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Bible Commentaries

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

Romans 4

Verse 1


The Apostle is prosecuting the same Subject through this Chapter. He brings forward the Patriarch Abraham's Faith, in Proof that there can be no Justification before god, by the Deeds of the Law.

Verses 1-5

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? (2) For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. (3) For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (4) Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. (5) But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

The Apostle begins this Chapter, at the place he left off in the preceding. Foreseeing that difficulties might be started by some, from what he had advanced, that by the deeds of the law no flesh could be justified in god's sight; all the world being found guilty before him: he adopts an admirable method, to confirm the doctrine, in taking the most unexceptionable character the Scriptures of the Old Testament could furnish, and in the instance of Abraham he shews, that this great father of the faithful, considered in himself, had nothing more to recommend him to God than the greatest sinner. Abraham, when beheld in relation to the Adam-nature in which he was born, was equally involved with all mankind in a fallen state, and belonged as much as any to that race, of whom the word of God had decidedly declared, that there is none righteous, no, not one,

Paul treats this subject in an unanswerable manner, as proved in the case of Abraham. He shews, from the Patriarch's history, that when the Lord first called Abraham, to make known to him his sovereign grace and Covenant-mercy in Christ; Abraham at that time was an Idolater, dwelling in Ur of the Chaldees. Of consequence there could be nothing in the conduct of the Patriarch, which prompted, and called forth the mercy of the Lord. It began, therefore, on the part of God; and was altogether free, unmerited, unlooked for, and unsought by Abraham. And the simple act, which Abraham exercised upon this occasion, at the call of the Lord, was faith in God's word, and promise. If the Reader will compare Genesis 12:1-1.12.4

with Hebrews 11:8 , this point will appear abundantly plain and evident. And as he prosecutes the Patriarch's history, in the after stages of it, he will next learn, in confirmation of the Apostle's doctrine, what that faith was, which the Patriarch was enabled to exercise; and who was the one great object of it. The Lord called him to get out of his country, and kindred, and from his father's house; (all which were shadows of a separation from the Adam-nature of a fallen state;) and the Lord promised to make of him a great nation, and that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed: all which referred to the Person, and work of Christ.

That these glorious promises wholly referred to Christ, and that the Patriarch so viewed them, is evident, from what followed in his history. For thus the Holy Ghost hath caused it to be recorded. After these things, the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, fear not Abram, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward, Genesis 15:21 . What word of the Lord was this? It could not be the written word; for at that time, the Scriptures were none of them written. It must have been the Essential, the uncreated Word, which God the Holy Ghost, in after ages of the Church, spake of by his servant John, when revealing the Son of God, John 1:1 . See also Commentary on that scripture. Reader! pause over the subject, for it is precious. Oh! how delightful it is, thus to discover Him, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, Micah 5:2 . And, how precious are such testimonies to the Godhead of the Lord Jesus!

But, let us not stop here. The Almighty Word, which thus spake in vision to Abraham, declared himself to be Abraham's shield, and his exceeding great reward. And I need not, I hope, tell the Reader, that these are among the titles of Christ. Indeed, they can belong to no other. Jesus, and Jesus only, is the hiding place from the wind, and the covert from the tempest, Isaiah 32:2 . And, the Church could mean no other, when she said, in her prayers to Jehovah: Behold, 0 God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed. For the Lord God is a sun, and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory, Psalms 84:11; Psalms 84:11 . And, the Lord is both the portion of his people, and their God their glory, Deuteronomy 33:29 ; Isaiah 60:9 . Hence, in every point of view, the Word, which came unto Abraham in a vision, is proved to have been the Essential, Uncreated Word, in all the properties of Godhead: and considered no less in his Mediatorial-character, he is Emmanuel, God with us, God in our nature, manifesting himself in those characters, as the shield, and the exceeding great reward of his people.

And, what forms another distinguishing feature to be attended to in this history of Abraham is, the sense which the Patriarch had of his need of these glorious promises; and the consciousness he enjoyed, of his own personal interest in them. We have our Lord' s own authority, for this most certain conclusion. For Jesus told the Jews, that their father Abraham saw his day afar off, rejoiced, and was glad, John 8:56 . A most decided proof, that Abraham had clear apprehensions of the Person, and work of Christ; and of justification solely by him. So indeed Paul told the Galatian Church. The Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith; preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying: In thee shall all nations be blessed, Galatians 3:8 . Hence, there can be no question, but that the Patriarch, in this Gospel, learnt all the great doctrines of redemption by Christ; and of his own personal right therein. The same Almighty Word, which taught Abraham in a vision, that he was Abraham's shield, and exceeding great reward; taught him no less, that the Patriarch needed both: Hence, the Lord said fear not; intimating great cause of fear without them, being in himself a sinner before God. And, it was this believing view which Abraham had in Christ, and the great things to be accomplished by Christ, which made Abraham's faith so illustrious, and his enjoyment so unbroken. He saw them afar off indeed, but he realized them as near. The promise to him became as sure, as though the whole events included in the promise, had been already accomplished. Hence, he believed God. He gave God the credit of God: and took God at his word. The faithfulness of the Almighty Promiser, became security, in his view, for the promise: and, being strong in faith, he gave glory to God; being fully persuaded that what God had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

We shall find occasion hereafter, towards the close of this beautiful Chapter, to speak more fully to the circumstances of this righteousness, in which Abraham, (and every child of God like Abraham, of this spiritual seed,) is said to be justified. But in the mean-time, from the view of the subject, as set forth in those verses, we have seen enough to discover, under divine teaching, that the faith of Abraham, and the great object of that faith, had respect wholly to Christ. Abraham was conscious of his fallen state before God. He rejoiced in Christ's day, though seen afar off. He knew the whole to be of grace, not of debt. The Covenant transactions, from beginning to end, he was perfectly aware, had no respect to merit, or deservings, in the Patriarch, either in the Lord's view of Abraham, or Abrahams view of himself. Hence, the Patriarch was blessed of God in this righteousness of Christ. And so then, (saith the Apostle,) they which are of faith, are blessed with faithful Abraham, Galatians 3:9

Verses 6-8

Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, (7) Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. (8) Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

The Apostle in those verses, proceeds to another similar case in point, yet further to illustrate this very important doctrine He brings forward the prophet David, as instructing the Church in one of his Psalms, on the same grounds, of justification before God, in the righteousness of God. And he states this as a point of great blessedness, where God imputeth righteousness without works. There are two or three very striking things, in this passage of David's Psalm, as quoted and applied by the Apostle, which merit our notice; and I beg the Reader's permission to point them out as they strike me, Psalms 32:1-19.32.2 .

First. That it is God's righteousness, and not man's. For what is imputed from another, cannot in the nature of things be his, to whom it is imputed, until by imputation it is made so. Secondly. It being called God's righteousness, when it is Christ's righteousness, which is the thing imputed, most decidedly proves Christ to be God. Thirdly. It being said to be imputed from God without works plainly manifests, that it is God's free grace, and not man's merit, for which it is imputed. Nothing in the receiver becoming in the least a predisposing cause; but being wholly by grace from the Giver, from beginning to end. Fourthly. The blessedness which is said to follow the possession by faith of this righteousness; decidedly shews, the union with Christ, from communion in all the benefits of Christ; as the in-dwelling sin of nature proves our being descended from Adam, by the effects of sin which follow in the same acts of Adam's transgression. As, by generation from the first Adam, we derive a nature corrupt and sinful: So, by regeneration in the second Adam, we are proved to be of the seed of Christ, and made the righteousness of God in him, 2 Corinthians 5:21 . Lastly. To mention no more; let not the Reader overlook the alteration which the Apostle hath made in those words of David, when quoting them in proof, to the support of this doctrine. David speaks but of one person. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered. But Paul speaks of many. Blessed are they (saith he) whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered. But where lies the difference? It is only in the application to the whole Church, both Jew and Gentile, when after redemption-work had been finished by Christ, the Holy Ghost commissions the Apostle, to tell the whole mystical body of Christ, that all that are Christ's, whether Jew or Gentile, bond or free, are included in the same salvation. If ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise, Galatians 3:28-48.3.29 . I detain the Reader one moment longer to remark, how very sweet those passages in the word of God are, (as is the case here,) when scripture explains scripture. When the Almighty Author of his most sacred Word, causeth one servant to open and explain, what the Lord had before given by another servant to the Church on those most interesting points. It is what the wise man calls, like apples of gold in pictures of silver, Proverbs 25:11 . scripture explains scripture. When the Almighty Author of his most sacred Word, causeth one servant to open and explain, what the Lord had before given by another servant to the Church on those most interesting points. It is what the wise man calls, like apples of gold in pictures of silver, Proverbs 25:11 .

Verses 9-12

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. (10) How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. (11) And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: (12) And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

The Apostle having introduced this portion of David's writings, by way of confirmation to the doctrine of justification by faith without works, returns again to the history of Abraham, to gather further proofs to the same precious truth. He had now fully established the fact itself, that the thing is as he had stated, and that a man is blessed to whom the Lord will not impute sin; and he demands in a way of question, in order to shew that the whole is of grace, and not of works, when this blessedness is first enjoyed? Cometh it, saith the Apostle, after a man is circumcised, or was it before circumcision? And in answering this question he proves most decidedly, from the instance of Abraham, that it is perfectly unconnected with any ordinance whatever. For this Patriarch was in a state of justification before God, at least thirteen years antecedent to the appointment of circumcision. Ishmael, we are told, was thirteen years old when he was circumcised, and it was in the self-same day with Abraham his father. Whereas the justification of Abraham before God was thirteen years prior to the birth of Ishmael. Compare Genesis 27:25-1.27.26 with Genesis 15:1-1.15.7 .

To what purpose then, it may be asked, was the rite of circumcision? The answer is already given in this very chapter, by the Apostle. It was intended as a sign or seal of God's covenant with Abraham and his seed. A mark or badge of separation, for it distinguished all the posterity of Abraham from all the earth. But it was not intended to act as a sign or seal of any promised grace to all the family of Abraham in nature. This is very evident from the first day of its observance in the case of Ishmael, and very probably others of Abraham's house, who were circumcised, Genesis 17:27 . There should seem to have been a sign or seal intended by circumcision to keep the whole seed of Abraham distinct and separate from all the world beside; but while it pointed to Christ, and in him had its full accomplishment, though it kept all the seed of Abraham in nature in expectation of Him to whom it referred, yet it became no promise to any but to Abraham's seed in grace.

And it is worthy the Reader's observation, that as circumcision among Abraham's seed acted as an outward sign or badge to all, and yet became no seal of any covenant promise but to Christ's seed in grace, so outward ordinances do not convey any inward effects, but to the children of the Covenant in Christ. It were devoutly to be wished, that the Church of God in all ages had less respect to mere shadows, and more to substance. What are all ordinances, without an eye to the God of ordinances? What can baptism, or the Lord's supper, benefit a sinner, dead in trespasses and sins? Signs and seals of the Covenant in Christ's blood, can only be truly so, to those that are in the Covenant. And, to every child of God, the mere outward ordinance is nothing. His sign, is the Person, blood, and righteousness of Christ. And his seal, the work of God the Spirit, engraven on his heart, by whom he is sealed, unto the day of redemption, Hebrews 12:24 ; Ephesians 4:30 .

I will only detain the Reader a moment longer over those verses, to observe what the Apostle saith, of Abraham being the common father, and head, of both Jew and Gentile, who walk in the steps of that faith which he had, before he was a Jew by circumcision. Abraham was a Gentile, , before he was a Jew. And, his justification before God took place, when he was in the Gentilism of an uncircumcised state. Of consequence, therefore, he was the common father of both. And, as such it is an error, to call the Jew the elder brother of the Gentile ; and wholly unscriptural. Both are one in Abraham, according to the faith. And Abraham, and all his spiritual seed, are one in Christ, Ephesians 1:4 ; Galatians 3:28-48.3.29 .

Verses 13-16

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. (14) For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: (15) Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. (16) Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

By the world, of which Abraham is here said to be the heir, cannot be supposed is meant the world, in the general sense of the word, including all mankind; for very frequently in scripture, the world in this view, is spoken of as in opposition to the Church of God. Thus the Lord Jesus, in his prayer for his people, expressly draws a line of distinction, between his Church, and the world; and declares that he prays not for the world, Joh_17:6; Joh_17:9; Joh_17:14; Joh_17:16 . And, in like manner, his servants make the same distinction, John 1:10 ; 1 Corinthians 1:21 ; 1 John 2:15-62.2.16 . But, it is the Church in the world which is here spoken of, such as Jesus himself mentions, John 6:51; John 6:51 . And this promise given to Abraham, was not, on any account, of a personal nature, because of his righteousness; for, at the time God called him to receive it, he was an idolater. Neither could it be for any obedience to the law; for the law was not given until four hundred and thirty years after. Neither could it be because of circumcision, for this promise was given to Abraham more than thirteen years before that was commanded. Hence, it must have been wholly with an eye to Christ. And very blessed it is to see, that both Abraham, and all his spiritual seed, are made one and the same, on Christ's account; and in Christ, heirs with the Patriarch, in the same promise, Hebrews 11:9-58.11.10 ; Romans 8:16-45.8.17 .

I admire the closenesss and justness of the Apostle's reasoning, in several of these verses, in which he shews, the blessedness of God's promise, in direct opposition to man's works. If they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void; and the promise made of none effect It is of no use for God to promise, if the accomplishment depends upon man's performance of the law. And, as man cannot come up to the law; so man can never attain the promise, if it depends upon his obedience. It is of no use to hold forth any blessings, if those blessings depend upon man's taking them, when they are put out of his reach. The prisoner, looking through his iron grate, beholds the liberty of those passing by; but his prison doors preclude him the enjoyment. The law may hold forth liberty, on condition of obedience; but if that obedience be impossible, the liberty is impossible also, Moreover, God's promise is rendered void, if anything of man's (services be taken into the account for obtaining it, But, if both the' promise, enjoyment the promise, be of grace, then the grace which first gives, will be manifested in giving power to receive; and thus will it be made sure, to all for whom it is designed. Reader! beg of God to be enabled to form a right value of the promise, which is Christ himself in all his fulness, suitableness, and all sufficiency: and beg also rightly to value the absolute gift of God in it, for depending not upon the worth or merit of man, but upon the free grace, and free gift of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Verses 17-22

(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed , even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. (18) Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. (19) And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: (20) He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; (21) And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. (22) And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

The Apostle quotes from Genesis 17:4-1.17.5 , what God had engaged for to Abraham. His being made a father of many nations, had there been no other assurance on the subject, would have proved, that both Jew and Gentile were included. For the Jews were but one nation, and distinguished from every other. And, as such, many nations, implied what had before been said, all nations; that is, all the seed of Christ, scattered in all nations, were to be blessed in Christ, Genesis 12:3 .

There is somewhat very striking in what is here said, of Abraham's faith. He against hope believed in hope. The case in itself was hopeless. God had promised Abraham a son, from Sarah. The Woman, according to the course of nature, was past child-bearing. But what was that to Abraham? God had promised it: and that to Abraham was enough. Impossibilities are for men; but there is nothing impossible with God. He believed what God had said, God would perform. And this was Abraham's faith. Reader! it would be your happiness, and mine, if we could always do the same. It matters not how great soever the promise, when God is the promiser. You and I have nothing to do with the difficulties in the accomplishment. Be the promise ever so great, the obstructions in the way to the fulfilment ever so mighty; yet the faithfulness and power of Him that promiseth, when that Promiser is God, carrieth all before it. Who art thou, 0 great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain! Zechariah 4:7 . It will be a sweet improvement from this scripture, if the Lord the Spirit shall therefrom teach both Writer and Reader, to make the suited improvement from it. Lord! I would pray, that I may have a portion of Abraham's faith, upon every occasion through life! Enable me to bring my God's promise, and my God who promiseth, always together. And very sure I am, that then, every difficulty, which seemeth to arise in the way, will disappear. Reader! it was the language of one of old, who had a head-knowledge in these things, though he felt not an heart-influence, and well may those who know, the Lord, take up the same precious assurance: God is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man, that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Numbers 23:19 .

Verses 23-25

Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; (24) But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; (25) Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.

The Apostle makes a very blessed conclusion of this Chapter, by taking into the account, the whole Church; and telling the people, that the occasion of this record, was not so much to aggrandize the great father of the faithful, as it was to encourage all his followers in faith, to imitate his example. Paul elsewhere very blessedly saith, in confirmation of the same truth, that they which are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham, Galatians 3:9 . And, beyond all doubt, notwithstanding all that is said of this venerable Patriarch, in commendation of his faith; (and too much cannot be said) the humblest and poorest believer is equally interested in all the blessings of Christ, in right of redemption. And for this plain reason. All is God's gift, not man's worth. The Patriarch had no more faith than what was given him. Hence all he had he owed to the Lord, And all the Lord's children do the same. Christ is the alone object of faith, the Author and Finisher of faith. And by Him all that believe, whether strong in faith, or weak in faith, are justified from all things, Acts 8:39 .

I said in the former part of this Chapter, that we should find occasion in the close of it, to make observation of the righteousness itself by which Abraham was justified, that it might be placed in a clear point of view, and upon its proper basis. And it will be proper to notice it here. Much is said in this Chapter, and in other parts of Scripture, of Abraham's faith, and that it was imputed to him for righteousness. But perhaps it is not so generally understood, as the Importance of the subject requires, what was imputed to Abraham for righteousness. Not his faith surely; for, had this been the case, Abraham's faith would have had the merit of works, even the work of faith. And this would have been to have given glory to the creature. A thing in itself impossible. And indeed faith, which is the gift of God, and not of a man's own creating, hath but one office, namely, to receive what is offered to faith, and this given freely of God to his people. It cannot therefore be the faith of Abraham that became his righteousness by imputation. And, moreover, the Apostle saith in those verses, that it shall be imputed to us also, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. What shall be imputed to us ? Not Abraham's faith surely. And yet this must be the sense of the words, if Abraham's faith, and not the great object of that faith, be the thing intended by the expression. Very evident then therefore it is, that Christ all along, and his justifying righteousness, is what is spoken of as imputed to Abraham, and that the Patriarch was considered as righteous before God, in the perfect righteousness of God his Savior; and the faith of Abraham was looking wholly to Christ as his justification, and this became the sole means of his acceptance with God, while the ardency of his faith, and belief in it, gave him a great blessedness of enjoyment.

If I detain the Reader a moment longer over these verses, it shall only be to observe the sweetness of what is said in the close of the chapter, that Christ was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Reader! I cannot implore a greater mercy, both for myself and you, than that the blessedness of this scripture may be a living principle of constant joy and peace in our hearts from the power of the Holy Ghost. There is no guilt left upon the conscience when delivered from the curse of the law of Christ on the cross, acting as our Surety and Representative. And there can be no condemnation to his people where sin is done away, in that Christ arose from the dead for our justification. For where righteousness in Christ is imputed to his people, sin can no more be charged upon the conscience. So that both in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the safety of the Lord's people is secure. There can be no separation from Christ, and consequently no interruption to a perpetual justification in him. He hath wrought out, and brought in, an everlasting righteousness, which is unto all and upon all that believe. Hence, as the Apostle elsewhere blessedly concludes, there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, Romans 8:1 .

Verse 25


Blessed be God the Holy Ghost for the boundless condescension of his grace, in explaining to the Church the precious doctrine of justification by faith, without the works of the law. And blessed be his name for illustrating the truth yet more abundantly in the instance of the Patriarch Abraham. Now, Lord, through thy blessed teaching we see, wherein the call of God consisted, in taking the great father of the faithful from his country and his kindred, and his father's house, to come unto the land which a covenant God in Christ shewed him. And doth not the same God in covenant now command all the Church to forget her own people, and her father's house, that she may be brought into the King's palace? Oh! precious faith, in a precious, precious Savior! Lord I give all thy redeemed grace, that when called upon by grace, like Abraham, to go out into a place hereafter to be received as an inheritance, they may, like him, by faith go out, in full confidence in thy grace and mercy.

But let thy people learn, O Lord, from this beautiful illustration of the precious doctrine in the instance of Abraham, that the justification of thy Church and people is by Christ's person and righteousness, and not our faith. That which was, and is counted for righteousness, is not our faith in that righteousness, but the righteousness itself imputed to the persons of the faithful, from their union and oneness in Christ. By faith in the Person and Righteousness of Christ, We do indeed enjoy the blessedness of it, but the work of faith, no more than other works in the creature, can give any title to it. And faith itself comes from and is by this righteousness. Oh! for grace from the Lord to have a right apprehension of the important distinction. And do thou, blessed Lord! grant to thy whole family the sweet enjoyment of their vast privileges. Neither the circumcision of the Jew, nor the uncircumcision of the Gentile, are anything, where Christ and his righteousness are imputed; Seeing it is One God which justifies the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel, both Jew and Gentile, be justified, and shall glory.

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Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Romans 4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.