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Bible Commentaries
Romans 4

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Verses 1-17


Romans 4:1.—Alford, following Meyer, says κατὰ σάρκα is in contrast to κατὰ πνεῦμα, and refers to that part of our being from which spring works in contrast with that which is the exercise of faith. κατὰ σάρκα in respect to efforts by one’s own natural powers, or efforts made in one’s own strength.

Romans 4:2. ἐξ ἔργων.—Talmud maintains that Abraham was justified by works.

Romans 4:3.—Jewish Rabbis viewed Abraham’s faith as so much merit. “As the reward of his faith our father Abraham inherited both this world and that which is to come, as it is said, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted,’ etc.”

Romans 4:4. But of debt.—ὀφείλημα, what one owes—a debt, a due, duty, obligation.

Romans 4:7. Blessed are they, etc.—Paul refers them to the example of Abraham and the beatitudes of David. Another proof that he does not disparage the law (Wordsworth). ἀφίεναι.—New Testament side of forgiveness—real removal of sin. ἐπὶκαλύπτειν.—Old Testament side—sin only covered till atonement should be made for it.

Romans 4:9.—λέγομεν γάρ supposes an affirmative to the preceding questions—viz., “The privilege belongs also to the uncircumcised.” Proved by the quotation from David.

Romans 4:11.—The term σημεῖον, sign, relates to the material thing; the term σφραγίς, seal, to its religious import. Seal of the covenant of grace.

Romans 4:12.—Refers to believers of Jewish origin who formed the other half of Abraham’s spiritual family.

Romans 4:13.—Abraham was justified before the institution of circumcision and the delivery of the law, therefore by faith in Christ to come.

Romans 4:15.—παράβασις, transgression, from παραβαίνειν, to trespass. A barrier cannot be crossed except in so far as it exists; so without law there is no sin in the form of transgression.

Romans 4:17.—καλεῖν is the creature call of the Almighty, by which He, according to the analogy of the first act of creation, calls forth the concrete formations out of the general stream of life (Olshausen). Abraham the father of all the faithful, however far removed. In God’s sight Abraham still lives; in God’s sight we were already in existence when He spake to Abraham.


The father of the faithful.—The divinity of the Bible shown in this, that it confers immortality upon its heroes which no other book possesses. Abraham’s trials, faith, and final victory are familiar facts to-day. He lives both in Bible story and in tradition’s lore. It is a fact to be noticed that the fame of Bible heroes has spread beyond the book in which it is related. “The memory of the just is blessed;” and Abraham’s memory is blessed and green because he was justified by faith and is the father of the faithful. Consider the negative and the positive aspect of Abraham’s descendants.

I. Negatively.—His descendants:

1. Are not the moralists. Ethical systems cannot be a ground of justification before the unchangeable God. They run from Socrates down to Victor Cousin or Mr. Herbert Spencer. How am I to know by which ethical system I am to be saved? How am I to ascertain which is relatively right and which is absolutely right? Amid hypothetical imperatives, categorical imperatives, and apodeictical principles, what am I to do? Abraham’s descendants would be few if they were confined to the ethical philosophers and their scholars.

2. Are not the legalists. The law maketh wrath and brings condemnation. For all are guilty of infractions of the law, both natural and revealed. Without the written law men will be judged by the natural law written on their hearts. Conscience is a witness to guilt. When it has not been killed, it doth make us all criminals. Can the criminal claim reward as a debt? Punishment is his due.

3. Are not the ceremonialists. We must coin the word so as to avoid a word which has become descriptive of a certain party. Forms and ceremonies have their place, but we must observe the rule, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Clothes have their use; but what use are they to the dead? First life, then clothes and food. Abraham had the righteousness of faith, being uncircumcised.

II. Positively.—His descendants are:

1. Those who exercise faith. This is the source from the human side of justification, and is the root force which generates the leaves, flowers, and fruits of the Christian character.

2. Those who are forgiven. The doctrine of the forgiveness of sins too often ignored. The blessing to be realised. Faith rightly exercised brings into the soul the consciousness of the divine pardon.

3. Those who are the subjects of grace. “By grace are ye saved.” The method of grace is one for Abraham and for all God’s people, from the dawn of time to its close.

4. Those to whom belong the sure promises. They are sure, resting upon the solid foundation of God’s grace. This is a rock. All other foundations are as shifting sand. Our moods change; our ethical systems have their days; our volitions vary; our efforts, if strong to-day, are weak the next day, and they always fall far short of our noblest volitions. God’s grace is immutable; His promises are firm:

“Engraven as in eternal brass
The might; promise shines.”

5. Those who stand a gracious army before Him, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things that be not as though they were. Review the muster-roll of faith’s sons and daughters, and it will be found that, though sometimes lightly esteemed, they are indeed the precious sons and daughters of Zion, comparable unto fine gold. They stand in the presence of the infinite Purity, and are ennobled by the gracious influence.

(1) Let us seek for that faith which justifies and leads on to purity.

(2) Let us strive to walk in the steps of that faith which has been exercised by the noblest,—these are the steps leading to spiritual greatness and happiness.

(3) Let us believe the promises sure because they are of grace.

(4) Let us glory, not in ourselves, not in works, but in our sublime heirships.

Romans 4:3. “What saith the Scripture?”—In the third chapter St. Paul had brought this truth plainly forward—that all men before God are sinners. Those to whom the apostle was referring thought they had such special privileges connected with themselves that they at least ought to be exempted from this general statement. But the apostle says, No such thing; and he falls back therefore upon the question; “What saith the Scripture?” Now before I attempt to lead you to the answer which ought to be given to this question, it will be necessary that I dwell briefly upon one or two introductory points.

I. What is meant by the Scripture?—When St. Paul used these words he certainly referred simply to the Old Testament Scriptures; but we are never for a moment to suppose that the Old Testament and the New Testament are different; and therefore if a man ask me, “What saith the Scripture?” I am quite as ready to give him an answer out of the Old Testament as I should be to give him one out of the New, and just as ready to answer him out of the New as I should be out of the Old. But when a man asks me a question about his soul, when he is asking me how a man may get to heaven, I should like to answer him out of both Testaments, because when they are put together the one seems to explain the other, enabling a man to say, “Thus saith the Scripture.”

II. What is the authority of Scripture?—If you ask me what there is in this book different from what there is in the best kind of other books, I have but one plain answer. It is because this book was written, not by man, but by God; it is because, though “holy men of old” wrote the book, they wrote it “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” We speak of “the Gospel according to St. Matthew,” “the Gospel according to St. Luke,” or “the Gospel according to St. John”; but we say it is “the gospel of the grace of God,” and we acknowledge that from first to last the book was written as God Himself put it into the hearts and minds of the different writers. So then we acknowledge in this book the authority of God Himself. No wonder therefore St. Paul should fall back upon the question of the text. I would only further remark in connection with this part of my subject that we are not to think that the Scripture was intended for men of another age or another country, as if it did not bear upon ourselves; neither must you, when you look at the Scriptures and consider them as the word of God, expect to find them without their difficulties. Even infidels who have disbelieved the Bible have testified to its morality. They have said that if they wanted to bring up their children well there was no morality like that which was to be found in the Bible. To the truth of what the Bible contains the researches of the last few years have testified.

III. “What saith the Scripture,”

1. For my head? It unfolds to me many difficulties. That great doctrine of there being three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—but one living and true God. But the Scripture unfolds to me another great subject, and that is the plan of salvation. The apostle had been showing that all men were sinners—if sinners, they could not save themselves, and that therefore a plan must be devised by which they could be saved. Here is the plan. You and I could do nothing for ourselves. When we were condemned as sinners Christ died in our place, bore our punishment, endured the shame, suffered on the cross, and has now set us free.

2. Butwhat saith the Scripturefor my heart? I have known the Scripture turn many a bad man into a good man and make him happy, but I have never known it make a single person unhappy. To each individual I say, You have no hope; but you may have a full hope, a good hope through Christ.

3. Butwhat saith the Scripturefor our life—I mean our way of living? It tells us the impossibility of a double service: “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Therefore if the man who loves his sin would only read, “What saith the Scripture?” he would find that he must leave off sinning if he would have peace, for “there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” But “what saith the Scripture” still for our life? It bids us ask ourselves, in the midst of the busy world, in the midst of all our occupations, when we rise early and late take rest—it bids us ask ourselves, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

IV. But how are we to know these Scriptures?—We must search those Scriptures; and if we were asked how and when, I should say the how must be prayerfully and the when must be daily. I would say to all that if you will only follow that advice there is not one but may be mighty in the Scriptures—if you will only search them and pray over them, and that daily. There is an awful responsibility that rests upon every one who does not study that book, who does not read the Bible, who does not consider what the Scripture saith. It is just as if you were walking in a dark place, not knowing the road, and some one were to offer you a light, and you were to say, I do not require it, and refuse to take it. If a man suffered injury under such circumstances, who would marvel?—Dr. Villiers, Bishop of Carlisle.

How did Abraham get his righteousness?—Justification by faith is a very old doctrine—one of the oldest dogmas on record. It is as old as Abraham, as old as Abel.

I. Who justifies?—“It is God that justifieth.” The Judge, the Lawgiver, is the Justifier. Self-justification is as useless as it is impossible.

II. What sort of justification does He give?—His justification is:

1. Righteous. The adjustment of the question between us and God is a righteous adjustment. Nothing but this would satisfy God or ourselves, or make us feel safe in accepting it in our dealings with a holy God. This righteousness is secured by the full payment of the penalty by a surety or substitute.

2. Complete. It extends to our whole persons, to our whole lives, to every sin committed by us. The whole man is justified; it is no half pardon.

3. Irreversible. No second verdict can alter our legal position. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?”

4. Divine. It is a justification worthy of God; a justification which shall place the justified on a far higher level than the first Adam stood upon.

III. For whom is it?—For the ungodly. Yes; for such alone. Righteousness for the unrighteous is that which the righteous One came to bring. In this matter of pardon and acceptance, the principle is not, to him that hath shall more be given, but to him that hath nothing shall all be given.

IV. How we get it.—By believing. In accepting God’s testimony to this righteousness, in crediting His word concerning this justification, we are justified at once. The righteousness becomes ours; and God treats us henceforth as men who are righteous, as men who, on account of the righteousness which has thus become theirs, are entitled to be dealt with as righteous out and out, Of Abraham it is said, “His faith was counted for righteousness”—that is, God counted this believing man as one who had done all righteousness, just because he was a believing man. Not that his act or acts of faith were substituted as equivalent to work, but his believing brought him into the possession of all that working could have done. Thus, in believing, we get the righteousness. Our believing accomplishes for us all that our working could have done.—H. Bonar.

Romans 4:3. Belief in God.—Belief in God is the foundation of all religion, both natural and revealed. Now as without belief in God there can be no religion, so where there is such belief in God the Scripture always of course supposes it accompanied with every other part of true religion. As the foundation of religion in general is believing in God, so the foundation of Christianity in particular is the belief of that great act of God, the raising His Son from the dead, in order to judge the world in righteousness.

I. Now the account which the Scripture gives us of the faith of Abraham is this:

1. It consisted in his believing the true God, the Maker and Governor of the universe, the Lord of heaven and earth. The nations among whom he sojourned were all idolaters, worshippers of dead men, worshippers of the kings who had reigned over them in their lifetime; for that was the original of all the heathen idolatry. Every city or territory had its own prince, and the world was divided into small kingdoms. These kings were honoured by their flatterers with honours during their lives too nearly divine, and after their deaths they were by the ignorant people worshipped as gods. The worship paid to such gods of their own making was accordingly superstitious; and the corruption of their manners was answerable to the absurdity of their religion. From these Abraham separated himself and believed in the true God, the Maker of all things; and for the sake of that belief forsook his native country.

2. As Abraham’s faith consisted in general in believing the true God, so in particular it manifested itself in such acts of dependence upon Him as became a person who had just and worthy notions of the true God, whom he served; and for this “it was counted unto him for righteousness.”

3. The faith of Abraham was not a speculation or mere credulity, but a principle of obedience and true holiness.

4. The faith of Abraham is opposed in Scripture, just as the faith of Christians is, not to the works of virtue, but to the rites and ceremonies of the law of Moses. “They that are of faith,” saith St. Paul (Galatians 3:7)—that is, they who, believing in Christ, expect salvation through the real holiness of the gospel, and not by such outward forms and ceremonies as the Jews observed—“the same,” saith he, “are the children of Abraham”; “even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:6).

II. The second thing I proposed to speak of is, what it is that is particularly required of us when we likewise are in Scripture commanded to “believe in God.”—And this evidently implies:

1. Believing His being—that is, not only in a speculative manner believing that there is an infinitely perfect Being in the notional way wherein philosophers describe Him, which may easily be separate from any religious affection, but it is having upon our minds a constant sense of His being in the moral sense the supreme Governor and righteous Judge of the world. This belief of the being of God is that only which, because it will certainly produce the fruits of virtue, shall therefore certainly be “accounted unto us for righteousness.”
2. The duty of believing in God implies not only our believing His being, and His being governor and judge of the world, but also that we have worthy and honourable apprehensions of His nature and attributes; for when any man thinks he believes in God, without attending at the same time to those perfections and excellences which constitute the true and real notion of God, he deceives himself with that empty fallacy of putting words for things, and, instead of placing his religion in obeying the commands of the true Governor of the universe by the practice of all holiness, righteousness, and virtue, he will be apt to content himself with worshipping he knows not what, and he knows not how, with a blind superstition, without understanding, and without any real improvement in goodness. This is naturally the effect of ascribing absurdities to God, as those of the Church of Rome do in the matter of transubstantiation; or of teaching things concerning Him contrary to the common and obvious notions of righteousness and goodness, as those have done who contend for the doctrine of absolute and unconditional predestination. The religion of such men usually consists more in a useless amazement of mind than in any real practise of virtue, than which nothing can be more dishonourable to God or more injurious to religion.
3. Believing in God signifies believing His revelations also, as well as what nature teaches concerning Him. The obligations of revealed religion are founded upon the same ground as the obligations of natural religion, and they mutually strengthen and confirm each other. By the dictates of nature it was reasonable to expect that God would vouchsafe to make more clear to men His will by revelation; and in all true revelation is contained a fuller enforcement and more strong confirmation of the law of nature. Men, therefore, who in Christian countries, where the gospel is preached, pretend to believe in the God of nature, and yet at the same time reject the revelation of the gospel, which is so agreeable to and perfective of the law of nature, do, generally speaking, in pretence only, and not in reality, show any more regard to natural than to revealed religion, falling for the most part into absolute atheism. Whereas they who seriously believe and practise the duties of natural religion are generally disposed to embrace also consequently the revelation of the gospel.

4. As believing in God signifies believing His revelations as well as His nature and attributes, so it always includes obedience to Him likewise, when it means that faith which shall be “counted to us for righteousness.” “Abraham’s faith,” saith St. James, “wrought with his works, and by works was his faith made perfect.” And concerning ours in like manner St. Paul declares, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10).—Clarke.

Romans 4:7. An uncommon conception.—St. Paul throws a new light on Old Testament utterances, a spiritual interpretation not received by the Jews. He likewise gives a conception of happiness not generally accepted. Let us examine it.

I. In order to taste joy we must feel sorrow.—Thus in a general way sorrow has its blessed uses. The sorrow of pain tastes the joy of release. Sorrow for sin prepares the way for the joy of its removal. No wonder men make light of sin when they do not feel the sorrow it inflicts. The sorrowful pathway of the sin-stricken soul leads to the blessedness of forgiveness.

II. In order to enjoy ease we must bear the burden.—The burden-bearers of time may seem to have a hard lot, but they can taste a rich enjoyment when the burden is removed which is unknown to the indolent. The burden of sin is a heavy load; but what joy when the Saviour’s invitation is accepted, the burden is removed, and the weary soul obtains infinite repose!

III. In order to welcome forgiveness we must realise our helplessness.—If a man fancies he is rich and increased in goods, he will be possessed of pride. Fancy plays fantastic tricks. Men fancy that they are morally rich. Why should they crave forgiveness? The sense of soul poverty must be antecedent to the reception of infinite riches. A man condemned will welcome the remission of sentence. Helpless, we rejoice in forgiveness.

IV. In order to rejoice in buried sins we must feel their loathsomeness.—We feel in no hurry to carry to the grave the beautiful child that sweetly sleeps in death. The sins that are not frowned upon by society, the sins that make us popular, we are in no haste to cover. But the sin which exposes us to the contempt of our fellows we would gladly bury many fathoms deep. All sin is hateful to God. He loves man, and yet man’s sin turns divine complacency into abhorrence. All sin is loathsome. Let us haste to have it covered. It can be covered beneath the propitiation. Let us pray for the divine Spirit to show us the evil of sin, to reveal to us our own sin, and then are we likely to know the high felicity of those whose sins are forgiven.

Romans 4:13. A vast heirship.—Is any single man heir of the world? He possesses only a part. One man possesses property, another fame, another power. Each man has his own dominion. Even of that he is not complete master. We possess in part as well as know in part. Abraham’s material world was small as compared with the world of the present, but he looked beyond and above the material to the moral sphere, to the wide expanding future. Abraham’s spiritual seed is heir of the world; and why? Because:—

I. It is a dominating force.—We may try to exalt the material, but we are being constantly confronted with the fact that the moral is mighty. Moral wisdom is mightier than weapons of war. Spiritual forces are more dominating than either material, social, or political forces. The spiritual seed is sovereign in time, as time’s advance will manifest.

II. It is a formative agency.—The spiritual seed is working silently, almost secretly, and yet surely. The great formative agency in the highest of modern civilisations is the spiritual seed. Christ and the Christ like—the true Abrahamic seed—are permeating all nationalities. The seed is germinating through the centuries; and when the harvest time of humanity and of God’s purpose has come, the golden grain will beautify the planet.

III. It works by means of an eternal principle.—The righteousness of faith is the principle of the Abrahamic seed. It is not a Pauline doctrine; it is a divine creed. Righteousness is eternal. God and righteousness are synonymous. Faith in God implies faith in righteousness—faith in righteousness as a divine attribute, as a divine bestowal to the human unrighteous one.

IV.—It conquers self, and thus conquers all.—The tendency of the earth seed is to obtain heirship by way of merit. The spiritual seed represses this erroneous tendency. Not by the works of the law, but through the righteousness of faith. The seed that masters its own false tendencies must master. True, individually, that he who conquers self conquers all. World slaves seek possession through works. World masters obtain possession through the righteousness of faith.

V. It marches in harmony with the divine order.—We may find fault with nature; but the man who moves in harmony with those laws by which nature is governed is most likely to prove nature’s master, and certainly most likely to secure the greatest good—if not to himself, to the race. The moral and the material order are connected. The seed that marches in harmony with the moral order will have the largest dominion. Man’s immorality has well-nigh made God’s kosmos into a chaos. Man’s morality, through the righteousness of faith, will turn back the chaos into a kosmos.

VI. It delights in the divine beauty.—Delight in moral and spiritual beauty should promote delight in material beauty. He is heir of the world who can delight in all things good, true, and beautiful. Possession is not by legal enactments, but by the imperial and absorbing soul. The peasant may possess more than the peer. How poor an heir is that peer who spends his days in a room of the tower, where he paces up and down like a caged lion mourning over his incapacity! How rich an heir is that peasant who can walk God’s earth singing, All things are ours!

VII. It moves to universal renovation.—The spiritual seed is not as the material seed. The latter seeks heirship for self-aggrandisement. Too often it heeds not that destruction and misery are in its ways, if by that destruction it can obtain spoils of enrichment. The former seeks heirship for universal enrichment, and thus it moves on to universal renovation. Let us seek the true heirship of the world. Let us pursue the right method. Let us contemplate ultimate results. Let us have faith in final triumph.


Abraham’s greatness.—The name of Abraham, as we shall afterwards see more fully, is not confined to the sacred history. Over and above the book of Genesis there are two main sources of information. We have the fragments preserved to us by Josephus and Eusebius from Greek or Asiatic writers. We have also the Jewish and Mussulman traditions, as represented chiefly in the Talmud and the Koran. It is in the former class—those presented to us by the pagan historians—that the migration of Abraham assumes its most purely secular aspect. They describe him as a great man of the East well read in the stars, or as a conquering prince who swept all before him on his way to Palestine. These characteristics, remote as they are from our common view, have nevertheless their point of contact with the biblical account, which, simple as it is, implies more than it states. He was, in practice, the friend of God, in the noblest of all senses of the word—the friend who stood fast when others fell away. He was the first distinct historical witness, at least for his own race and country, to theism, to monotheism, to the unity of the Lord and Ruler of all against the primeval idolatries, the natural religion of the ancient world. In him was most distinctly manifested the gift of “faith.” In him long, long before Luther, long before Paul, was it proclaimed, in a sense far more universal and clear than the “paradox” of the reformer, not less clear and universal than the preaching of the apostle, that “man is justified by faith.” “Abraham believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.” Powerful as is the effect of these words when we read them in their first untarnished freshness, they gain immensely in their original language, to which neither Greek nor German, much less Latin or English, can furnish any full equivalent. “He supported himself, he built himself up, he reposed as a child in his mother’s arms,” in the strength of God—in God whom he did not see, more than in the giant empires of earth, and the bright lights of heaven, or the claims of tribe and kindred, which were always before him. It was counted to him for “righteousness.” This universality of Abraham’s faith—this elevation, this multitudinousness of the patriarchal, paternal character, which his name involves—has also found a response in those later traditions and feelings of which I have before spoken. When Mahomet attacks the idolatry of the Arabs, he justifies himself by arguing, almost in the language of St. Paul, that the faith which he proclaimed in one supreme God was no new belief, but was identical with the ancient religion of their first father, Abraham. When the emperor Alexander Severus placed in the chapel of his palace the statues of the choice spirits of all times, Abraham, rather than Moses, was selected as the centre doubtless of a more extended circle of sacred associations. When the author of Liberty of Prophesying ventured, before any other English divine, to lift up his voice in behalf of universal religious toleration, he was glad to shelter himself under the authority of the ancient Jewish or Persian apologue, of doubtful origin, but of most instructive wisdom, of almost scriptural simplicity, which may well be repeated here as an expression of the world-wide sympathies which attach to the father of the faithful.—Stanley.

Sins hid.—“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Get your sins hid. There is a covering of sin which proves a curse. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper”; there is a covering it by not confessing it, or, which is worse, by denying it. Gehazi’s covering—a covering of sin by a lie; and there is also a covering of sin by justifying ourselves in it. I have not done this thing, or I did no evil in it. All these are evil coverings: he that thus covereth his sin shall not prosper. But there is a blessed covering of sin: forgiveness of sin is the hiding it out of sight, and that is the blessedness.—Richard Alleine.

Whose transgression is forgiven.”—We may lull the soul asleep with carnal delights, but the virtue of that opium will be soon spent. All those joys are but stolen waters, and bread eaten in secret—a poor, sorry peace that dares not come to the light and endure the trial—a sorry peace that is soon disturbed by a few serious and sober thoughts of God and the world to come; but when once sin is pardoned, then you have true joy indeed. “Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”—Thomas Manton.

“Sin is covered.”—Every man that must be happy must have something to hide and cover his sins from God’s eyes, and nothing in the world can do it but Christ and His righteousness, typified in the ark of the covenant, whose cover was of gold, and called a propitiatory, that as it covered the tables that were within the ark, so God covers our sins against those tables. So the cloud covering the Israelites in the wilderness signified God’s covering us from the danger of our sins.—Thomas Taylor.

Sin covered by Christ.—This covering hath relation to some nakedness and filthiness which should be covered—even sin, which defileth us and maketh us naked. Why, saith Moses to Aaron, hast thou made the people naked? The garments of our merits are too short and cannot cover us; we have need therefore to borrow of Christ Jesus His merits and the mantle of His righteousness, that it may be unto us as a garment, and as those breeches of leather which God made unto Adam and Eve after their fall. Garments are ordained to cover our nakedness, defend us from the injury of the weather, and to adorn us. So the mediation of our Saviour serveth to cover our nakedness, that the wrath of God seize not upon us. He is that “white raiment” wherewith we should be clothed that our filthy nakedness may not appear—to defend us against Satan. He is “mighty to save,” etc., and to be an ornament to decorate us, for He is that “wedding garment.” “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”—Archibald Symson.

Sweet is pardon.—The object of pardon, about which it is conversant, is set forth under divers expressions—“iniquity,” “transgression,” and “sin.” As in law, many words of like import and signification are heaped up and put together to make the deed and legal instrument more comprehensive and effectual. I observe it the rather, because when God proclaims His name the same words are used—“Taking away iniquity, transgression, and sin.” Well, we have seen the meaning of the expression. Why doth the holy man of God use such vigour and vehemency of inculcation, “Blessed is the man”? and again, “Blessed is the man”? Partly with respect to his own case. David knew how sweet it was to have sin pardoned; he had felt the bitterness of sin in his own soul to the drying up of his blood, and therefore he doth express his sense of pardon in the most lively terms. And then partly, too, with respect to those for whose use this instruction was written, that they might not look upon it as a light and trivial thing, but be thoroughly apprehensive of the worth of so great a privilege. Blessed, happy, thrice happy, they who have obtained pardon of their sins, and justification by Jesus Christ.—Thomas Manton.

Sin not reckoned.—“Unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.” Aben-Ezra paraphrases it, of whose sins God does not think, does not regard them, so as to bring them into judgment, reckoning them as if they were not; οὐ μὴ λογίζεται, does not count or calculate them, does not require for them the debt of punishment. To us the remission is entirely free, our Sponsor having taken upon Him the whole business of paying the ransom. His suffering is our impunity, His bond our freedom, and His chastisement our peace; and therefore the prophet says, “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”—Robert Leighton.

Legality.—He to whom thou wast sent for ease, being by name Legality, is the son of the bond-woman which now is, and is in bondage with her children, and is, in a mystery, this Mount Sinai, which thou hast feared will fall on thy head. Now, if she with her children are in bondage, how canst thou expect by them to be made free? This Legality, therefore, is not able to set thee free from thy burden. No man was as yet ever rid of his burden by him; no, nor ever is like to be. Ye cannot be justified by the works of the law; for by the deeds of the law no man living can be rid of his burden. Therefore Mr. Worldly-Wiseman is an alien, and Mr. Legality is a cheat; and for his son Civility, notwithstanding his simpering looks, he is but a hypocrite, and cannot help thee. Believe me, there is nothing in all this noise that thou hast heard of these sottish men, but a design to beguile thee of thy salvation, by turning thee from the way in which I had set thee. By laws and ordinances you will not be saved, since you came not in by the door. And as for this coat that is on my back, it was given me by the lord of the place whither I go; and that, as you say, to cover my nakedness with. And I take it as a token of his kindness to me; for I had nothing but rags before. And besides, thus I comfort myself as I go: Surely, think I, when I come to the gate of the city, the Lord thereof will know me for good, since I have His coat on my back, a coat that He gave me freely in the day that He stripped me of my rags. I have, moreover, a mark on my forehead, of which, perhaps, you have taken no notice, which one of my Lord’s most intimate associates fixed there in the day that my burden fell off my shoulders. I will tell you, moreover, that I had then given me a roll, sealed, to comfort me by reading as I go on the way. I was also bid to give it in at the celestial gate, in token of my certain going in after it; all which things, I doubt, you want, and want them because you came not in at the gate.—Bunyan.

Reason and will joined in faith.—The prerogative of God extendeth as well to the reason as to the will of man; so that we are to obey His law, though we find a reluctation in our will—we are to believe His word, though we find a reluctation in our reason. For if we believe only what is agreeable to our sense, we give consent to the matter and not to the author. But that faith which was accounted unto Abraham for righteousness was of such a point as whereat Sarah laughed, who therein was an image of natural reason.—Lord Bacon.

Abraham’s constant trust.—Though this be the only instance mentioned in Scripture of the patriarch’s faith being counted to him for righteousness, yet we know that this unhesitating trust in God was the habitual temper of his mind, as it must be that of every man who would imitate the example of the father of the faithful. The Lord had communed with him previous to this period, accompanied with the same implicit reliance on the part of the patriarch. It is this immutable trust in God which communicates its whole value to the act of obeying the divine commands; for were the command obeyed without any reference to God or any reliance on Him, this would not be an act of moral obedience, as not proceeding from the proper motive. And this implicit reliance, without any external act of obedience, was counted to Abraham for righteousness. The event on which Moses remarks that Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness took place when the patriarch must have been under eighty-six years of age. He received the seal of the covenant by which he and his family were constituted the Church of God when he was ninety-nine years old. Hence the reckoning of his faith for righteousness took place at least thirteen years before he and his descendants were constituted the Church of God. Now if Abraham’s faith was counted for righteousness when he was not a member of the outward community of God’s Church, why may not the same mark of divine favour be extended to others who, like him, place their confidence in God, and study to obey His law, though they too belong not to the visible Church of God? With all who admitted the inspiration of the Jewish Scriptures, the apostle’s argument must have appeared absolutely conclusive; for when Abraham had his faith reckoned to him for righteousness he was in the situation of the pious Gentiles of every age who have lived and died out of God’s visible Church. No person, then, can be entitled to maintain that the pious heathen may not, in virtue of the redemption that is in Christ, have their faith counted to them for righteousness, when we have the example of the father of the faithful himself obtaining justification while precisely in this situation. The term “father” is applied to Abraham in this passage metaphorically, to signify that he was constituted the type or example to all mankind of obtaining justification. This method of justification was revealed to him, not as a special instance of divine favour to himself as an individual, but as a pattern or example of the manner in which all men may obtain this blessing, an instance of the principle on which alone any of the fallen race of mankind can be justified. In the first instance the covenant, as the divine promise is often called, was made with Abraham. But it having been declared in the covenant itself that Abraham in this transaction was the father or type of all believers, the promise extends to all men, and is as immutably certain to every human creature who walks in the steps of Abraham’s faith as it was to the patriarch himself. “Now this promise,” says the apostle, “was not given to Abraham and to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” The expression “the law” is apt to suggest the law of Moses. But this cannot be the meaning, for the law of Moses did not then exist. Therefore by “the law” the apostle means generally “the law of God,” both moral and ceremonial, whether made known by revelation or written on the heart; and the force of his observation is, that the reward was not promised to Abraham and his seed in consequence of their meriting it by obedience to the divine law, but because God of His own free will was pleased to count their faith to them as righteousness, or to accept the imperfect righteousness of faith as if it were an unsinning fulfilment of His law.—Ritchie.

Canaan typical.—We know that the earthly Canaan was, in express terms, promised to Abraham and his seed. And that the promise of the heavenly Canaan was couched under this is scarcely less plain, from the two following simple considerations. First: Abraham himself, and the other believing patriarchs, so understood it; for, on the footing of this promise, they looked for the heavenly country—“for the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (see Hebrews 11:8-10; Hebrews 11:13-16). This country was the object of their hope, as being the subject of divine promise. But no promise of it is to be found, unless it was couched under that of the earthly Canaan, as a type; connected with the declaration, “I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed”; which also includes the promise of eternal inheritance; and, indeed, considered as the glorious sum of the promises made in the Abrahamic covenant. The whole of the gospel revelation was then, and for many ages afterwards, under the veil of figurative language, and of typical rites, objects, and events. To have given, in clear and explicit terms, the full promise of the eternal inheritance, would not have been consistent with the divine scheme of gradual development, nor with the fact of “life and immortality being brought to light” by Jesus Christ. But that the promise was given is manifest from the apostle’s manner of expressing himself in the passages above alluded to, and from his saying of the patriarchs, who had gone to the “better country,” that “through faith and patience they inherited the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). Secondly: This is still further evident, from believers in all ages and countries being called heirs, according to the promise of inheritance given to Abraham. So they are spoken of in Galatians 3:18; Galatians 3:29. “If ye be Christ’s,” says the apostle in Galatians 3:29, “then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”—i.e., the promise of the inheritance mentioned in Romans 4:18 : “If the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” So also, in Hebrews 6:17-20, “the heirs of promise,” who derive “strong consolation” from the word and oath of God to Abraham, are those “who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them: which hope … entereth within the veil; whither the forerunner is entered, even Jesus.” But as the word here rendered world is one which usually, if not uniformly, when it occurs without any restrictive noun, is used to denote the whole inhabited earth, I cannot help thinking that there is here a reference to the whole earth becoming the possession of Abraham’s seed, of which the possession of Canaan was but a small prelude. There is an obvious difference between a right and actual possession. The whole earth may be, by the gift or promise of God, the property of this seed, although they are not yet, and may not be for a good while to come, invested with the actual possession of it. When promises are made to a seed which is to come into existence in the successive ages of the world, it is not necessary to their fulfilment that they should be enjoyed in the same manner and in the same degree, by all, from the first period to the last; for with this, in the present instance, facts do not accord. We certainly possess the blessings contained in the divine promises in a more eminent degree than the saints of old: “God having provided better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40). Both temporal and spiritual blessings will be possessed, in a much higher degree of perfection than even now, during the period of the millennial glory of the Church. And as to these who shall be alive on the earth at the coming of Christ, they shall escape the sentence of mortality. But such differences in the enjoyment of the promises, at different periods, do not render them void of effect to any. All the seed have “the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” All being finally put in possession of the “heavenly country” may be said then to inherit the promises in their full extent—this being their grand sum, their glorious completion. Moses and Aaron “inherited the promises,” although, as a judgment for failing to sanctify the name of the Lord at the waters of Meribah, they were sentenced to finish their course short of the earthly Canaan.—Wardlaw.


Romans 4:3. A lantern refused.—If, then, we have a light for our souls, and we will not use it, who can wonder if we suffer injury? This reminds me that something of this kind actually happened. It was not so long ago that I happened to be visiting in a great castle situated on the top of a hill, near which there was a very steep cliff and a rapid river running at the bottom. A person, anxious to get home from the castle, late one night, in the midst of a violent thunderstorm, when it was blackness itself, was asked to stop till the storm was over. She declined. She was begged to take a lantern, that she might be kept in the road; but she said she could very well do without it. She left, and, perhaps frightened by the storm, she wandered from the road, and got upon the top of the cliff; she tumbled, and the next day the lifeless body of that foolish woman was found washed ashore from the swollen stream. How many such foolish ones are there, who, when the light is offered, and they have only to say, “What saith the Scripture?” are prepared to say, “I have no need of that book; I know right from wrong; I am not afraid; I fear not the end!” Oh, how many souls will be found in the last day who have tumbled over the cliff in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, and who have perished because they have refused the light of God’s truth, which would have guided them on the road to heaven!

Romans 4:3. Influence of the Bible.—It is hazarding nothing to say that, other things being equal, the political power and promise of nations is in direct ratio with their fidelity to the word of God. When a pagan ambassador asked Queen Victoria the secret of England’s national greatness she gave him a Bible, and said, “That is the secret of the greatness of England.” In the Centennial letter which the President of the United States addressed to the American Sunday Schools, he said “To the influence of the Bible we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilisation.” Froude says, in his essay on Calvinism, “All that we call modern civilisation, in a sense which deserves the name, is the visible expression of the transforming power of the gospel.”

Romans 4:3. Boy would not part with his Bible.—Let me just mention a story. I remember once hearing of a little lad in a town in Lancashire, where I first began my work of preaching. He lay upon the steps of a door, in the middle of the night, in the great town of Warrington, and the policeman, or rather watchman, coming up to him, said, “What are you doing here?” The boy replied, “I am without father and mother; I have travelled thus far, and I have no food, no money, no place to lie down in.” There was something in the boy’s jacket which attracted the watchman’s eye, and when he touched it he thought he had found a thief. “What have you here?” he asked. The boy then put his hand into his pocket, and brought out a small pocket Bible. “Well,” said the watchman, “if you are so badly off, I will give you a few pence for your Bible; I will take it home to my children, and you will be able to get your bed and food for the night.” But the lad, young as he was, knew that the Bible was true; he had an experimental knowledge of the Bible, and he was ready at once with his reply. “Thank you, sir,” he said, “but I won’t give it up.” “Why, you are starving,” said the watchman. “Yes; but this is the word of God, and it tells me, ‘When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.’ ” Here was the experimental knowledge of the power of the promises. The watchman showed his humanity, his kindness, and gentleness towards the fatherless boy. He took him home and fed him, and God prospered that boy who relied on the promises. And, believe me, that is just the experience of hundreds and thousands who have found their extremity to be God’s opportunity—who had found when they were very low that God could extend to them His everlasting arms, could lift them up, and bless them and preserve them.

Romans 4:3. There is no fear now.—Lord Shaftesbury, speaking on behalf of the South American Missionary Society, said, “I remember a missionary from Fiji telling me an anecdote. You have all heard how the Fijians were raised in the scale of social life when Christianity had been introduced among them. Well, a missionary told me that this came under his observation. A ship having been wrecked off one of the islands of Fiji, a boat’s crew that had got ashore from the wreck were in the greatest possible terror lest they should be devoured by the Fijians. On reaching land they dispersed in different directions. Two of them found a hut, and crept into it; and as they lay there wondering what would become of them, one suddenly called out to his companion, ‘All right, Jack, there is a Bible on this chair; there’s no fear now.’ This poor, despised book, which this man would probably have scorned to look at, and which he didn’t believe could do any one any good, be was glad enough now to hail as a proof that his life was safe. He was sure that those who cared to have and to read a Bible would not wish to eat him. I remember reading a somewhat similar story of a traveller who came to a rough hut which was owned by a very rough-looking man. The owner of the hut gave him a meal, and prepared such a bed for him as he could, but the traveler’s only idea of spending the night was to keep his eyes open and his pistol near. But when the rough owner of the hut took down a Bible from its resting-place, and read a chapter, and then offered a short prayer, and then went to bed himself, the traveller knew that no danger was to be apprehended there, and quietly went to sleep.”

Romans 4:4. Gentleness of Charles V.—We are told that on one occasion a swallow having built its nest on the tent of Charles V., he generously commanded that the tent should not be taken down until the young birds were ready to fly. Truly, if he, a rough soldier, could have such gentleness in his heart towards a little bird, how much more will the Lord have it to all those who flee to Him for shelter in loving trustfulness. “He that builds his nest upon a divine promise,” says one, “shall find it abide and remain until he shall fly away to the land where promises are lost in fulfilments.” Believers should be the more emboldened to do this from the fact that what God has already done for them is designed to be a sure and blessed earnest of all the grander things to be done for them in the future. He never lifts any from the pit only to cast them in again. Men may do such a thing, but the Lord never does.

Romans 4:4. Mr. Hewitson’s advice to Dr. Macdonald.—In one of his prized letters his friend Mr. Hewitson once said to Robert Macdonald, D.D., “Have faith in God. Faith will be staggered by loose stones in the way if we look manward; if we look Godward faith will not be staggered even by seemingly inaccessible mountains stretching across and obstructing our progress. ‘Go forward!’ is the voice from heaven; and faith, obeying, finds the mountains before it flat as plains.”

Romans 4:9. Christian happiness.—In this verse there is a declaration of the Christian’s blessedness. The New Testament use of the word μακάριος throws light upon Christian happiness, and will help us to understand such songs of trust as that which closes thus:—

“There are briars besetting every path

That call for patient care;

There is a cross in every lot,

And an earnest need for prayer.

But a lowly heart that leans on Thee

Is happy everywhere.”

Romans 4:16-17. Brave negro lad.—Courage is not confined to race or colour. A negro lad of nineteen will be remembered as the hero of the Washington disaster a short time ago. When the floors of the Government offices fell in, burying some hundreds of clerks in the ruins, this brave youth climbed to the top of a lofty telegraph pole which stood near. He drew up a ladder, one end of which he lashed to the pole, and holding the other end to the third-story window of the tottering building, saved the lives of fifteen young men. Certainly faith is not confined to race or colour. Members of Abraham’s family are found everywhere. The colour of the skin is no barrier to faith. The inward spirit triumphs over the mere external.

Verses 18-25


Romans 4:18.—Against hope as man; but upon hope in God (Severian).

Romans 4:19.—In this passage Abraham is represented as placed between two opposite forces—that of sight and that of faith. The look of faith fixed on the promises prevented every look cast on the external circumstances.

Romans 4:24. If we believe on Him, etc—Implies purpose, certainty, and continuance.

Romans 4:25.—Christians assured by Christ’s resurrection of the removal of their guilt. In the same way that the death and resurrection of Christ form an intimate unity, so also in man the death of the old and the rising up of the new cannot be conceived as existing without each other (Olshausen).


Not for his sake alone.—It is a glorious sight, a good man struggling with adversity and endeavouring to bear patiently the ills of life—more glorious still a good man rejoicing in adversity and making difficulties minister to highest delights. Travel back many centuries to the olden time. See a good man believing, hoping, rejoicing, though the sphere of sense did not furnish ground for such mighty faith. Abraham was not a materialist. Matter, with sceptical materialism for our guide, crushes faith. Matter is mighty, but mind is mightier. We know not the omnipotent energy of the infinite Mind. Abraham did not believe that man is a mere creature of circumstances except in so far as they are directed by God. Man divinely strengthened is superior to circumstances. Abraham defied time. What are a hundred years to Him whose existence is not measured on human dial-plates! Abraham believed in a knowable God—one whose promise was equalled by His performance. Promise and performance are coequal with God. If they were not, God would be untrue to His nature, and that He can never be. Abraham had a noble ambition. He believed in hope to the intent that he might become the father of many nations. Spiritual fatherhood is the highest and the noblest. The patriarch looked forward to a glorious and ever-increasing family. His sons and daughters are numerous. Abraham lived, believed, hoped, and prayed not for himself alone: he lived in his God and in the thought of our ennobled race. “Not for his sake alone” is inscribed on his monumental pillar. How beautifully Abraham seeks to settle the dispute between his herdmen and Lot’s! Abraham’s kindly considerateness shows that he spoke not for his sake alone. Abraham the intercessor for the Cities of the Plain showed himself one living for the welfare of others. Not for his sake alone is the short biography written. We are the heirs of the ages. A down the stream of time come argosies laden with mental and spiritual wealth. We stand on the moral delta which is enriched by the alluvial deposits from the noblest men and times. We are rich, or ought to be, in the moral spoils of time. And yet how weak in faith, how puny in works! We shake in the presence of modern pretenders like reeds before the wind. If a woman writes a book against our religion, we pile up against her magazine articles and send forth Christian evidence lecturers, as if she could hurl the Omnipotent from His throne. Why is our faith weak? Because:

1. We look only at the things which are seen. Our vision is bounded by the things of sense. We must look at the things which are unseen. We believe in the unseen and unseeable things of this world—if we may use the word—on the testimony of observant men. Why not believe in the unseen things of the spiritual realm on the testimony of God and of His servants? The things unseen are the realities—the certain and abiding realities. Let faith thus exercise itself, and it will grow.

2. We dwell on the seeming. Our morbid fancy leads us astray. We first fancy, and then we believe that the creation of our fancy is a child of fact. Let us seek to be, like Abraham, strong in faith. In spite of all appearances, in spite of all seeming impossibilities, let us believe in God. Can it be that Abraham in the dawn of time by his might shames our weakness? By this weakness of faith we shut ourselves up in the gloomy castle of doubt, we lead miserable lives. Our harps are hung on the willows. Our swords rust in the sheaths. We impede true progress, and we dishonour God. We might be strong if we could look above and beyond our surroundings to the God who promises, and remember that with Him nothing is impossible. Delay there may be to human seeming, and yet that may be accomplishment in the divine purpose. Faith grows like all other powers and graces. Abraham by believing was strengthened in his faith. How wide the promise “To him that hath shall be given”! Faith is an increasing grace. In order to increase there must be growth; in order to growth there must be food and exercise. Faith is fed by the promise. Faith is exercised by the period of waiting. The very obstacles which would stagger the faith of a doubting soul will be made by the believing man into the means whereby his faith is strengthened. Let us not shame our noble father. A strong faith-soul he walks the upper plains. Does he look down on us as sickly members of his great family? Oh to be strengthened in faith! and then we should give glory to God by the fuller recognition of His power and faithfulness, we should be the better able to perform our duties, our lives would be filled with joy, and God’s blessing would rest upon us. Let us live for the sake of others. The inheritance which Abraham has handed down to us let us impart to our fellows and transmit unimpaired to our descendants.

Romans 4:20. The unwavering man gathers strength.—Physical and intellectual strength may be developed up to a certain limit, and then it declines. Physical strength, sooner or later, will be shorn of the locks wherein it lies. Intellectual strength will fade into the imbecility of age. But moral strength has no limit. It will grow through the longest life. It will develop in eternal cycles. How shall we grow in strength? By wavering not at the promises of God.

I. The unwavering man has a single eye.—He looks to the promise, and not to the improbability. He treads the plank of the divine promise, looking forward to the goal of fulfilment, and thus he is not disturbed by the surging waters of scepticism.

II. The unwavering man has a clear vision.—The divine promise reveals to his soul the divine Promisor. He is able to perform. He must be faithful. For God to break His promise, would be for God to be untrue to His covenant, to be untrue to His own nature, and that He can never be. How strong a man must grow who clearly sees the divine attributes behind the promise!

III. The unwavering man provides soul growth.—He feeds on the promise. It provides a banqueting table at which the unwavering man feeds. God provides by furnishing the food. Man provides by making use of the food. We put on moral strength as we feed on the promises. We increase in strength.

IV. The unwavering man reaches sublime heights.—He develops in faith, giving glory to God. The Infinite condescends to the finite, and seeks to raise man out of his human finiteness into the larger spaces of divine possibilities. We give glory to God, not by our weakness, but by striving to get out of our weakness and by putting on strength. Dispute not the faithfulness of the divine Promiser. Be firm in faith, and thou shalt stand even amid the shifting sands of scepticism. Have the spiritual knowableness of faith, and thou shalt not feel the touch of agnosticism. Feed on the promise, and thou wilt become stronger and stronger.

Romans 4:20-21. Religious faith rational.—It is not at all true that faith itself, i.e. trust, is a strange principle of action; and to say that it is irrational is even an absurdity. I mean such a faith as that of Abraham mentioned in the text, which led him to believe God’s word when opposed to his own experience. It is obvious that we trust to our memory. We trust the general soundness of our reasoning powers. From knowing one thing we think we can be sure about another, even though we do not see it. We continually trust our memory and our reasoning powers, though they often deceive us. This is worth observing, because it is sometimes said that we cannot be certain that our faith in religion is not a mistake. When we come to examine the subject, it will be found that, strictly speaking, we know little more than that we exist, and that there is an unseen Power whom we are bound to obey. Beyond this we must trust; and first our senses, memory, reasoning powers—then other authorities; so that, in fact, almost all we do, every day of our lives, is on trust, i.e. faith. Scripture, then, only bids us act in respect to a future life as we are every day acting at present. We are from our birth dependent creatures, utterly dependent—dependent immediately on man; and that visible dependence reminds us forcibly of our truer and fuller dependence upon God. It is a mistake to suppose that our obedience to God’s will is merely founded on our belief in the word of such persons as tell us Scripture came from God. We obey God primarily because we actually feel His presence in our consciences bidding us obey Him. And this, I say, confutes these objectors on their own ground, because the very reason they give for their belief is that they trust their own sight and reason, because their own, more than the words of God’s ministers. Now let me ask, If they trust their senses and their reason, why do they not trust their conscience also? Is not conscience their own? Their conscience is as much a part of themselves as their reason is; and it is placed within them by almighty God in order to balance the influence of sight and reason, and yet they will not attend to it. For a plain reason: they love sin; they love to be their own masters, and therefore they will not attend to that secret whisper of their hearts which tells them they are not their own masters and that sin is hateful and ruinous. For ourselves, let us but obey God’s voice in our hearts, and I will venture to say we shall have no doubts practically formidable about the truth of Scripture. Find out the man who strictly obeys the law within him, and yet is an unbeliever as regards the Bible, and then it will be time enough to consider all that variety of proof by which the truth of the Bible is confirmed to us. This is no practical inquiry for us. Our doubts, if we have any, will be found to arise after disobedience. It is bad company or corrupt books which lead to unbelief. It is sin which quenches the Holy Spirit. If we but obey God strictly, in time, through His blessing, faith will become like sight; we shall have no more difficulty in finding what will please God than in moving our limbs or in understanding the conversation of our familiar friends. This is the blessedness of confirmed obedience. Let us aim at attaining it; and in whatever proportion we now enjoy it, praise and bless God for His unspeakable gift.—Newman.

Romans 4:25. The possibility of a resurrection.—The presumptions against the possibility of a resurrection operate so strongly in the minds of some that they think it needless to inquire what evidence there is for it, being persuaded that the thing itself is not capable of being supported by any evidence. This prejudice was a very early one, for the apostle expostulates this case with King Agrippa: “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?” Let us consider the force of this expostulation, and see whether it is strong enough to encounter the prejudice. Now nothing can be said to be incredible if there is a power in any person able to effect it; for if there is such a power, that power may bring into existence that very thing which you doubt of; and it cannot be incredible that a thing should exist which may possibly really exist. If we consider only the strength of children, it is incredible that they should build castles; but if we consider the strength and ability of men, it would be ridiculous to doubt whether they could or no. So that the credibility or incredibility of anything depends on knowing whether there is or is not a power adequate to the undertaking. The resurrection of the dead is in truth a very stupendous work; but neither you nor I am to undertake it: if it depended on us, it would be incredible indeed. It is the work of God, and of Him only; and surely I have named one of credit and power sufficient to be trusted in this great affair. And this is St. Paul’s argument, “Why should it be thought incredible that God should raise the dead?” Whoever, therefore, affirms that a resurrection is in itself a thing incredible must affirm that it is incredible that God has power to raise the dead. And now consider who it is that can, consistently with the common and allowed principles of reason and nature, deny this power to God. No one certainly who admits that God made the world can entertain this doubt; for if God has given us the life we now enjoy, what should hinder Him from restoring life again after this is lost? Can there be more difficulty in giving life the second time than there was at first? If there be any contradiction therefore in the notion of a resurrection, there must be the very same in the notion of creation. And therefore natural religion is just as much concerned in this point as revelation; for though the belief of the fact that the dead shall be raised depends on revelation, yet our belief that God has power to raise the dead depends, not on revelation, but on the clear dictates of reason—of that reason by which we discover Him to be our creator. And if you doubt even of this, His power of creation, you must bid adieu to all religion at once; for if God created not the world, how are you at all related to Him? If He did not make us, what right has He to govern us? or what pretence to our obedience? Neither you from nature nor we from revelation can ever be satisfied. The power of God being admitted to be equal to this work, the question of the resurrection of Christ comes to be a question of fact. And though I propose not to enter into the evidence of the fact, yet it may be proper to observe that a resurrection considered as a fact is a fact as capable of evidence as any whatever; it is an object of sense, of every sense by which we judge of the reality of things without us. We are told that “Christ died and rose again.” Of His death, I suppose, there is no great doubt—die He certainly did. And surely there could be no more difficulty to see and know that He was dead than in knowing when others were dead, from Adam to this day. One would think, therefore, that those about Him, who saw Him crucified and buried, might be trusted when they report that He died. But He came to life again. Very true; and it was very easy for those who conversed with Him to know whether He was alive or no. There was no more difficulty in judging of His being alive than of judging in any other case whether those we converse with are alive or no. His having been dead and buried could not possibly alter the case, or create any difficulty in judging whether He was really alive or no. So that the Resurrection, considered as a fact, was in every part of it an object of sense, and as capable of being well attested as any other object of sense whatever. Lay these things together—the romise of God to give us eternal life, His power to make good His word, the confirmation He has given us of our hope by the resurrection of Christ—and what is wanting to make the belief of this article a rational act of faith? The promises of God have never borrowed help from moral probabilities. The promises to Abraham were not of this kind; so far otherwise, that it is said of him that “against hope he believed in hope”—that is, he hoped where, humanly speaking, there was no ground for hope. There was no probability that his seed who was a stranger and pilgrim on earth should inherit the land of Canaan, possessed by great and powerful nations. Compare now this case with the case of Christians. We have great promises made to us by God in Christ Jesus, the promises of a resurrection to life. Inquire of the world; they know of no such thing—the ages past have afforded no instance of this kind; and, as far as they can see and judge, daily experience is a witness against this hope. Under these difficulties, whither shall we go for refuge and support? Whither but to the promises of God, and to this full persuasion, that what He has promised He is able to perform? If we hold fast this persuasion and stagger not through unbelief, then shall we indeed be the children of the faith of Abraham, whose “faith was imputed to him for righteousness.”—Sherlock.


These things are written not for Abraham’s sake alone.—These things were not written for Abraham’s sake alone; they were written for ours. Abraham trusted in God to quicken his unborn son—by-and-by to raise him (if need were) from the dead. We trust Him who did quicken in the flesh and raise from the dead His own supernatural Son Jesus. The gospel facts, the gospel promises, and the blessings of the new covenant in Christ are to us what the birth of Isaac was to Abraham: things all of them beyond the reach of experience or against it—things past or future or absent or spiritual—things in one way or another undiscerned by sense and to reason improbable; resting for their evidence solely on the word of the living God. To that man they are very real things—more real than anything else—who believes in God before all others. To other men they are quite unreal, shadowy, phantom-like, unbelievable. Such a faith in God is reckoned for righteousness to every man who has it, just as it was to Abraham, the father of all believers.—Dykes.

Christ died not as a mere teacher.—St. Paul first declares that Christ was “delivered for our offences.” Now, if the single service which Christ has rendered to mankind be, as the Socinian tells us, in the character of a teacher of religion; and if, by the discovery which our Lord has made of the different conditions of the righteous and the wicked in a future life, every man, once brought to a belief of the doctrine, might be reclaimed in such a degree as to merit, by his future conduct, not only a free pardon of his past offences, but also a share of those good things which “God hath prepared for them that love Him”; if our Lord’s doctrine might of itself, in this way, be a remedy for the sins of men, and if His sufferings and death were necessary only for the confirmation of His doctrine,—then might we admit it to be only in an indirect and a figurative sense that the sins of men are spoken of in this clause as having been the occasion of His death. For His doctrine would in that case be the means of their reformation, and His death would only be the means of establishing His doctrine. But if nothing future can undo the past; if we have incurred guilt without so much as the ability of meriting reward; if it is only through the power of divine grace that we can think or do anything which is right; and if, after all that divine grace has done for him, the life of the believer still consists in a perpetual conflict with appetites which are never totally subdued, and in an endeavour after perfection which never is attained; if the case really be that “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”; if, nevertheless, we are expressly assured that, on “confessing our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”; and if, as the beloved disciple assures us, it is the “blood of Jesus Christ” which “cleanseth us from all sin,”—then must it plainly follow that the Redeemer’s death was available to the expiation of the sins of men, far otherwise than merely as a solemn confirmation of the truth of the Christian religion; then must it plainly follow that Christ died to make an atonement for the sins of men, and that His blood has a direct and proper efficacy to expiate our guilt.—Bishop Horsley.

Faith against improbability.—For “against hope”—contrary to all natural reason for hope—“he believed in hope.” He trusted with the most immovable expectation that he should become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, “So shall thy seed be.” This was the promise on the fulfilment of which he so confidently relied. It was given many years before the birth of Isaac to which it relates. But though every year of delay increased the natural improbability of the event, it in no degree weakened the patriarch’s faith. He did not suspect that the circumstances on which its improbability depended rendered the promise unlikely to be fulfilled. He looked to nothing but the faithfulness of God, who quickeneth the dead and calleth things which be not as though they were. He knew that whatever the Almighty promised He was able to fulfil, and would fulfil. “He staggered not therefore at the promise through unbelief.” He did not deliberate on the improbability of the event, the possibility of his being deceived as to the divine authority of the communication, or the unlikelihood of the supernatural event taking place in order to raise up a family to him. The expression “He was delivered” means He was given up to death, as is plain from the immediately subsequent reference to His resurrection. He was given up to death in order to atone for our offences, and as a sacrifice in virtue of which it might be just in God to forgive our sins, and raised again for our justification. These words are not intended to imply that to particular parts of our Lord’s ministry particular parts of our salvation must be referred—the pardon of sin being the consequence of His death, and justification the effect of His resurrection. His whole ministry forms one connected series; and from the whole series of our Lord’s obedience, and death, and resurrection, and ascension into heaven, and intercession at the Father’s right hand, our salvation, and every particular part of it, are derived. By being “raised again for our justification” may be understood that His resurrection from the dead is a sure proof that His death is a full and an accepted atonement for sin, and that in virtue of it we may obtain justification by faith in His name.—Ritchie.

Faith rests on the nature of God and work of Christ.—Our judgment declares that God will keep His word—i.e., that He will not punish for their sins those who believe the gospel. By an act of the will our entire being accepts this verdict of our judgment, and there follows at once within us, by the laws of mind fixed by God, a confident expectation that we ourselves will escape from punishment. Such is justifying faith. The faith which sanctifies is a belief of the promises. It is a sure expectation that in consequence of God’s eternal purpose, by union with Christ, and through the agency of the Holy Spirit, we shall actually be, from this moment, dead to sin and living only for God. In each case according to our faith it is done to us. Again, it is because God raised Christ from the dead that we accept the teaching of Jesus as the word and promise of God. Consequently our assurance of escape from punishment, and our expectation that all the promises will be fulfilled, rest upon the historical fact of the resurrection of Christ. Our faith is therefore a leaning “on Him who raised Jesus from the dead.” In the death of Christ God’s infinite love is revealed to us as the firm ground of our confidence. We are sure that He who spared not His own Son will give us all things. Hence the love of God manifested on the cross of Christ is the immovable foundation on which rests our expectation of the fulfilment of each gospel promise. We may therefore describe faith in God as an assurance that God’s words will come true, an assurance resting upon the nature of God as made known in the death and resurrection of Christ. From the foregoing it will be evident that faith in God, so far from being contrary to reason, is itself the noblest kind of reasoning. For our hope we have the best reason, one which our intelligence fully approves—viz., the word and character of God. Owing to the comparative uncertainty of all human testimony, the word “believe” frequently denotes in common life an assurance mingled more or less with doubt. But the faith which God requires is the very opposite of doubt. It is therefore a full assurance that God’s word will come true.—Beet.


Romans 4:18. Comfort in a cloud.—“A friend of mine,” says Paxton Hood, “told me of a visit he had paid to a poor woman overwhelmed with trouble in her little room, but she was always cheerful; she knew the Rock. ‘Why,’ said he, ‘Mary, you must have very dark days; they must overwhelm you with clouds sometimes.’ ‘Yes,’ she answered; ‘but then I often find that there is comfort in a cloud.’ ‘Comfort in a cloud, Mary?’ ‘Yes,’ she said; ‘when I am very low and dark I go to the window, and if I see a heavy cloud I think of those precious words, “A cloud received Him out of their sight,” and I look up and see the cloud sure enough, and then I think, “Well, that may be the cloud that hides Him”; and so you see there is comfort in a cloud.’ There was strong faith. She gave glory to God by believing in hope against human appearances, and God rewarded her faith by putting cheerfulness into her soul. A simple faith can do more than sublime philosophy. Against hope Abraham believed in hope.”

Romans 4:20. Lord to the fore.—“The Lord’s aye to the fore,” said a good Scotchwoman in her day of trial, and by this faith she was supported. God is ever in the forefront of His trusting people. He is still at the helm of human affairs. “The best of all is, God is with us,” said John Wesley as he was dying, and by this trust he was supported as he passed within the veil. Yea, by this trust he was supported as he passed from scene to scene in his laborious life of surpassing energy and glorious endeavours for the benefit of his fellow-creatures and for the extension of the Saviour’s kingdom.

Romans 4:21. God’s promise to Abraham.—Among the curiosities of the Bank of England may be seen some cinders, the remains of some bank-notes that were burned in the great fire of Chicago. After the fire they were found, and carefully put between boards and brought to the bank. After applying chemical tests, the numbers and values were ascertained, and the Bank of England paid the money value to the owners. If a human promise can be worth so much, how much more so is the promise of God? Nothing can ever destroy the promise divine. “I will be their God.”—Home Words.

Romans 4:22.—Imputed righteousness.—Bishop Asbury being asked his thoughts on imputed righteousness, observed, “Were I disposed to boast, my boasting would be found true. I obtained religion near the age of thirteen. At the age of sixteen I began to preach, and travelled some time in Europe. At twenty-six I left my native land and bid adieu to my weeping parents, and crossed the boisterous ocean to spend the balance of my days in a strange land, partly settled by savages. I have travelled through heat and cold for forty-five years. In thirty years I have crossed the Alleghany Mountains fifty-eight times. I have often slept in the woods without necessary food or raiment. In the Southern States I have waded swamps and led my horse for miles, where I took cold that brought on the diseases which are now preying on my system and must soon terminate in death. But my mind is still the same—that it is through the merits of Christ I am to be saved.”

Romans 4:24-25. The roll-call.—In a hospital at Scutari during the Crimean war a soldier lay dying; he had lain there, watched by his nurses for many a long hour, apparently unconscious. On a sudden he rose up in his bed, and with a voice which startled them all—so strong it was—he shouted, “Yes, I am here!” They laid him back upon his bed exhausted and breathless with the effort, gently soothed him, and asked him what he was doing. “Oh! “he said,” I heard the roll-call of my regiment after the battle, and I was answering to my name.” Jesus Christ was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification. His resurrection is the pledge of that of all believers. The great roll-call will be given at the final day. The redeemed will pass to the home of endless rest and peace.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/romans-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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