he is father not only to them who are of the circumcision literally, but to all who have no confidence in the flesh, who have judged it as weak and unprofitable, and who, like him, trust in the living God.
The promise that he should be heir of the world was not given to him “through the law,” that is, it was not a reward of merit, something he had earned by obedience. It was on the ground of sovereign grace. Hence his righteousness, like ours if we believe, was a “by-faith righteousness.” The heirs of the promise are those who accept it in the same faith, otherwise it would be utterly invalidated. It was an unconditional promise.
The law promised blessing upon obedience and denounced judgment on disobedience. None have kept it. Therefore, “The law worketh wrath.” It cursed. It could not bless. It intensified sin by giving it the specific character of transgression, making it the wilful violation of known law. It could not be the means of earning what was freely given.
The promise of blessing through the Seed- which is Christ-is of faith that it might be by grace. And so it is “sure” to all the seed, that is, to all who have faith. All such are “of the faith of Abraham.” He is thus the father of us all, who believe in Jesus. And so the word is fulfilled which said, “I have made thee a father of many nations.” This comes in parenthetically. The words, “Before Him whom he believed,” properly follow the words, “The father of us all.” That is to say, Abraham, though not literally our father by natural generation, is the father of all who believe, in the sight of God. The same faith characterizes them all.
God is the God of resurrection. He works when nature is powerless. He so wrought in the case of Abraham and Sarah, both beyond the time when they could naturally be the parents of a child. He so wrought when He raised up Christ, the true Seed, first by bringing Him into the world contrary to nature, of a virgin mother; and second by bringing Him up from the dead. Abraham believed in the God of resurrection, and staggered not at the divine promise though fulfilment seemed impossible. God delights to do impossibilities! What He promises He performs. Fully persuaded of this, Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him for righteousness. In the same way we are called upon to believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead-He who was, in infinite grace, delivered up to death to make atonement for our offences, and who, upon the completion of His work to God’s satisfaction, was raised again for our justification. His resurrection is the proof that God is satisfied. The divine justice has been appeased. The holiness of God has been vindicated. The law has been established. And so the believing sinner is declared justified from all things. Such is the testimony of chapter 4.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Romans 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent