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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Romans 4

Verses 1-8


Romans 4:1-8. What shall we then say that Abraham, our father as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

THE mind of man, however open to conviction from the plain deductions of reason, is susceptible of peculiarly strong impressions from that species of argument, which, at the same time that it addresses itself to his intellect, has a tendency to engage his feelings, and to enlist his prejudices in its favour. All the prejudices of the Jews were in favour of Abraham their father, and of David, the greatest of their monarchs, and one of the most distinguished of their prophets: and, if the conduct of these two could be adduced as precedents, there would need but little further argument to convince a Jew, that the thing which was so recommended was right. Of this prejudice St. Paul availed himself in the passage before us. He had proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the justification of a sinner was, and must be, solely by faith in Christ: he had proved it from the guilty state of all, whether Jews or Gentiles, (which precluded a possibility of their being justified by any works of their own [Note: Romans 3:20.];) and from the Lord Jesus Christ having been sent into the world to make an atonement for sin, and thereby to reconcile the demands of justice with the exercise of mercy. He had shewn, that this way of salvation cut off all occasion of boasting, and was equally suited both to Jews and Gentiles; and that, instead of in validating; the law, as at first sight it might appear to do, it did in reality establish the law.

Having thus proved his point by argument, he now comes to confirm it by example; and he adduces such examples, as the Jews could not but regard as of the highest authority.

We must bear in mind what the point is which he is endeavouring to maintain: it is, That the justification of the soul before God is not by works of any kind, but simply, and solely, by faith in Christ. This he proceeds to prove from the examples,


Of Abraham—

What (he asks) did Abraham, the great progenitor of the Jewish nation, find effectual for his salvation? This he answers,


By an express declaration of Holy Writ—

[The manner in which he appeals to the decision of Scripture is well worthy of notice. “What saith the Scripture?” It matters little, what this or that man may say: we must abide by what God has spoken. His word shall stand, though the whole universe should rise up to contradict it. On that therefore we must found our sentiments, and on that alone: if men speak according to his word and testimony, it is well: “if not,” whatever may be their pretences to wisdom, “there is no light in them [Note: Isaiah 8:20.].”

Now the Scripture declares, that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness [Note: Genesis 12:1-3. with 15:5, 6.]” — — — In the passages referred to, there were two promises made to him: the one was, that one particular “seed should be given to him, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed;” and the other was, that a spiritual seed should be given him, who should be “numerous as the stars of heaven.” These promises he firmly believed; and so believed them, as actually to repose all his hope and trust in that promised Seed, who was to be the Saviour of the whole world. “This faith of his was counted to him for righteousness;” or, in other words, this Saviour, on whom his faith reposed, was made the source of righteousness and salvation to his soul.

This particular declaration of Holy Writ is referred to by the Apostle a great many times, on account of its singular importance: but, as its importance will more fully appear in the sequel of our discourse, we shall proceed to notice how St Paul answers his own question.]


By arguments founded upon it

[He justly observes, that, when the Scripture thus represents Abraham as justified by faith all works are of necessity excluded from any participation in the office of justifying: for if it be supposed that a man is justified, either in whole or in part, by his works, his reward would come to him as a debt, and not as a gift. However great the distance maybe between the work and the reward, it will make no difference with respect to this point: if the work be proposed as the ground of the reward, and be performed in order to merit that reward, then is the reward a debt which may be justly claimed, and cannot with justice be withheld. Moreover, if works be thus admitted as purchasing or procuring the reward, then may the person who performs them have a ground of glorying in himself: he may say with truth, This I earned; this I merited; this could not justly have been withheld from me. But had Abraham any such ground of glorying? No: the Scripture denies that he had, in that it ascribes his salvation, not to any righteousness of his own, but to a righteousness imputed to him, and apprehended by faith only.

But whilst the Apostle argues thus strongly and incontrovertibly on the passage he has cited, we must not overlook the peculiarly forcible language which he uses, and which, if it had not been used by him, we should scarcely have dared to use. In declaring who the person is that is thus justified, he tells us, that it is the person “who worketh not” (with a view to obtain justification by his works), but “believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly.” Of course the Apostle is not to be understood as saying, that the justified person will continue “ungodly,” or that he will “not work,” after he has been justified; but only as saying, that he does not work with a view to obtain justification, or come as godly person to receive a recompence: in coming to the Saviour, he will bring nothing but his sins with him, in order that he may be delivered from them, and obtain an interest in the Redeemer’s righteousness, in which he may be clothed and stand before God without spot or blemish. But still the terms are such as to mark with the utmost force and precision, that, from the office of justifying, works must be for ever excluded; and that we must, like Abraham, be justified by a righteousness not our own; a righteousness which cuts off all occasion of glorying, and which makes our salvation to be altogether of grace.]

But, as to the Apostle’s arguments several objections may be made, we will endeavour to state and answer them.


This statement of Abraham’s being justified by faith is directly contradicted by St. James—

[St. James, it is true, does say that Abraham was justified by his works; and specifies the offering up of his son Isaac as the work for which he was justified: and farther declares, that in that act the passage quoted by St. Paul received its accomplishment [Note: James 2:21-23.]. But here is no opposition between the two Apostles; as the scope of the context in the two passages will clearly evince. St. James is evidently speaking of the difference between a living and a dead faith; and he shews that Abraham clearly proved his to be a living faith, by the fruits it produced [Note: James 2:18.]. But St. Paul is speaking of the way in which Abraham was justified before God: and the faith whereby Abraham was justified, was actually exercised forty years before the time that St. James speaks of [Note: The faith by which Abraham was justified was exercised twenty years before Isaac was born. See Genesis 15:5-6. And we suppose Isaac to have been at least twenty years old when his father offered him up.]: which we consider as a decisive proof of these two things, namely, that Abraham was justified (in St. Paul’s sense of that term) by faith without works; and next, that St. James did not intend to contradict St. Paul, but only to guard his doctrines from abuse.]


Though it was not for offering up his son that God justified Abraham, yet it was for another act of obedience, namely, his submitting to circumcision—

[This idea is entertained by many, who oppose the doctrine of justification by faith alone: but it is as erroneous as that before stated: for Abraham had no son at all, when he exercised faith in God’s promises, and by that faith was justified before God: and he had waited some years in expectation of the promised seed, before Sarah gave him her servant Hagar to wife [Note: Genesis 16:3.]: and Ishmael was thirteen years old when God renewed his covenant with Abraham, and enjoined him the use of circumcision: so that, in this, as in the former case, Abraham was justified many years before the act took place for which our objector would suppose him to be justified. And this is so important an observation, that St. Paul, in the verses following our text, dwells upon it with all the emphasis imaginable [Note: ver. 9–11. with Genesis 17:23.] — — — deducing from it a truth which is of infinite importance to us, namely, that, as Abraham was justified in his uncircumcised state, he is as truly the father of us uncircumcised Gentiles, as he is of his lineal descendants, the circumcised Jews.]


If we are constrained to acknowledge, as indeed we must, that Abraham was justified by faith without works, yet that was a personal favour to him. on account of the extraordinary strength of his faith, and not to be drawn into a precedent for us

[But this also is as erioneous as either of the foregoing objections: for though it is certain that he is celebrated above all men for the strength of his faith, and that the exercises of his faith are recorded to his honour, yet it is expressly affirmed by St. Paul, that “it was not written for Abraham’s sake alone, that faith was imputed to him for righteousness, but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus from the dead, who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification [Note: ver. 20–25.].”]

Having thus considered the example of Abraham, we proceed to notice, that,


Of David—

The passage which St. Paul adduces from the Psalms of David, in confirmation of his argument, is peculiarly deserving of our attention [Note: Psalms 32:1-2.].

In the words themselves, we, if not directed by an inspired Apostle, should not have found any decisive evidence of justification by faith alone—
[There is nothing in it respecting imputation of righteousness, but only of a non-imputation of sin. That non-imputation, or forgiveness of sin, might, for aught that appears in that passage to the contrary, be obtained by works: for there is nothing said about faith in Christ, or indeed about faith at all. Moreover, the words, as they stand in the psalm, and are followed by what is spoken of a guileless spirit, seem to intimate the very reverse of what St. Paul has deduced from them, namely, that a man, who, in consideration of his guileless spirit, has his infirmities forgiven, is a blessed man.]

But St. Paul has, by Divine direction, put a sense upon them which beyond all possibility of doubt determines the question before us—
[He tells us, that David in this passage “describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” Here it is not possible to shut our eyes against the doctrine of imputed righteousness. We do not approve of taking one or two particular expressions, and giving them in our discourses a prominence and importance which they do not hold in the inspired volume. But we equally disapprove of keeping out of view any doctrine which is clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures: and we must say, that the doctrine of “righteousness imputed to us without works,” is more clearly taught here, than if it had been maintained in a long and elaborate course of argument; because it is introduced so incidentally, and because the Apostle goes, if we may so speak, so much out of his way on purpose to introduce it. To introduce it, he represents David as saving, what (in words) he did not say; and he omits some very important words which he actually did say. It is observable, that St. Paul stops short in his quotation, and leaves out those words of David, “and in whose spirit there is no guile.” And why did he omit them? We apprehend, for this reason. If he had inserted them, he might have been supposed to countenance the idea, that, though we are justified by faith, yet it is not by faith only, but by faith either as connected with a guileless spirit, or as productive of a guileless spirit: whereas we are justified by it, not as united with holy dispositions, nor as an operative principle in the soul, but simply and solely as apprehending Christ, in and through whom we are justified. Thus by a remarkable addition, and by a no less remarkable omission, he brings the words of David to bear upon his point, and to prove what is of incalculable importance to every soul of man.

We would earnestly wish these words of David to be understood in their full import, as declaring explicitly, that we are to be justified by a righteousness not our own, nor obtained by any works of ours; but by a righteousness imputed to us, and apprehended entirely by faith, even by the “righteousness of Christ, which is unto all, and upon all them that believe [Note: Romans 3:22.].”]

From hence then we may see, how incontrovertibly the doctrine of justification by faith alone is established; and,

How far it is from being a new doctrine—

[Wherever this doctrine is preached, a clamour is raised against it, just as it was in the Apostle’s days [Note: Acts 17:19.], as a “new doctrine:” but let any one look into our Articles and Homilies, and see, whether it be not the doctrine of our Church. It is that very doctrine which constituted the basis of the Reformation — — — Then let us go back to the apostolic age: Can any one read the epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, and doubt what St. Paul thought of it? If we go farther back, to David and to Abraham, we see that they sought salvation in no other way than simply by faith in Christ: and we may go farther still, even to Adam, whose views were precisely the same, and who had no hope but in “the Seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent’s head.” There has been but one way of salvation for fallen man from the beginning of the world: nor shall there be any other as long as the world shall stand [Note: Acts 4:12.]. If it be new in any place, the fault is not in him that preaches it, but in those who have preceded him, who have neglected to preach it. Dismiss then this prejudice; and receive the glad tidings of a Saviour with all the joy and gratitude that the occasion demands.]


How far it is from being an unimportant doctrine—

[Many who do not reject the doctrine itself, yet consider it as a merely speculative doctrine, a mere strife of words. But our reformers did not so think it, when they sealed the truth of it with their blood. Nor did St. Paul think it so, when he denounced a curse against any man, yea even against any angel from heaven, that should attempt to establish any doctrine that interfered with it [Note: Galatians 1:8-9.]. See how strongly he guards us against any dependence whatever upon our own works, as entirely invalidating the whole Gospel, and destroying utterly all our hope in Christ [Note: Galatians 5:2-4.]— It was owing to the aversion which the Jews had to this doctrine, that so few of them were saved; whilst the Gentiles, who felt less difficulty in submitting to it, were brought in vast multitudes into the kingdom of our Lord [Note: Romans 9:30-32.]. Know then, that this doctrine of justification by faith alone without works, is absolutely necessary to be received, and known, and felt, and gloried in; and that if we build on any other foundation, we must inevitably and eternally perish [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.].]


How far it is from being a discouraging doctrine—

[Another calumny generally circulated respecting justification by faith, is, that it is an alarming and terrifying doctrine, and calculated not only to bewilder weak persons, but even to deprive them of their senses. But the very reverse of this is true. Doubtless, before that this doctrine can be received aright, a man must be made sensible that he is in a guilty and undone state, and incapable of effecting his own salvation by any works of righteousness which he can do: but when once a person is brought to that state, the doctrine of a full salvation wrought out for him by Christ, and freely offered to him “without money and without price,” is replete with consolation: it is marrow and fatness to the soul; “it is meat indeed, and drink indeed.” Look at the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, and see the effect of this doctrine upon them [Note: Acts 2:46-47.]. Look at the Ethiopian Eunuch, and at the whole city of Samaria, when Philip had preached it to them [Note: Acts 8:8; Acts 8:39.]; and then you will see the proper tendency of the doctrine, and the sure effect of it wherever it is received. If any works of ours were required to purchase salvation, that doctrine might well drive men to despair: for, it would he like telling the wounded Israelites, when they were in the very article of death, to perform some arduous feats in order to procure their restoration to health; or rather, like telling the dead to raise themselves in order to their enjoyment of life. But the erection of the brazen serpent, that the dying might look unto it and live, is a lively emblem of that salvation which is offered to the world through faith in a crucified Redeemer: and the more pungent is the grief which any feel on account of their guilt and helplessness, the richer is the consolation which will flow into their souls the very instant they believe the glad tidings of the Gospel.]


How far it is from being a licentious doctrine—

[There is no end to the calumnies raised against this doctrine, and against all who maintain it. The preachers of it, even those who are most sober, and most guarded, and most practical, are always represented as saying, that, if only men will believe, they may live as they please. But there is nothing more contrary to truth than such a representation as this. We always affirm, that though works are excluded from the office of justifying the soul, they are indispensably necessary to prove the sincerity of our faith; and that the faith which is not productive of good works, is no better than the faith of devils. And then, as to the actual effects which are produced by this doctrine, look back to our reformers: look back to St. Paul, the great champion of this doctrine: look back to David, and to Abraham, and to all the saints recorded in the eleventh chapter to the Hebrews: or if you wish for living examples, look to thousands who maintain and glory in this blessed doctrine. We will appeal to matter of fact: who are the persons that in every place are spoken of as precise, and righteous overmuch, and as making the way to heaven so strait that nobody can walk in it? Are not these the very persons, even these who maintain salvation by faith alone? That there are some who do not adorn this doctrine, is true enough: and so there were in the apostolic age. But do we not bear our testimony against them, as well as against the self-righteous contemners of the Gospel, yea, with far greater severity than against any other class of sinners whatever? Be it remembered then, that the Gospel is “a doctrine according to godliness;” and that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation teaches us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live righteously, soberly, and godlily in this present world.” And we now declare before all, that they who profess the Gospel in words, and deny it in their works, will have a less tolerable portion in the day of judgment than Tyre and Sidon, or even Sodom and Gomorrha.]

Verses 7-8


Romans 4:7-8. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin [Note: The Author’s uniform rule has been, where passages in the Old Testament are cited in the New Testament (which in some instances occurs several times), to treat them only once. Here he deviates from his accustomed plan, because, in his Discourse on Psalms 32:1-6. his object was to trace David’s experience as there delineated: whereas the two first verses of that Psalm which are here cited, being of singular importance in relation to Christian experience in general, he treats them here again: and, if this Discourse be made use of by any one, the two first verses of Psalms 32:0. may be adopted as the text, in preference to them as here cited by the Apostle. In that case, however, the Exordium must be a little changed.].

TO enter into the real scope of these words, it will be proper to compare them with the Psalm from whence they are cited. In themselves, they are simple, and easy to be understood: but taken in their connexion with the context before us, and with the interpretation put upon them by the Apostle, they are involved in considerable difficulty: and more especially, when we observe the peculiar omission of the closing words of David, which seem necessary to a just exhibition of his mind, and a full comprehension of his meaning, we are rather surprised at the way in which they are here referred to, and at the obscurity that is thrown around them. On comparing the two passages together, we find the Apostle, in appearance at least, adding to David’s words what he never distinctly uttered, and omitting a very essential part of what he did utter. But the Apostle spake by inspiration of God; and if we attentively consider his statement, we shall not only find it unexceptionable, but shall feel greatly indebted to him for throwing much additional light upon a most interesting and important passage of Holy Writ.
To unfold these words so that they may be clearly and fully understood, I will,


Explain their true import—

This will appear if we consider David’s words,


According to the plain meaning of the terms themselves—

[“Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” It is an acknowledged truth, that sin, by whomsoever committed, involves the soul in guilt, and subjects it to God’s heavy displeasure. And how terrible his wrath is, no words can express, no imagination can conceive. But, if a man have attained the forgiveness of his sins, his obligation to punishment is cancelled, and he is liberated from all the miseries to which, without such forgiveness, he must have been subjected to all eternity. Now who that contemplates this great deliverance, must not congratulate the man on his escape? Who must not account him “blessed?” To have the punishment due to his offences mitigated, or to have them shortened to the space of ten thousand years, would be a state of comparative blessedness; but to have it altogether remitted, must surely entitle the man to conceive of himself as truly “blessed.”]


According to the construction put upon them by St. Paul—

[St. Paul says, that David in these words “described the blessedness of the man, to whom God imputeth righteousness without works [Note: ver. 6.].” Now this does not appear in the words themselves, nor should we ever have known that such an idea was comprehended in them, if we had not been assured of it by God himself, that is, by an Apostle writing under his immediate inspiration. But, being so instructed, we know for certain that this construction of the words is unquestionably correct.

The fact is, that no one ever has his sins pardoned without having at the same time the righteousness of Christ imputed to him for his acceptance before God. We sometimes distinguish between the active and passive righteousness of Christ, as if his death atoned for our sins, and his obedience to the law constituted a meritorious righteousness, to be made over to us in a way of imputation [Note: Romans 5:19.]: and this may perhaps be warranted by what is said by the Apostle, “Christ, who knew no sin, was made sin (a sin-offering) for us, that we (who neither had, nor could have, any righteousness of our own) might be made the righteousness of God in him [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:21.].” But whatever ground there may appear to be in Scripture for this distinction, the two can never be separated from each other: the whole of Christ’s life and sufferings constituted his one obedience unto death, by which salvation, in its full extent, was purchased for us [Note: Philippians 2:8.]: and he who partakes of salvation, receives it, not in part only, but in the full extent to which it has been obtained for him. It is obvious that a man whose iniquities stood in need of pardon, could not purchase heaven by any merits of his own. He could neither possess, nor procure by any works of his own, a righteousness wherein to stand before God. Yet such a righteousness he must have: and if he ever possess such a righteousness, it must be, by having the righteousness of another imputed to him. When therefore the Apostle quotes the words of David, he puts upon them the true construction which they were designed to bear: for though David, in words, speaks only of a non-imputation of sin, he must of necessity be considered as speaking also of an imputation of righteousness without works, seeing that the one is of necessity involved in the other, and can never exist without it.

Now then take the words of David in this sense, and say whether that man who is clothed in the robe of the Redeemer’s righteousness, and so covered, that God himself cannot behold a spot or blemish in him, be not “blessed [Note: Ephesians 5:27.]?” Surely it is impossible to entertain a doubt of this, or to withhold for a moment our assent to David’s assertion, according to the construction put upon it by the Apostle Paul.]


According as they stood associated in David’s mind—

[David says, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” But these concluding words the Apostle entirely omits. What was his reason for this? Did Paul conceive that any man who was not purged from “guile” could be happy? or had he less jealousy on the subject of holiness than David? Why then did he stop short, and quote the words of David in such an imperfect way? Did he act thus by accident only, or by design? Surely this matter needs explanation.

I doubt not but that he acted thus by design, exactly as our blessed Lord himself did in his first sermon that he ever preached, when, in citing the words of the Prophet Isaiah, he stopped short, when he came to the words which were irrelevant to his present subject, and never mentioned them at all [Note: Compare Isaiah 61:1-2. with Luke 4:17-19. where our Lord stopped short in the middle of the sentence, omitting all mention of “vengeance” when he wished to impress his hearers with nothing but the words of “grace.”] — — — The Apostle was engaged in a most important topic, and establishing by argument the doctrine of justification by faith without works. He had shewn that Abraham, who had so abounded in good works, had nothing whereof he could glory, and that he had been justified solely by faith in the promised Seed [Note: ver. 1–3.]. He proceeds then to establish the same doctrine from the words of David, who had pronounced that man blessed, not whose good works could avail, whether in whole or in part, for his justification before God, but, “whose transgressions were forgiven, and whose sins were covered;” and who, consequently, if saved at all, must be saved by a righteousness imputed to him. But, if the Apostle had proceeded to cite the remaining words of David, he would have obscured his argument, and given occasion to an adversary to misrepresent, or at all events to misunderstand, his meaning. An adversary, if the last clause of David’s words had been inserted by Paul, might have said, ‘I agree with you, Paul: we are to be justified by faith: but then it is not by faith as apprehending the righteousness of another, but by faith as working out a righteousness for itself; or, in other words, not by faith without works, but by faith as an active, operative, sanctifying principle: and the person who possesses and exercises such a faith, has somewhat of his own to glory in.’ Now this would have utterly subverted the Apostle’s argument: and therefore the Apostle, not choosing to give occasion for any such objection to his statement, altogether omitted the words on which the adversary would have founded it. He could indeed easily have answered the objection: but he judged it best to cut off all occasion for it.

But David had no such reason for restraining his words; and therefore he gave full scope to what was in his mind: and knowing that the justifying office of Christ is never separated from the sanctifying office of the Holy Spirit, and that no man under the power of sin could be blessed, he added, “and in whose spirit there is no guile.” He knew it would be to no purpose that a man was pardoned, if he was not also renewed in the spirit of his mind. Suppose Satan himself to be pardoned; suppose further, that he was admitted into heaven; he could not be happy even there, unless he was made a new creature: for, being enslaved by all manner of evil dispositions, and under the influence of all his malignant habits, he would, though in heaven, be a devil still; and consequently far from any thing approximating to real blessedness. The very essence of happiness lies in a conformity to the Divine image: and he only who possesses that, is happy. The truly blessed man, and the only man that can be called “blessed,” is “the Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.”]
The words of my text being thus explained, I proceed to,


Confirm the sentiment contained in them—

Here I speak without hesitation. The man thus justified through faith in Christ, and thus renewed by the Holy Spirit, is blessed. For,


In him are all the wonders of redeeming love accomplished—

[What did the Father design in giving his only dear Son to take our nature upon him? What, but that we might be “saved from wrath through him [Note: Joh 3:16 and 1 John 4:10.]?” And for what end did the Lord Jesus Christ shed his precious blood for us upon the cross, but “to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.]?” And for what purpose did the Holy Ghost come down and dwell in our hearts, but to transform us into the Divine image, and to “make us meet for the inheritance” which Christ has purchased for us? Now in the person before described, all these things are already attained. His sins are pardoned: the robe of Christ’s righteousness is put upon him [Note: Romans 3:22.]: and he is “sanctified throughout in body, soul, and spirit [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:23.].” Is not he then “blessed?” If not, I only ask, where will you find a “blessed” man on earth?]


In him all the great ends of life are answered—

[For what has God preserved our souls in life unto this hour, and given us so many opportunities for spiritual improvement? Has it not been that we might be brought to the knowledge of him, and into a state of acceptance with him, and to a conformity to his blessed image? That God has assigned us many works to do, and many duties to perform, I readily acknowledge: but they are all in subserviency to the great work of salvation. That is “the one thing needful:” and whatever we may have done, or whatever we may have attained, without that, we have done nothing, and attained nothing. Suppose us to have laboured successfully, and acquired crowns and kingdoms, what would they be in comparison of pardon, and peace, and holiness? Ask Solomon, who possessed a greater measure of earthly joys than any other man, what he thought of them? He pronounced them all to be “vanity and vexation of spirit:” so far were they from rendering him truly “blessed.” The man possessed of earthly things knows not how soon he may have to relinquish them, and to curse the day that he ever attained them: but the man whom David pronounces “blessed,” is prepared for every thing. He is prepared either for life, or death. If God see fit that he should live, he is prepared to fill up any station either of action or of suffering. In action, he will do every thing for God’s honour; and in suffering, he will receive it all as from God, and improve it all for the advancement of his soul’s eternal welfare. On the other hand, if God see fit to call him hence, he is ready to depart, at whatever hour his Lord shall call him. In fact, though willing to continue on earth his appointed time, “he is longing to be dissolved, that he may be with Christ.” He numbers death amongst his richest treasures; and, in whatever shape it may come, he welcomes it, as Jacob did the waggons that were to bear him to the presence of his exalted and beloved Joseph.

I ask then now again, is not this man justly called “blessed?”]


In him is the felicity of heaven already begun—

[Wherein does the blessedness of heaven consist? Is it not in near access to God, in an assured consciousness of his love, and in an incessant ascription of praise to him? All this is begun in the believing and renewed soul. “God has shined into the heart of him whom he has pardoned and sanctified, and has revealed to him all the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].” He even dwells in the bosom of the believer, and sheds abroad his love there, and enables him to “rejoice in the Saviour with a joy that is unspeakable and glorified,” that is, of the very same nature with that which the glorified saints and angels possess in heaven. True, he enjoys these things but in part: but still the little he does enjoy, is both an earnest and a foretaste of what he shall one day be filled with to the utmost extent of his capacity for ever and ever.

It is needless that I pronounce him “blessed:” for I am well assured that there is not a soul here present that has not already anticipated me in this, and said, “O that I were that happy man!”]

Let me in conclusion address a few words to,

Those who are seeking their happiness in earthly things—

[I will suppose you to have attained all that mortal man can possess: find me in all the sacred volume one single passage that pronounces you blessed. Find me but one single passage, and I will say, “Go on, and prosper.” But I need only appeal to your own experience. What has all that you have ever attained done for you? Has it made you truly happy? You know it has not — — — Nothing short of that state which we have before contemplated can make you happy. Seek then blessedness where alone it can be found. Seek it in a reconciled God and Saviour. Seek it in a sense of his pardoning love, and in conformity to his mind and will. The creature, in its utmost fulness, is only “a cistern that will hold no water:” but in your Saviour you shall find “a Fountain of living waters.”]


Those who profess to have attained the blessedness here spoken of—

[“What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness!” Do but look at the millions around you, who are yet unpardoned, unsanctified, unsaved! What do you owe to God, who has made such a difference between you and others, yea, and between you and your former selves! Surely there should be no bounds to your gratitude, no limits to your devotion to such a Benefactor — — —]

Verse 16


Romans 4:16. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.

TO many the doctrines of the Gospel appear mere arbitrary appointments; and justification by works seems as much entitled to our approbation as justification by faith alone. But the doctrines of the Gospel are grounded on absolute and indispensable necessity: we are shut up to them: we have no other ground of hope. After man had fallen, it was not possible that any law should be given him whereby he might regain his lost happiness. If such a law could have been devised, God would have given it in preference to the plan of salvation provided in the Gospel; as St. Paul tells us; “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law [Note: Galatians 3:21.].” But a Saviour was necessary; and justification by faith in him was necessary, indispensably necessary,


For the honour of God—

It is surely meet that God should have the undivided honour of all that he has done—
[He has made the universe for the express purpose of glorifying himself in the works of his hands [Note: Revelation 4:11.]; and both the celestial and terrestrial bodies reflect upon him the honour due unto his name [Note: Psalms 19:1.]. In the various dispensations of his providence also God has respect to his own glory, “upholding all things by the word of his power,” and ordering all things, even from the rise and fall of empires to the preservation of a sparrow, or the falling of a hair from our head [Note: 1 Samuel 2:6-8. Isaiah 45:5-7.].

But, if in the works of creation and providence God have all the glory, shall he not much more have it in the work of redemption? Who first devised that wondrous work? The counsel of peace was between the Father and the Son from all eternity [Note: Zechariah 6:13.Ephesians 3:9; Ephesians 3:9.]. Who prevailed upon the Father to give his only Son out of his bosom to be our surety and substitute, and to accept his vicarious sacrifice in our behalf? All this was the result of God’s “eternal purpose which he purposed in himself,” “according to the counsel of his own will, and to the praise of the glory of his own grace [Note: Ephesians 1:9-12; Ephesians 3:10-11.].” We may further ask also, How is it that this salvation is imparted to the souls of men? Do men attract his notice first by their own superior merits? or do they of themselves begin to seek his favour? Does not God in every instance prevent them with the blessings of his goodness; and of his own good pleasure give them “both to will and to do [Note: Philippians 2:13.]?” Now all this exercise of love and mercy is intended by God himself to shew to the whole universe “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus [Note: Ephesians 2:7.].” Is he then, or is he not, to have the glory of this work? Is it meet, that, when he gives all, and his creatures receive all, the crown should be taken from his head, and be placed on the head of those, who, but for the superabundance of his grace, must all have perished like the fallen angels? We think that, however prejudiced any may be against the doctrine of justification by faith alone, it is impossible for them not to see, that man has no right to invade the prerogative of the Most High, and that “God cannot, consistently with his own honour, give his glory to another [Note: Isaiah 42:8.].”]

But, if man’s salvation be in any measure by works, God will not have all the glory of it—
[“Therefore is salvation by faith, that it may be by grace.” Were it in any measure by works, it would become “a debt, and not a reward of grace [Note: ver. 4.].” Let but the smallest part of our reward be claimed as a debt, and there is an end of God’s honour as the sole Author of our salvation. Man will have a right to boast: indeed he cannot but boast: he cannot but say, I paid a price for this benefit: whether the price be equal in value to the benefit conferred, is nothing to the purpose: it was the price demanded; and the man who pays this price may claim the benefit, as having performed the terms on which that benefit was suspended. To suppose that salvation can be of faith and of works at the same time, is absurd; the two are incompatible with each other: “if it be of works it cannot be of grace;” and “therefore it is of faith, that it may be by grace [Note: Romans 11:6.].”]

But justification by faith alone is yet further necessary,


For the happiness of man—

If justification were by works, “the promise would be sure” to none

[Consider what must be done to secure the promised benefit: First, such a number of good works must be performed as shall be sufficient to purchase the remission of all our past sins. But who shall ascertain what measure of them shall suffice? or who, if it were ascertained, shall perform them? Next, such a number of good works must be performed as shall suffice to purchase eternal happiness and glory. And who shall tell us the amount of these that is required? or who will undertake to pay the price? Whatever is paid to purchase mercy for other acts, must need no mercy for itself: and how many of such acts can you produce? Nay further; it must be not only a perfect work, but a work of supererogation: for if it be a work that has been enjoined, you are still only “an unprofitable servant; you have done no more than was your duty to do.” What store of such works have you wherewith to purchase heaven? But you will say, that God has mitigated the demands of his law, and is now satisfied with imperfect obedience. I ask, Where has he done so? and What is the measure of imperfection which he allows? Can you answer this? Can any human being answer it? But, for argument sake, you shall fix your own standard; you shall fix it where you please; and you shall be judged by nothing but your own law. Suppose that you have now fixed it; Have you from the beginning observed in all things your own law? Have you come up truly and habitually to your own standard? if not, you must be condemned out of your own mouth. Reduce the law to any thing you please, to sincerity, if you choose it; and I then ask, Are you sincerely abstaining from every thing which you believe to be evil, and doing every thing which you believe to be pleasing unto God, from day to day, from month to month, from year to year? Are you willing to found all your hopes of salvation on this? and are you content that all the promises of mercy shall for ever fail you, if in any one instance you ever have been, or ever shall be, defective in your performance of these conditions? Will you look to this method of salvation to “make the promise sure?” Alas! there is no man that ever could, or ever can, stand on such a ground as this.]

But justification being by faith alone, the promise is sure to all

[To all who truly believe in Christ the promise is infallibly sure, whatever be their nation, their character, their attainments, their circumstances. The Jew and the Gentile are here perfectly on a level [Note: Romans 3:29.]: nothing is conceded on account of circumcision; nothing is withheld on account of uncircumcision: the righteousness of Christ shall be equally on the one or the other the very instant they believe in Christ [Note: Romans 3:22.]. Nor will it make any difference whether they have been more or less sinful in times past. The blood of Christ is as sufficient to cleanse one, as another: the very man that nailed our Saviour to the cross, or that pierced his side with the spear, may be as effectually delivered from his guilt, as any other sinner in the universe, provided he really and truly look to the Lord Jesus Christ to save him: for “all that believe, are justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.].” Moreover, babes in Christ have the promise as sure to them, as the young men or fathers have. Salvation is not suspended on the strength of our faith, but its reality; not on the time that it has been exercised, but on the simplicity and sincerity with which it is exercised. Hence St. John says, “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake [Note: 1 John 2:12.].” It is not said here, that their sins shall be forgiven, when they have attained such an age; but, that they are even now already forgiven to them, notwithstanding their infantine weakness and insufficiency. We must go further still, and say, that, though the believer should be in the very article of death, and have no time left him for the performance of good works, yet should the blood of Christ, sprinkled by faith, cleanse him from all sin; and the righteousness of Christ, apprehended and applied by faith, shall justify him perfectly before God. The penitent thief had reviled our Saviour on the cross, no less than the impenitent one: yet, the very instant he cast himself on the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, he was accepted; and our Lord himself said to him, “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” The promise being made to all who believe, it is as sure to the believer, as the power and veracity of God can make it.]

To improve this subject, we shall,

Guard the doctrine from abuse—

[That the doctrine of justification by faith may be abused, is certain: for so it was in the days of St. Paul himself [Note: Romans 6:1; Romans 6:15.]. But truth is not therefore to be renounced because it may be perverted; but we must, as Paul himself did, hold fast the truth, and rescue it from those perversions to which it is exposed.

We have stated with all possible plainness, that we are to look for our justification solely by faith, without the smallest dependence on any works of our own. But are we therefore at liberty to neglect good works? or can our final salvation be secured without them, where an opportunity is afforded for the performance of them? Assuredly, in their place, good works are as necessary as faith itself: only we must take care not to confound their respective offices. The use of faith is, to apprehend Christ; and the use of good works is, to glorify Christ. In no other way can Christ be apprehended, than by faith; and in no other way can he be glorified, than by good works [Note: John 15:18.]. Now God has clearly pointed out the way in which his people must walk: and it is only by walking in that way that they can arrive at the mansions prepared for them [Note: Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 2:10.]. It is necessary therefore that we should cultivate all Christian virtues, adding one to another throughout their whole extent: and it is by this course of action that we are to “make our calling and election sure [Note: 2 Peter 1:10-11.].” Here we would particularly remind you, that the very same word which is used in my text by St. Paul in reference to faith, is used by St. Peter in reference to works [Note: βεβαίαν.]. And how are we to explain this? Are we to set the two Apostles against each other? No: they are easily reconciled: the one is speaking of faith as securing an interest in the promises; and the other is speaking of works as the appointed road in which we are to walk, and which alone will lead us safely to the kingdom of heaven. As, on the one hand, without faith we can never be united unto Christ, or be partakers of his righteousness, so, on the other hand, if it produce not obedience, our faith will be of no more avail than the faith of devils. And this is exactly what St. James tells us [Note: James 2:14-20.]; as also does St. Paul in this very epistle, where he says, that “to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, God will give eternal life [Note: Romans 2:7.].” If the Apostle therefore did not contradict himself, neither are we to consider the other Apostles as contradicting him, but only as affirming, that in their place good works are necessary, no less than faith is in its place. Behold then, whilst we maintain with all steadfastness the doctrine of justification by faith, we declare to all that the King’s highway is the way of holiness [Note: Isaiah 35:8.], and that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord [Note: Hebrews 12:14.].”]


Commend it to your cordial acceptance—

[If you sought for nothing but present comfort, methinks you should without hesitation embrace the doctrine of salvation by faith. For at what comfort can a man ever arrive, who seeks salvation by his works? How can he ever get satisfaction on the subjects on which all his happiness depends? How can he know what is sufficient for his acceptance, and whether he has done what under his circumstances is sufficient? And, if he can never attain the knowledge of these things, in what sad uncertainty must he be held all his days respecting the final salvation of his soul! And is it not a fearful thing to stand on the brink of eternity, and not to know whether we be going to heaven or to hell? The doctrine of justification by faith presents a clear and definite idea to the mind. Doubtless, in the lower stages of the divine life, there may be considerable suspense even there; because a person may not be certain that his faith is so simple and entire as it ought to be: but still he has a definite object in view, namely, to cast himself wholly upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and to rely altogether upon him: and, though he may not have an assured confidence of his acceptance in Christ, he knows, that it is as impossible for a man who flees to Christ to perish, as it is for God to lie: and this conviction is a source of unbounded consolation to his soul [Note: Hebrews 6:17-19.]. In this conviction he has “an anchor for his soul, both sure and steadfast [Note: Here is the same word, βεβαίαν.];” an anchor which shall enable him to ride out in safety all the storms which either the world or Satan can raise against him.

But present comfort is but a secondary consideration. The question is, What will avail us at the day of judgment? What will secure to us the promise then? God has told us, that he has appointed salvation to be by faith for this very end. Will God then, who has declared, that, if we believe not on his Son we are condemned already, and that his wrath abideth on us; will he, I say, reverse his sentence in favour of those who have proudly rejected the salvation which he offered them? This cannot be. Let me therefore entreat all to renounce all dependence on their own works, as Paul did on his [Note: Philippians 3:9.]; and to seek salvation in that adorable Emmanuel, of whom it is said, “In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and in him shall they glory [Note: Isaiah 45:25.].”]

Verses 20-25


Romans 4:20-25. He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

THERE is no Christian grace, the want of which is so much condemned in Scripture, or the exercise of which is so much applauded, as faith. In the Epistle to the Hebrews there is one whole chapter occupied in celebrating the saints that were distinguished for this grace. Amongst these Abraham makes a very conspicuous figure. In the chapter before us also the Apostle mentions this eminent trait in Abraham’s character, and expatiates upon it in support of that, which it is the one scope of this whole epistle to establish, namely, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
In opening the Apostle’s words, we shall consider,


The faith of Abraham—

This faith was most extraordinary—
[It had respect to two things, which God had promised him, namely, The birth of a son by Sarah, whose progeny should be numerous as the stars of heaven [Note: Genesis 15:4-6.]; and the gift of one particular seed, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed [Note: Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 22:17-18.]. Incredible as these events appeared, he staggered not at God’s promises relating to them; but was fully persuaded that they should be fulfilled in their season.

Considering his age and Sarah’s, he being one hundred years old, and she ninety, there was no hope, according to the course of nature, that a child should be born unto them. But natural impediments were of no account with him: he knew that, whatever God should promise, he was able also to perform: and therefore, whilst “Sarah laughed” at the tidings in a way of unbelieving derision, Abraham laughed at them in a way of believing exultation [Note: Compare Genesis 17:17. with 18:12.].

The gift of a Saviour too to descend from his loins, a Saviour in whom both his own soul, and the souls of all his believing posterity, should he blessed, he fully believed. Our blessed Lord himself assures us, that, at the distance of two thousand years, “Abraham saw his day, and was glad [Note: John 8:36.].” Abraham knew himself to be a sinner before God, and consequently that he needed a better righteousness than his own to procure him acceptance with God in the last day: and he believed that this promised Seed should work out a righteousness for him, a righteousness commensurate with his necessities, yea, and with the necessities of the whole world. “This Gospel was preached to Abraham” in the promise before us [Note: Galatians 3:8.], and on this he founded all his hopes, and placed the most unshaken affiance.]

By this he was justified before God—
[“This faith of his,” my text informs us, “was imputed to him for righteousness.” But what are we to understand by this? Was the mere act of faith made his justifying righteousness? No, assuredly not: for if it were so, “he had whereof to glory;” which the Apostle assures us he had not [Note: ver. 2.]. Faith, as an act, is a work of our own, just as love, or any other grace is: and if he was justified by it in that view, he was justified by works, which no child of man ever was, or ever can be. No; it was instrumentally, as apprehending Christ, that faith justified him. In Christ alone his justifying righteousness was found: and it was by faith that he laid hold on this righteousness, and applied it to himself for the salvation of his soul. That is the righteousness which God has appointed to be received through faith in Christ, and which he has declared, “is unto all, and upon all, them that believe [Note: Romans 3:21-22.].”

Now the Apostle marks this point with peculiar jealousy and precision. It might be supposed that, because Abraham, in token of his believing the promise made to him, obeyed the command given him relative to circumcision, his obedience was meritorious, and was, in part at least, a ground of his justification before God. But the faith by which he was justified existed many years before he was circumcised; and his circumcision was “a seal of that righteousness which he had long before possessed in his uncircumcised state:” and consequently, it was his faith only, and not any subsequent obedience, that justified him [Note: ver. 9–11.]. The moment he believed in Christ as the promised seed, that moment the righteousness of Christ was imputed to him, and he was justified by it in the sight of God.]

Having distinctly marked the faith of Abraham, I proceed to state,


The instruction to be derived from it—

Though God was pleased to honour his servant Abraham by transmitting to posterity an account of his faith, yet this was not the only, or the principal, reason that induced him to record these things concerning Abraham. His chief intent was,


To shew us how we are to seek justification before God—

[Abraham believed in God as able to accomplish all that he had promised: and by this faith he was justified Thus we are to believe in God as having already accomplished his promises, in having given up his Son to “die for our offences,” and having raised him from the dead as the author and pledge of our eternal justification. It is by the death of Christ, and through the prevailing intercession, which, in his exalted state, he makes for us, that we are to be reconciled to God — — — We must not for one moment dream of any other way of acceptance — — — If so eminent a man as Abraham was incapable of being justified by his works, much more must we: and if he was necessitated to look to Christ in order to obtain salvation, beyond all doubt we must stand indebted to the same Saviour for all our hopes of happiness and glory.]


To assure us that, if we truly believe in Christ, we cannot fail of being justified—

[Abraham’s views of Christ must assuredly have been very obscure: yet, dark as they were, they availed for his justification before God. But we have an incomparably clearer knowledge of Christ: we see him in his person, work, and offices, and therefore have stronger ground for our faith in him. If we then receive the record of God concerning him, and rely fully upon him as “dying for our offences, and as raised again for our justification,” shall not we be accepted? We need not fear. Our souls may appear as dead with respect to spiritual fruitfulness, as Abraham’s and Sarah’s bodies were with respect to their having a son and heir; and to the eye of sense it may appear as improbable that we should inherit the promise, as that they should; but if we believe, we shall soon find that “all things are possible to him that believeth:” we shall have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us; and, being made heirs with Abraham, we shall be enabled to “walk in his steps [Note: ver. 12.]” on earth, and “sit down with him in the kingdom of our Lord in heaven [Note: Galatians 3:6-9.].”]

By way of conclusion, we would entreat you to reflect upon,

The folly and danger of self-righteousness—

[For what end did the Apostle take such pains to shew us that the most eminent saints of old were not justified by their works, but to caution us the more strongly against trusting in our own works? Let us not imagine this a light matter: on this one point our everlasting happiness depends. If we will renounce all dependence on ourselves, and “submit to Christ’s righteousness,” we shall be saved: but if we will “go about to establish our own righteousness,” either in whole or in part, we must inevitably, and eternally, perish [Note: Romans 9:30-32; Romans 10:3.].]


The value and importance of faith—

[The highest commendation imaginable is given to faith, in the words before us. Two things are spoken of it, which should render it very precious in our eyes; it “gives the highest glory to God,” and brings the richest benefit to man. Faith glorifies all the perfections of the Deity, in a far higher degree than any other grace whatever: and it saves the soul; which cannot be said of any other grace. Faith is the (instrumental) cause of our justification: but all other graces are the fruits and effects of justification already imparted to us. Let us seek then to exercise faith, and to be “strong in faith:” and let us be well assured, that the more confidently we rely on the promises of God, the more certainly shall we laugh with holy exultation, and obtain a testimony from God that we were accepted in his sight.]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.