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What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
Lessons from the case of Abraham
I. However much the most perfect of the species may have to glory of in the eye of his fellows, he has nothing to glory of before God. The apostle affirms this of Abraham, whose virtues had canonised him in the hearts of all his descendants, and who still stands forth as the embodiment of all the virtues of the older dispensation. But of his piety we have no account, till after that point which Paul assigns as the period of his justification. And whatever he had antecedently of the virtues that are useful to and call forth the praise of man, certain it is, that with every human being, prior to that great transition in his history, God is not the Being whose authority is recognised in any of these virtues, and he has nothing to glory of before God. Here we are surrounded with beings, all of whom are satisfied if they see in us their own likeness; and, should we attain the average character of society, its voice will suffer us to pass. But not till the revelation of God’s likeness is made to us do we see our deficiency from that image of unspotted holiness--to be restored to which is the great purpose of our dispensation. Job protested innocence and kindness and dignity before his friends, but when God, whom he had only before heard of by the hearing of the ear now appeared before his awakened eye, he abhorred himself and repented in dust and in ashes. This is the sore evil under which humanity labours. The magnitude of the guilt is unfelt; and therefore does man persist in a most treacherous complacency. The magnitude of the danger is unseen; and therefore does man persist in a security most ruinous.
II. This disease of nature, deadly and virulent as it is, and that beyond the suspicion of those who are touched by it, is not beyond the remedy provided in the gospel. Ungodliness is this disease; and it is here said that God justifies the ungodly. The discharge is as ample as the debt; and the grant of pardon in every way as broad and as long as is the guilt which requires it. The deed of amnesty is equivalent to the offence; and, foul as the transgression is, there is a commensurate righteousness which covers the whole deformity, and translates him whom it had made utterly loathsome in the sight of God, into a condition of full favour and acceptance before Him. Had justification been merely brought into contact with some social iniquity, this were not enough to relieve the conscience of him who feels in himself the workings of a direct and spiritual iniquity against God. It is a sense of this which festers in the stricken heart of a sinner, and often keeps by him and agonises him for many a day, like an arrow sticking fast. And there are many who keep at a distance from the overtures of mercy, till they think they have felt enough and mourned enough over their need of them. But we ought not thus to wait the progress of our emotions, while God is standing before us with a deed of justification, held out to the ungodliest of us all. To give us an interest in the saying, that God justifieth the ungodly, it is enough that we count it a faithful saying, and that we count it worthy of all acceptation.
III. While the offer of a righteousness before God is thus brought down to the lowest depth of human wickedness, and it is an offer by the acceptance of which all the past is forgiven--it is also an offer by the acceptance of which all the future is reformed. When Christ confers sight upon a blind man, he ceases to be in darkness; and when a rich individual confers wealth upon a poor, he ceases to be in poverty--and so, as surely, when justification is conferred upon the ungodly, his ungodliness is done away. His godliness is not the ground upon which the gift was awarded, any more than the sight of him who was blind is the ground upon which it was communicated, or than the wealth of him who was poor is the ground upon which it was bestowed. But just as sight and riches come out of the latter gifts, so godliness comes out of the gift of justification; and while works form in no way the consideration upon Which the righteousness that availeth is conferred upon a sinner, yet no sooner is this righteousness granted than it will set him a-working. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
A crucial case
1. St. Paul has lust shown how the gospel method of justification shuts out the usual Hebrew boast in the Mosaic law as a pathway to eternal life. But some might ask, Did it not set it aside altogether?
2. To this there were two answers possible.
(1) The most obvious would be this: The law had other ends to serve (Gal_3:19; Gal_3:23-24; Romans 3:19).
(2) Here, however, Paul answers by alleging the ease of Abraham. The force of the argument may be somewhat like this: The reward which the Jew hoped to secure for himself through his circumcision and his observance of the Mosaic law was the national blessing which God had originally conferred by covenant upon the ancestor and representative of his race. It was in his character as a descendant of Abraham that each Jew received in his flesh the seal of the national covenant, or had a right to aspire after the national hope. Nothing higher, therefore, could be looked for by any Israelite than to attain to the blessedness of his forefather Abraham (Luke 16:22). Yet this favour had been promised to and received by him, not in consequence of his observance of the Mosaic law, which was not given for a great while after, not even in consideration of his being circumcised, but solely because he was a believer. Instead of God’s covenant with Israel resting on the law, the law on the contrary rested on the covenant. That covenant was, to begin with, one of grace, not of works. So far, therefore, from Paul’s doctrine of justification upsetting the Mosaic law, it was just the old teaching of the very earliest “Book of the Law.” “Do we, then, make the law of Moses void? God forbid. On the contrary, we establish that law; since we find for it its ancient basis on which alone it can serve those helpful uses for which it was given.”
3. The case of Abraham was thus, as St. Paul clearly saw, a crucial instance in which to test his doctrine of justification by faith. Abraham was not merely the first of Israelites or the greatest of them; he was all Israel in his single person. It would never do for a Jew to pretend that a principle which ruled the relations of Abraham to Jehovah could by any possibility make void the law of Moses.
4. But the example of Abraham proves fruitful for Paul’s purpose in more ways than one.
I. His controversy up to this point has involved two main positions. The first is Romans 3:28. The second, Romans 3:30. Both positions he now proceeds to illustrate and confirm by the case of Abraham.
1. It was by his faith Abraham was justified, not by his works of obedience (Romans 3:1-8). Paul finds a remarkable proof-text in Genesis 15:16.
(1) The religious life of Abraham gathers round three leading moments. The first, when God bade him emigrate to Canaan (Genesis 12:1-5); the second, at Mamre, when God first made with the childless and aged man a covenant that he should have a son, etc. (Genesis 15:1-21); the third, when, after the first portion of this promise had been fulfilled, as well as the whole of it sealed by circumcision, Jehovah commanded the child of promise to be sacrificed (Genesis 22:1-24). At all these three turning times in Abraham’s history his confidence in God appeared as the most eminent feature of his character. But plainly, the first of these was preliminary to the second, which conveyed to him the promises of God; and the third was a consequent of the second. The central point, therefore, in the patriarch’s history is to be sought in the second, to which St. Paul here refers. On God’s side there was simply a word of promise; on the man’s side, simply a devout and childlike reliance upon that word. God asked no more; and the man had no more to give. His mere trust in the Promiser was held to be adequate as a ground for that sinful man’s acceptance into friendship and league with the eternal Jehovah.
(2) The apostle’s argument is a very obvious one. There are only two ways of obtaining Divine approval. Either you deserve it, having earned it; then it is a pure debt, and you have something to boast in. Or else you have not earned the Divine approval, but the wages of sin, which is death; only you trust in the promised grace of One who justifies the ungodly; then it may be said that this trust of yours is reckoned as equivalent to righteousness. Now, Abraham’s acceptance was plainly of this latter sort. He therefore, at least, had no ground for boasting. His, rather, was such blessedness as his great descendant David sang of so long after (Psalms 32:1-2).
2. Abraham was justified by his faith, not as a circumcised man, but as an uncircumcised (verses 9-16). It lies in the very idea of acceptance through faith, that God will accept the believer apart from nationality, an external rite, or church privilege, or the like. This inference Paul has been pressing on his Jewish readers, and here is a curious confirmation of it. Abraham, through whom came circumcision, etc., was taken into Divine favour previous to his circumcision. Circumcision came in simply to seal, not to constitute, his justification. And the design of such an arrangement was to make him the type and progenitor of all believers--of such believers first, as are never circumcised at all, since for thirteen years or more he was himself an uncircumcised believer; then of such also as are circumcised, indeed, yet believers. He is “the father of us all.” The only people whom his experience fails to embrace, whose “father” he really is not, are those Jews who trust in their lineage and their covenant badge, and expect to be saved for their meritorious observance of prescribed rules, but who in the free and gracious promises of Abraham’s God put no trust at all.
(1) Having got thus far, St. Paul has reached this notable conclusion: that so far from his doctrine making the law of Moses void, it is the Jewish figment of justification by the law which makes void God’s promise, and Abraham’s faith, and the whole basis of grace on which the privileges of the Hebrew people ultimately reposed. Here, therefore, he fairly turns the tables upon his objectors (verse 14).
(2) Nay, more, another conclusion emerges. It turns out now that instead of St. Paul being a disloyal Jew for admitting believing Gentiles to an equal place in the favour of Israel’s God, it is his self-righteous countryman, who monopolises Divine grace, that is really false to the original idea of the Abrahamic covenant. All who have faith, whatever their race, are “blessed with faithful Abraham,” and he, says Paul, writing to a Gentile Church, “is the father of us all.” The apostle has now completed his polemic against Jewish objectors. Before, however, he is done with the case of Abraham, there is a further use to be made of his bright exemplar.
II. The father of believers stands out as not simply a specimen of the faith that justifies, but as the highest pattern and lesson in this grace to all his spiritual progeny (verses 17-25).
1. I spoke of three leading moments in the spiritual life of the great patriarch. In the roll of heroes in faith given in Hebrews 11:1-40, stress is laid upon the first and upon the last. Here, it is the second; and it is this proof of faith, therefore, which Paul now proceeds to examine. The particular promise was that when he was ninety-nine, and his wife ninety, a son should be born to them. On this child of promise were made to depend all the other promises--numerous descendants--the land of inheritance--a perpetual covenant--seed, in whom all earth’s families should be blessed. To believe in this explicit word was to believe substantially in the whole of God’s grace to men as far as it was then revealed. It was gospel faith so far as there was yet any gospel on earth to put faith in. Dimly and far off Abraham saw the day of Christ, and at God’s bare word he risked his spiritual life upon that hope. This was his faith.
2. Now note its characteristics. On the one side lay the improbabilities of an unheard of miracle, to be believed in before it happened; a needless miracle, too, so far as man’s reason could discern; for was not Ishmael already there? On the other side, what was there? Nothing but a word of God. Between these two conflicting grounds of expectation a weaker faith than his might have wavered. But Abraham was not weak in faith. Therefore he did not shrink from considering the physical obstacles to the birth of a son. On the contrary, he could afford to fasten his regard on these, without his confidence, in the promise suffering any diminution; since he kept as clearly in view the character of the Almighty Promiser. God is the Quickener of the dead. He can give a name and virtual existence to the yet unbegotten child. Isaac lives in God’s counsel and purpose before he has actual being. So Abraham dared to trust in the hope of paternity given him of God, and gave God glory, by honouring the truthfulness of His word and the power of His grace. Such is faith; so it always works. Without calling its eyes off from the objections and difficulties which are present to sense, it fastens itself, nevertheless, on the veracity of Him who speaks words of grace to men.
3. These things were not written for Abraham’s sake alone, but 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 raise from the dead His own Son Jesus. The gospel facts, the promises, and 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; resting for their evidence solely on the word of the living God. Such a faith in God is reckoned for righteousness to every man who has it, as it was to Abraham, the father of all believers. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
No room for glorying
That workman should do ill who, having built a house with another man’s purse, should go about to set up his own name upon the front thereof; and in Justinian’s law it was decreed that no workman should set up his name within the body of that building which he made out of another’s cost. Thus Christ sets us all at work; it is He that bids us to fast, and pray, and hear, and give alms, etc.; but who is at the cost of all this? whose are all these good works? Surely God’s. Man’s poverty is so great, that he cannot reach a good thought, much less a good deed; all the materials are from God, the building is His; it is He that paid for it. Give but, therefore, the glory and the honour thereof unto God, and take all the profit to thyself. (J. Spencer.)
What saith the Scripture?--
What saith the Scripture
I. What is meant by the Scripture? Paul referred simply to the Old Testament. But we are not to suppose that the Old and New Testaments are different Scriptures. The only difference is that in the New we have a clearer explanation of that which may be found in the Old.
II. What is the authority of the Scripture? The difference between this and the best of other books is that it was written, not by man, but by God; though holy men of old wrote the Book, they wrote it as they were moved by God the Holy Ghost. This Divine authority is supported by ample evidence.
III. What saith the scripture?
1. For the head. It unfolds--
(1) The doctrine of the Trinity.
(2) The plan of salvation.
(3) The judgment to come.
(4) The eternity of future rewards and punishments.
2. For the heart.
(1) It proclaims every kind of encouragement to turn from the error of our ways. It assures us of--
(a) The love of God to each soul.
(b) His forbearance with sinners.
(c) His desire to make men happy.
(2) It secures for those who have turned--
(a) The sympathy of Jesus.
(b) The comfort of the Holy Ghost.
3. For our life--our way of living. It testifies--
(1) To the impossibility of a double service. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
(2) To the necessity of holiness. Without it “no man shall see the Lord.”
(3) To the vanity of this world compared with the next. “What shall it profit a man?” etc.
IV. How are we to know these Scriptures? By searching them--
2. Daily. Conclusion: What an awful responsibility rests upon every man who does not consider what the Scripture saith! It is just as if you were walking in a dark place, not knowing your road, and someone were to offer you a light, and you were to refuse to take it. Not long ago I happened to be visiting in a great castle, situate 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 that castle late one night in the midst of a violent thunderstorm when the night 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 do very well 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 over, and the next day the lifeless body of that foolish woman was found washed ashore from the swollen river. Ah! but how many such foolish ones are there who, when the light is offered, and they have only to ask, “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.” (Bp. Williers.)
What saith the Scripture
I. As a revelation. On some subjects it is the sole authority. Without it man has no light whatever, or only the dimmest light, on the nature of God, His relations to man, the method of reconciliation, immortality. On these subjects its testimony is full, clear, authoritative. How important, then, that man, a spiritual being, with an immortal destiny, should ask, “What saith the Scriptures?”
II. As a counsellor. Man is a traveller in an unknown way, and needs a guide, or the chances are he will go astray. There are many candidates for the office--many sincere, and desirous only to secure his good; many insincere, seeking their own advantage: all fallible, and liable to give the wrong advice. The Scripture alone is infallible; it displays every step of the way, so that a wayfaring man, if he accepts its guidance, though a fool, will not err. How important, then, that as regards the path of duty and the way to heaven, young and old should ask, “What saith the Scriptures?”
III. As a standard. Weights and measures in ordinary use may be right or may be wrong. Some are wrong, being too heavy or too light, too long or too short, too large or too small. So it is necessary again and again to apply the “standard” test of weight, measurement, etc. So the Churches, theological schools, etc., may be right or may be wrong in their enunciation of doctrine, and moralists in their statement of ethics. But the Scripture is the authoritative standard of faith and practice, and to it all teaching is to be referred. The Thessalonians received or rejected Paul’s doctrine without referring to the standard; the Bereans were “more noble,” in that they “searched the Scriptures whether these things were so.”
IV. As a judge. The Scripture will judge those to whom it has been given at the last day. The Books will be opened, and this amongst them. It will be in vain then for man to plead that he has consulted the Church, human opinion, etc. What will Scripture say then? “Come, ye blessed,” or, “Depart, ye cursed.” (J. W. Burn.)
The Bible alone
1. “Scripture.” means writing. Generally, when the Bible, as a volume, is spoken of, the expression “the Scriptures” is used, because it is made up of many writings. When some particular part is alluded to, then it is said “the Scripture.” For instance (John 5:39), Christ said, “Search the Scriptures,” because the whole Bible, from first to last, more or less testified to Him. But when He selects any particular part, then He says, “that Scripture” (Matthew 12:10). Now in the text Paul does not Say, “What saith the Scriptures?” speaking of the whole Bible, but “What says this particular part of Scripture which I am now quoting?”
2. From this we gather that the Bible is infallible. When Jesus quotes it, it is with a view to settle all dispute; or when Paul has proved what he has to say by the Bible, he has decided the matter which is in controversy. “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to that Word it is because they have no light in them.” Note--
I. What the text does not say. It does not say--
1. “What says reason?” Many a man says that. Appeal to their reason and they are satisfied. But what is reason? That which is reason to one man is not reason to another. Must I listen to any infidel who chooses to put the Bible aside and say, “Listen to me, I am reason”? It is true that one man has more mental faculty than another. But when we come to weigh mind against mind, who have displayed greater powers of mind than those who have believed the Bible? And am I to set aside the reason of these men, and take up the reason of other men who are immeasurably their inferiors, and be told that the Bible is not a book to be believed because it is contrary to reason? To me it is the most reasonable thing to believe in the Bible.
2. “What saith science?” Some men say they can disprove the Bible by scientific discoveries. One geologist will tell you that the Bible has false statements with regard to the antiquity of the world; but another says that science and the Book of God are in perfect harmony. Well, then, which am I to believe? Science is always changing. Until Galileo made his discovery that the earth moved round the sun, science declared that the earth stood still and the sun moved round it.
3. “What saith the Church?” “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture do we understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.” Good; that is the doctrine of all the Churches that hold the “truth as it is in Jesus.” And right that they should do so. They do not bring a man’s interpretation, creeds, decrees, and councils, and say, “Take this to be your faith.” But they all say, “What saith the Scripture?”
II. What the text does say.
1. As to doctrine, Abraham believed God, and it was “counted to him for righteousness.” There is the doctrine, then; it is salvation “by faith” alone, “without the deeds of the law.” Now many object to this, and say, “That is unreasonable; God will expect me to do something.” “No,” the Scripture saith, and with reason. If you look to the law, you must do all the works of the law, or none--“Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things in the law.” As one leak will sink a ship, so one sin will damn a soul. But is not this a dangerous doctrine? Does it not make a man neglect good works? I cannot help that. Men may abuse the doctrine, as they do other good things, but that is no valid objection against the doctrine itself.
2. As to duty. Having taught that doctrine, we proceed to say that faith will never be without works. As there will always be light and heat in the rays of the sun, so there will always be works following and accompanying faith. “Faith worketh by love.” “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” What saith the Scripture? “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour.” But there are those who speak of faith but show no works. Now, that is not the faith of God’s elect. You will find it described in James 2:20-23. This bears upon the subject. The Holy Ghost says that although Abraham was accounted righteous in the sight of God by faith, he justified his character in the sight of men by works. What, then, saith the Scripture to that man who lives as most men live; to that man who is neglectful of secret prayer, who is living in sin, serving divers lusts and pleasures, setting his affection on things below? Why, they condemn him from first to last. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” He is not a believer; his life proves it. According to the Word of God, where there is faith there will be works. (R. W. Dibdin, M. A.)
The Christian oracles
1. This question is highly characteristic of St. Paul. If a Grecian statesman like Solon had been in a difficulty, his question would have been, “What saith the oracle?” If a Roman general like Caesar, his would have been, “What say the victims?” But the Christian apostle’s is, “What saith the Scripture?”
2. Universal has been the confession of human ignorance, especially regarding the future. The numerous oracles of antiquity, of which there were twenty-two sacred to Apollo alone, are manifest acknowledgments of this. But those oracles did not arise merely out of a consciousness of human ignorance; they had their origin likewise in a reverence for the gods and a respect for their religion, such as it was.
3. This being the case, let us contrast the oracles of the heathen with the oracles of God. At Delphi was the most famous oracle. In the innermost sanctuary there was the golden statue of Apollo, and before it there burnt upon an altar an eternal fire. In the centre of this temple there was a small opening in the ground, from which an intoxicating smoke arose. Over this chasm there stood a high tripod, on which the Pythia took her seat whenever the oracle was to be consulted. The smoke rising under the tripod affected her brain in such a manner that she fell into a state of delirious intoxication, and the sounds which she uttered in this state were believed to contain the revelations of Apollo. In the long experiment of heathenism it may be truly said that men groped after God, “if haply they might find Him.” Think of them solemnly examining the entrails of a beast, or studying the intersections of a cobweb; think of them trying to discover the mind of God from dreams or the sounds of the wind among the rustling leaves; and then reflect on our greater light and privileges, for we have the oracles which holy men wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost. As we have a nobler oracle, let us consult it with a nobler curiosity and on nobler subjects than the Gentiles did. It is the boast of some natural theologians that they could do without the Bible. But in the full light of nature men acted as we have observed, and therefore something more luminous and powerful was necessary to the renovation of humanity. That one thing needful was a revelation--and that we have got; for “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” “What saith the Scripture” on--
I. The original and present state of man? It tells us we were created upright, that man is fallen and degenerate, and that we are now in a state of sin and death.
II. This present world. How are we to interpret it? Now, just as there is an intended distance for judging of a picture, so there is a right position and attitude for judging this world. A man comes close up to a masterpiece of Rubens, and pronounces it a daub. Let him stand back, and the picture will come out even to his unskilful eye. Just so with the world. You cannot judge it rightly while you are near it, amidst its fascinations. You must retire and prayerfully consult the Word of God. That is the right position and attitude for judging of the world. Many a thoughtful man asks himself, “Why has God set me down here in the world? What does He want me to do?” If he went to the Bible he would get these questions satisfactorily answered; but perhaps he comes to the easy conclusion that he ought to enjoy himself, and straightway plunges into the stream of pleasure, and basks for a little in her fitful sunshine. He is destined to experience what a million experiences fail to prove to the imprudent, that the pleasures of the world turn to acids. “What saith the Scripture?” It tells us that man is here on probation, that this is a life of discipline preparatory to another stage of existence, that this life is not our home, but that our home is in heaven.
III. The subject of happiness. It is not to be found in the world. Knowledge will not give happiness; for “he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Wealth will not give happiness. A rich man, when he was dying, cried out for his gold. It was brought to him, and he put it to his breast. “Take it away! take it away!” he shrieked; “that won’t do!” Greatness cannot give happiness. Once a friend called to salute a prime minister, and wished him a happy new year. “God grant that it may be!” said the poor great man; “for during the last year I have not known a happy day.” A real Christian is the happiest style of man. Thus saith the Scripture, “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but in Me ye shall have peace.”
IV. Of the immortality of the soul. How unsatisfactory is mere reason here! But Christ has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Conclusion:
1. We should receive the responses of God’s oracle with meekness.
2. Consider your responsibility. Shall not the heathen rise up in the judgment and condemn us? For they listened for the voice of Deity among the rustling leaves or the cooing of the doves, but many of us despise the voice that speaketh from heaven.
3. Consider the perpetuity of the Word, and tremble. Its reviler has long been in his grave; but the Word of God liveth and abideth forever. (F. Perry, M. A.)
Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.--
The faith of Abraham
1. A simple childlike dependence on the naked Word of God.
2. An acceptance of, and trust in, God’s promised Saviour.
3. A renouncing of his own works as meritorious.
4. A faith that wrought by love, making him the friend of God.
5. One that overcame the world, leading him to seek a better country.
6. One that evidenced its reality by a self-denying obedience. (T. Robinson, of Cambridge.)
The faith of Abraham,
though not the same with a faith in Christ, was analogous to it--
1. As it was a faith in unseen things (Hebrews 11:17-19).
2. As it was prior to and independent of the law (Galatians 3:17-19).
3. As it related to the promised seed in whom Christ was dimly seen. (Prof. Jowett.)
I. Whom did he believe? God, as infinitely powerful--who could quicken the dead, and who had merely to will that beings and events should be, and they immediately came into existence (verse 17).
II. What did he believe? What God was pleased to reveal. What is mentioned here is that he should become the father of many nations; but that was only a small part of what was revealed and what he believed. He believed in effect--for this was the sum of what God revealed to him--that one of his descendants was to be the promised Saviour of men; and that both he and his spiritual seed were to be saved by faith in Him. The revelation was comparatively indistinct, but this was its purport.
III. Why did he believe this? Just because God had said it. He had no other ground for it. Everything else would have led him to doubt or disbelieve it.
IV. What were the characteristics of this faith? It was--
1. Firm faith (verse 21).
2. Hopeful faith (verse 18).
3. A faith that no seeming impossibilities could shake (verse 20). (J. Browne, D. D.)
I. Abraham was a man of faith.
1. His faith was not--
(1) Assent to a creed;
(2) Nor an intelligent conviction of any plan of salvation to be accomplished centuries later in the sacrifice of Christ.
2. It was a grand, simple trust in God. It was shown in--
(1) His forsaking the idols of his forefathers and worshipping the one spiritual God.
(2) In his leaving home and going he knew not whither in obedience to a Divine voice.
(3) In his willingness to sacrifice his son.
(4) In his hope of a future inheritance.
3. Such a faith is personal reliance, leading to obedience and encouraged by hopeful anticipation.
4. This faith is a model faith for us. For faith is to rely upon Christ, to be loyal to Christ, to hope in Christ, and to accept the fuller revelations of truth which Christ opens up to us as Abraham accepted the Divine voices vouchsafed to him. The contents of faith wilt vary according to our light; but the spirit of it must be always the same.
II. His faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. The special point in Abraham’s character was not his holiness, but his faith. God’s favour flowed to him through this channel. It was the way through which he, imperfect and sinful as are all the sons of Adam, was called to the privileged place of a righteous man. This is recorded of him in the sacred history (Genesis 15:6), and therefore should be admitted by all Jews. The reasons for our relying on faith are--
1. Historical. Faith justified Abraham, therefore it will justify us.
2. Theological. Faith brings us into living fellowship with God, and so opens our hearts to receive the forgiveness that puts us in the position of righteous men.
3. Moral. Faith is the security for the future growth of righteousness; with the first effort of faith the first seed grace of righteousness is sown.
III. Participation in Abraham’s faith is the condition of participation in Abraham’s blessing. The Jews claimed this by birthright, but Abraham had it by faith. Only men of faith could have it. Therefore Jews who lost faith lost the blessing. But all men of faith are spiritual sons of Abraham (verse 12). The finest legacy left by the patriarch was his faith. (H. F. Adeney, M. A.)
The nature of faith as illustrated in the case of Abraham
I. Faith The Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English words hover between two meanings--
1. Trustfulness, the frame of mind which relies on another.
2. Trustworthiness, the frame of mind which can be relied upon. Not only are the two connected together grammatically, as active and passive senses of the same word, or logically, as subject and object of the same act; but there is a close moral affinity between them. Fidelity, constancy, firmness, confidence, reliance, trust, belief--these are the links which connect the two extremes, the passive with the active meaning of “faith.” Owing to these combined causes, the two senses will at times be so blended together that they can only be separated by some arbitrary distinction. When the members of the Christian brotherhood, e.g., are called “the faithful,” what is meant by this? Does it imply their constancy, their trustworthiness, or their faith, their belief? In all such cases it is better to accept the latitude, and oven the vagueness, of a word or phrase, than to attempt a rigid definition which after all can only be artificial. And indeed the loss in grammatical precision is often more than compensated by the gain in theological depth. In the case of “the faithful,” e.g., does not the one quality of heart carry the other with it, so that they who are trustful are trusty also; they who have faith in God are steadfast and immovable in the path of duty?
II. In Abraham this attitude of trustfulness was most marked. By faith he left home and kindred, and settled in a strange land; by faith he acted upon God’s promise of a race and an inheritance, though it seemed at variance with all human experience; by faith he offered up his only son, in whom alone that promise could be fulfilled. This one word “faith” sums up the lesson of his whole life. As early as the First Book of Maccabees attention is directed to this lesson (chap. 2:52), and at the time of the Christian era the passage in Genesis relating to it had become a standard text in the Jewish schools for discussion and comment, and the interest thus concentrated on it prepared the way for the fuller and more spiritual teaching of the apostles. Hence we find it quoted by both Paul and James. While the deductions drawn from it by them are at first sight diametrically opposed in terms, and as long as our range of view is confined to the apostolic writings, it seems scarcely possible to avoid the conclusion that James is attacking the teaching of Paul. But when we realise the fact that the passage in Genesis was a common thesis in the schools, that the meaning of faith was variously explained, and diverse lessons drawn from it--then the case is altered. The Gentile apostle and the Pharisaic rabbi might both maintain the supremacy of faith as the means of salvation; but faith with Paul was a very different thing from faith with Maimonides. With the one its prominent idea is a spiritual life, with the other an orthodox creed; with the one the guiding principle is the individual conscience, with the other an external rule of ordinances; with the one faith is allied to liberty, with the other to bondage. Thus, and since the circles of labour of the two apostles were not likely to intersect, St. James’s protest against reliance on faith alone is more likely to have been levelled against the Pharisaic spirit which rested satisfied with a barren orthodoxy than against the teaching of Paul. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
Abraham, the model of faith
I. The faith of Abraham was a simple faith--a faith which asked for nothing but the word of God to rest upon.
II. It was an obedient faith. It led him to do whatever God told him to do. And our faith is good for nothing unless it leads us to be like Abraham in this respect.
III. It was a conquering faith--a faith which helped him to overcome the greatest difficulties.
IV. Abraham’s faith was a comforting faith. (R. Newton, D. D.)
Difficulties overcome by faith
Bishop Hall has only overstated a fundamental fact when he says, “There is no faith where there is either means or hope:” Means and hopes may be “mixed with faith,” but undoubtedly the mightiest deliverances ever wrought have been by faith alone. Difficulties and apparent impossibilities are the food on which faith feeds.
Abraham was the head of a wandering tribe, with probably only such small ambitions as were common to his station; a man of purer life, of higher purposes, perhaps, than his neighbour chiefs, and yet with nothing very marked to distinguish him from them. God calls this man, instructs him, leads him, and as he hears, believes, obeys, he becomes quite another man. In this is the whole source of Abraham’s greatness. It was not in his natural gifts that he was distinguished above all other men of his day; ethers may have been as intelligent and as forceful as he. Nor was it in his great opportunities that he excelled. There is nothing very wonderful in his history, if you take away from it his faith and its influence on his life. He wandered farther than many of the men of his day; but they were all wanderers. He fought his petty battles; so did they. But the one thing which raised him above them all, the thing which makes us know that there was such a man at all, is only this, that he believed God. There is nothing small in such a life, for its whole business is to follow God’s call. The same transformation is wrought today over the man who, like Abraham, believes God. It does not come from believing that God is, or believing in God, or on God, but by simply, lovingly, believing God; believing what He says, and all He says, and because He says it. It makes a man a saint if you look at him from the side of personal purity of character and life. It puts him under the holiest influence which can move a mortal man. God has said, “Without holiness no man can see the Lord,” and he believes God; and having “this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” It makes a man a hero, if you look at him from the side of his daring or endurance. He believes God. It makes no difference to him what any man, what all men say. What are men’s words against the Word of God? (Christian World Pulpit.)
Folly of self-righteousness
“By the works of the law there shall no flesh living be justified”; and in the teeth of that millions of men say, “We will be justified by the works of the law”; so, coming to God with the pretence of worshipping Him, they offer Him that which He abhors, and give the lie to Him in all His solemn declarations. If God says that by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified, and man declares, “But I will be so justified,” he maketh God a liar; whether he knoweth it or not, his sin hath that within it. Man is much like a silkworm, he is a spinner and weaver by nature. A robe of righteousness is wrought out for him, but he will not have it; he will spin for himself, and like the silkworm, he spins and spins, and he only spins himself a shroud. All the righteousness that a sinner can make will only be a shroud in which to wrap up his soul, his destroyed soul, for God will cast him away who relies upon the works of the law. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that Justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Justification of the ungodly
The first sound of these words is startling. What! is it, then, the idle or the vicious person, he that does nothing or nothing that is good, and merely has faith or belief, who is to be treated as righteous? And is God the justifier, not of the godly, but of the ungodly? A moment’s examination of the words will show that the apostle never entertained the sentiments which at first sight they appear to exhibit.
1. The very expression, “His faith is counted for righteousness,” intimates that righteousness is essentially worthy and acceptable. If faith is received in the stead of righteousness, then surely righteousness is of as much value, at least, as that which is accepted in its place. If righteousness be the debt which man owes to God, and it pleases God, in consideration of man’s failure, to take his faith as an equivalent, it is clear that righteousness, the debt, is even of more value than faith, which is taken, in kindness and pity, as an equivalent. And a clue is here put into our hands by following which, with the context to aid us, we shall no doubt be guided to a satisfactory interpretation, and a clear result.
2. “His faith is counted for righteousness.” But what righteousness? The righteousness which ought to have been; which is due; which is not paid. He who “worketh not” owes long arrears of righteousness; he has been a sinful man; he is a debtor to a large amount. But when he turns away from sin, and believes heartily and truly on God, then his faith, which is a pledge of future righteousness, is graciously credited to him for those long arrears, and the debt remains no more against him. “By grace are we saved through faith.” The single consideration, then, that it is past righteousness which is intended in the text, lights it up at once with a holy, and cheering, and satisfying light.
3. And that this consideration is introduced, not only allowably but necessarily, appears from the context (Romans 4:6-8). To impute righteousness without works is evidently synonymous with forgiveness of sin; it is to treat one who has not worked as if he had worked. But then there is a condition--faith, which, working by love, produces henceforth the fruits of righteousness. So the imputation of righteousness without works, or the non-imputation of sin, is by no means a dispensation from future righteousness, but exactly the contrary. This is the doctrine of St. James, as well as of St. Paul; the doctrine of our Saviour and of His most touching parable of the prodigal son; and is the doctrine not only of the New Testament, but of the Old. Abraham, before he knew and believed in God, was not the righteous man that he was after he believed in Him; and his faith was counted to him for righteousness; his past sins were forgiven. Since Jesus came and died, there is a louder call to repentance and a stronger array of motives, and a more general justification. A sincere and earnest faith in Him will move, if anything can move, the heart to love and gratitude, and the life to duty. And the heart being thus moved to love and gratitude, and the life to duty, past sin is forgiven, the ungodly is justified, and faith is counted for righteousness; not, surely, because this powerfully moving faith dispenses with righteousness, or is above righteousness, but because it moves to it and secures it. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)
Justification by faith
I. The general ground of the doctrine.
1. Man was made in the image of God, holy as He is holy, and perfect as He is perfect. To man, thus upright, God gave a perfect law, to which He required a perfect obedience, which man was capable of rendering. To this was superadded the commandment not to eat of “the fruit of the tree,” with death as the penalty annexed.
2. Man disobeyed, and the sentence began to take effect. His soul died, being separated from God, his body became mortal, and he hastened on to death everlasting. Thus, “by one man sin entered into the world,” and we have inherited the sin and penalty of our representative,
3. In this state we were when God gave His Son to be a second general Parent and Representative, and as such “He bore our sins,” and by that one oblation of Himself He has redeemed all mankind. In consideration of Christ’s death God has reconciled the world unto Himself, not imputing their former trespasses.
II. Its nature.
1. Not the being made righteous; that is sanctification, which follows justification, but is a distinct and inward gift.
2. Nor the clearing us from the accusation--
(1) Of Satan.
(2) Of the law--theories found nowhere in the Bible.
3. Nor that which implies that God is deceived in those He justifies, viz., accounting them to be otherwise than what they are.
4. But that act of God the Father, whereby, for the sake of Christ’s propitiation, He forgives sin (verses 6, 7).
III. Its subjects.
1. The ungodly and only such. As the righteous need no repentance, so they need no forgiveness; which contradicts the absurd supposition that holiness is necessary to justification. Only sinners can be forgiven.
2. Him that worketh not. But do not men feed the hungry, etc., before justification? Yes, and these may in a sense be called good works--“good and profitable to men”--but no work is good which is not done as God wills and commands, and God hath willed that all our works should be done in charity, i.e., that love to Him from which love to man proceeds. But none of our works can be done in this love while the love of the Father is not in us.
IV. Its condition. Faith, i.e., a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for my sins, and loved me, and gave Himself for me. This is the only but the necessary condition, for “he that believeth not is condemned already.” (J. Wesley, M. A.)
Justification the gift of grace received by faith
1. The man who has obtained justification may be looked upon as in possession of a title deed, which secures to him a right to God’s favour. The question is, How comes he into possession of this title deed? Did he work for it, and thus receive it as a return for his works? No; he did not work for it; and thus it is that justification is to him who worketh not--that is, he did nothing antecedent to his justification to bring this privilege down upon him; nor subsequently, for it is a contradiction to allow that he has to work to obtain what he already has; nor at the time, for he came to it by believing. But then, as in the case of a man coming into an estate, no sooner does he lay hold of the deed than he begins, and that most strenuously, to qualify himself for the possession: and, with a foot which touches lightly that earth from which he is to ascend so soon into the fields of eternal glory that are above him, to aspire after the virtues which are current there; and, by an active cultivation of his heart, labour to prepare himself for a station of happiness and honour.
2. But beware of having any such view of faith as will lead you to annex to it the kind of merit which is annexed to works under the law. It is God who justifies. He drew up the title deed, and He bestowed it. It is ours simply by laying hold of it. Ye are saved by grace through faith. By which is a house enlightened by the sun, or by an open window? The answer may justly enough be that it is by the window--and yet the window does not enlighten the house--it is a mere opening for the transmission of the light of the sun. Christ hath wrought out a righteousness for us that is freely offered to us of God. By faith we discern the reality of this offer: and all that it does is to strike out, as it were, an avenue of conveyance, by which the righteousness of another passes to us; and through faith are we saved by this righteousness. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The fitness of faith in order to justification
1. It is obviously the only way in which a testimony can be received; and God has been pleased to appoint that such only as receive His testimony shall reap the benefit of what it reveals.
2. It is a medium of justification by which the whole glory is secured, as it ought to be, to “the God of all grace”; agreeably to the nature and design of the whole scheme of redemption, by which “the loftiness of man is bowed down, and the haughtiness of man is laid low; and Jehovah alone is exalted.”
3. It is a method of justification which unites it inseparably with sanctification. The truth must be received by faith into the mind in order to its operating with its holy influence on the affections and desires of the heart. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
Salvation not by works
Observe what happens when the cry rises at sea, “A man overboard!” With others on deck, you rush to the side; and, leaning over the bulwarks, with beating heart you watch the place where the rising air bells and boiling deep tell that he has gone down. After some moments of breathless anxiety, you see his head emerge from the wave. Now, that man, I shall suppose, is no swimmer; he has never learned to breast the billows; yet, with the first breath he draws, he begins to beat the water. With violent efforts he attempts to shake off the grasp of death, and by the play of limbs and arms to keep his head from sinking. It may be that these struggles but exhaust his strength, and sink him all the sooner. Nevertheless, that drowning one makes instinctive and convulsive efforts to save himself. So, when first brought to feel and cry, “I perish!” when the horrible conviction rushes into the soul that we are lost. When we feel ourselves going down beneath a load of guilt into the depth of the wrath of God, our first effort is to save ourselves. Like a drowning man, who will clutch at straws and twigs, we seize on anything, however worthless, that promises salvation. Thus, alas! many poor souls toil, and spend weary, unprofitable years, in the attempt to establish a righteousness of their own, and find in the deeds of the law protection from its curse. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Faith a universal possibility
Faith is natural to man; the mightiest principle in the soul. It is the foundation of trade; the wheel of commerce; the bond of social life; the abiding root of the family tree. And such is the faith that reposes on the Son of God. Faith is not the creation of theology or Christianity. It is older than either. It is not something supernaturally implanted in a man when he becomes a Christian. It is no new faculty bestowed. That principle which trusts a parent’s love, and produces obedience to a parent’s will, is the same principle exercised in another region which makes us one with God. Thus, the salvation which God has provided for all becomes a salvation not only worthy the acceptance of all, but possible to be accepted by all. Salvation becomes a universal possibility, because it is offered to a capacity which all men possess and exercise. (R. Henry.)
The way of salvation
I. The way of the natural man. “Worketh.” He wishes it to be of desert.
II. The better way--by faith. This is--
1. The old way.
2. The blessed way. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.
Imputed righteousness defended against its caricatures
It has been represented as--
I. A legal fiction. We protest against this if the expression be meant anything unreal or untrue.
1. We make this statement with a limitation because there are some “legal fictions” which are very far from being unreal. It is “a legal fiction” to say that “the king can do no wrong”; for unquestionably in his private and personal capacity he may even be guilty of crime; but in his public and official capacity, as the head of the State, he is held in the law of this country to be irresponsible, and the errors or crimes of the government are imputed to his constitutional advisers, who are regarded, by reason of their official position, as alone answerable for them. It is a “legal fiction” to say that “the king never dies”; for as an individual he cannot escape the doom of the meanest of his subjects; but royalty survives the person of the monarch. It is a “legal fiction” to say that the Commons of England are assembled in Parliament; for they are there only in the persons of their representatives; and yet the whole nation is bound by their acts, and subject to be governed, taxed, fined, and imprisoned, or even put to death, according to their laws. It is a “legal fiction,” and a far from seemly one, to speak of the omnipotence of Parliament; yet that irreverent expression contains the important truth that the supreme power, which must exist in every form of government, and from whose judgment there is no appeal, is vested in the legislative and executive authorities of the State. Is constitutional government, therefore, “a legal fiction,” in the sense of being unreal or unconnected with grave responsibilities? Or was adoption, according to the Romish Jurisprudence, which regarded one as the son of another in law who was not his son by birth, a “legal fiction,” or a privilege of no real worth when it constituted a new relation between those who were not related before, and conveyed a legal right of inheritance? Or is the rule that the wife is one in law with her husband an unreal thing, when it invests him with serious liabilities? These examples should dispel the prejudice which is excited against imputation when it is described as a “legal fiction,” since although “legal fictions” they express important truths.
2. Suppose that it were justly described as a “legal fiction” it might still represent an important truth, under the scheme of God’s moral government.
(1) If He has promulgated His law in a covenant form, as a law for the race at large, and imposed it on the first Adam as their representative, then that constitution must be productive of results in which they as well as he will be found to participate; and yet these consequences, so far from being mere “legal fictions,” are assuredly very solemn realities: the curse on the ground, the doom of death, the loss of God’s image, the forfeiture of His favour, and all the evils which have followed in the train of sin,--all these are brought upon us under the operation of that law, and every one of them is real.
(2) In like manner if God has promulgated a scheme of redeeming mercy, and this, too, in a covenant form, through the second Adam as the representative of His people, imposing upon Him the fulfilment of its conditions, and securing to them the benefits of His work on their behalf, then this constitution must be productive of results, in which they as well as He will be found to participate; and yet these results, so far from being “legal fictions,” are substantial blessings of the highest and most permanent kind: pardon, the restoration of God’s favour, renewal in His image, adoption, eternal life. Hence it is vain to talk of “legal fictions” whether under law or gospel; for while condemnation on the one hand and justification on the other are strictly forensic acts, and must necessarily have some relation to the justice of God, and while the representative character both of the first and second Adam, and the consequent imputation of their guilt and righteousness to those whom they represented, can only be ascribed to the sovereign will of God, yet the results are real and not fictitious.
II. A theory invented by man to account for these results. A similar prejudice exists against all the peculiar revelations of Scripture, as if they were matters of speculative interest, rather than of practical importance. Yet nothing is more remarkable in the doctrines of Christianity than this, that every one of them is simply the statement of a fact, and that they all relate either to substantive beings--God, angels, and men, or to real events, past, present, or future. What is the doctrine of God but the revelation of His existence, and of the perfections which belong to Him as the Creator and Governor of the world? What is the doctrine of the Trinity but the statement of a fact respecting the existence of distinct hypostases in His one undivided Godhead. What is the doctrine of the Incarnation but the statement of a fact respecting the union of the Divine and human natures in the Person of our Lord? And in like manner, what is the doctrine of Imputation, whether of sin or righteousness, but the statement of a fact respecting the relation in which we stand to the first or second Adam, and the consequences which result to us from the disobedience of the one, and the obedience of the other? No doubt, when these facts are revealed, and become the subjects of human thought, they may occasion speculation, and speculation may give birth to wild theories, when unrestrained by faith; but let the facts be believed on the testimony of the Revealer, let them be duly realised in their full Scriptural meaning, and in their application to our own souls--and we may safely discard every human theory, and adhere only to the truth as it has been taught by God. (R. Buchanan, D. D.)
The pleading of poverty in order to salvation
There is a legal process in which a person pleads before the court in what is called in forma pauperis, that is, he pleads as a poor man, he pleads his poverty; and there are certain privileges allowed to those who thus plead in forma pauperis which are not accorded to the wealthiest persons in the land. This is the only successful way in which to plead with God: we must come as paupers, having nothing of our own; giving up every pretence of right or claim of deserving. We must cry, “Lord, I am lost! I am lost! I am lost! but Thou hast lived and Thou hast died; Thy life, Thy sufferings, Thy griefs, Thy groans, Thy death, all these were for those who needed such a sin-atoning sacrifice, and on that sacrifice by blood I rest; I cast myself, lost and ruined, upon the work which Jesus Christ has done for me!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.
I. Its nature.
1. A non-imputation of the offence.
2. A covering of its guilt.
3. A remission of its punishment.
II. The act.
3. Through faith in Christ.
III. Its blessedness. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Aspects of forgiveness
I. Forgiven, as a debt we are unable to pay.
II. Covered, as an object not to be looked upon by a holy God (Habakkuk 1:13).
III. Not imputed, as a crime deserving eternal death (Romans 6:23). (T. Robinson, D. D.)
Forgiveness of sin
True happiness consists not in beauty, honour, riches (the world’s trinity), but in the forgiveness of sin. The Hebrew word signifies to carry out of sight (Jeremiah 50:20). This blessing is the foundation for all other mercies.
I. It is an act of God’s free grace. The Greek word deciphers the original of pardon: it ariseth not from anything inherent in us, but is the pure result of free grace (Isaiah 43:25). When a creditor forgives a debtor, he does it freely. Paul cries out (1 Timothy 1:13), “I obtained mercy” (Gr., “I was be-mercied”). He who is pardoned is all bestowed with mercy. When God pardons a sinner, He does not pay a debt, but gives a legacy.
II. It is a remission of guilt and penalty. Guilt cries for justice, but in remission God indulges the sinner. He seems to say, Though thou hast fallen into the hands of justice and deservest to die, yet I will absolve thee, and whatever is charged upon thee shall be discharged.
III. It is through the blood of Christ. Free grace is the impulsive cause; Christ’s blood is the meritorious (Hebrews 9:22). Justice would be revenged either on the sinner or on the surety. Every pardon is the price of blood.
IV. It must be preceded by repentance. Therefore both are linked together (Luke 24:47). Not that repentance merits forgiveness: Christ’s blood must wash our tears; but repentance is a qualification though not a cause. He who is humbled for sin will the more value pardoning mercy.
V. God having forgiven sin will call it no more into remembrance (Jeremiah 31:34). The Lord will make an act of indemnity. He will not upbraid us with former unkindnesses, or sue us with a cancelled bond (Micah 7:19). Sin shall not be cast into the sea as a cork which riseth up again, but as lead which sinks to the bottom. (T. Watson.)
The blessedness of conscious forgiveness
There is no true felicity but what is enjoyed, and felicity cannot be enjoyed unless it is felt; and it cannot be felt unless a man know himself to be in possession of it; and a man cannot know himself to be in possession of it if he doubt whether he has it or not; and therefore this doubting of the remission of sins is contrary to true felicity, and is nothing else but a torment of the conscience. For a man cannot doubt whether his sins are pardoned or not, but the thought of his sin will strike a great fear in him; but the assurance of his pardon will fill him with joy unspeakable. (W. Perkin.)
Sometimes men complain of the doctrine of a regenerated life as if it were a requisition; it is not--it is a refuge. Oh, what would not a criminal who, at thirty-five years of age, found himself stung with disgrace, and overwhelmed with odium, give if, in the policy of human society, there should be any method by which he could begin back again, as if he had not begun at all, and with all his accumulated experience build his character anew! But in the economy of God in Christianity there is such a thing as a man at fifty and sixty years of age--hoary-headed in transgression, deeply defiled, struck through and through with the fast colours of depravity--having a chance to become a true child again. God sets a partition wall between him and past transgressions, and says, “I will remember them no more forever.” (H. W. Beecher.)
The blessedness of forgiveness
It is a blessed thing for a man to have all his sins forgiven, and thus to be rescued from the curse of a broken law, and the apprehension of future wrath--and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing for an apostate, alienated creature to be reconciled to the great Creator, and, in the spirit of adoption, to look up to Him as his Father, to whose favour he has been graciously restored, and from whom he shall be estranged no more--and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing to be delivered from the tyranny of unholy passions, and from the dominion of an ungodly world, and to come into the glorious liberty of the moral nature, wherewith Christ makes His people free--and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing to look abroad upon the face of nature, and after gazing with a delighted eye on the beauties that adorn the earth, and on the magnificence that covers the heavens, to rejoice in them as the works of Him who has called you back to the walk, and the privileges of His children, and to say with the glow of filial affection, “My Father made them all”--and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing, amidst the trials, and difficulties, and distresses with which humanity has to struggle in this weary world, to be upheld by Divine power, to be guided by infinite wisdom, to be cheered by heavenly consolations, and to gather righteousness and joy even from the scene of tribulation in which you dwell--and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing to be able to contemplate death, without being subject to the bondage of fear, to anticipate the grave as a resting place from sin and sorrow, to lie down in its peaceful bosom, with a prospect of a resurrection to life and immortality--and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing, when one looks forward to the judgment and to eternity which await us all, to realise in Him who is to pronounce our doom the Saviour to whom we have committed the keeping of our souls, and in whose blood we are already washed from our sins, and to cherish the hope founded on His own faithful promise, that the portion assigned us is everlasting life--and that blessedness is yours. And, if in this state of darkness and imperfection, where our views are too often clouded, and our faith too often grows feeble, and the heart too often forgets the Rock on which it has placed its confidence for eternity--if, in these circumstances, it is a blessed thing to have access to those ordinances which have been appointed for refreshing our decayed spirits, for casting a clearer light upon the path of our pilgrimage, for bringing us nearer to the fountain of grace and comfort, and for reviving and strengthening “the things that are ready to die”--that blessedness also is yours. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
And whose sin is covered.--
The covering of sin
There is a covering of sin which proves a curse (Proverbs 28:13), which consists in not confessing it, or denying it--Gehazi’s covering, which was by a lie; and by justifying ourselves in it. All these are evil coverings, and he that thus covereth his sin shall not prosper. But there is a blessed covering of sin, when God hides it out of sight by forgiving it. (R. Alleine.)
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.--
How does the non-imputation of sin involve and imply the imputation of righteousness?
I. There is no vacuum in the kingdom of God. As Dean Alford says, “There is no negative state of innocence--none intermediate between acceptance for righteousness and rejection for sin.”
II. The negative process of remission of sin and the positive process of imputation of righteousness are really one, and only capable of being separated in thought. To say that the bucket has been let down into the well when not dry is the same as to say that the bucket is full of water.
III. Both of these processes presuppose each other, like the rising of one scale presupposes the falling of the other, and vice versa. Righteousness could not be imputed unless sin be forgiven; while sin could only be forgiven in view of the righteousness provided and imputed. (C. Neil, M. A.)
The blessedness of justification
Pardon of sin is the general wish of gospel hearers; and it is also the general hope of all, live as they may. But bare wishes and hopes effect nothing; they do not prevail over sinners in general to seek for pardon in God’s appointed way; and yet they are generally blessed who are pardoned.
I. The man who is pardoned is blessed--
1. With respect to God in the person of the Father, as the moral Governor, and as the God of salvation. God has forgiven all his sins--past, present, and to come.
2. He is blessed by God, in the person of the Son, with perfect Christian liberty and freedom from all the demands of law and justice.
3. He is blessed by God the Holy Ghost, who effects that work in him by which he receives Christ, and the pardon of sin with Him; and the Spirit makes his body a temple to dwell in.
4. He is blessed with perfect deliverance from all danger by Satan, that cruel and bitter enemy who has destroyed so many.
5. He is blessed with perfect deliverance from the danger of sin, which has been the ruin of all who have perished, and will be the ruin of all who shall perish.
6. He is blessed with deliverance from the second death.
7. He is graciously blessed with grace in the heart. This is the leaven which will not cease. Every grace now takes root in the soul; and the believer learns to exercise each in its proper place.
8. Now he can lay hold of the promises in Christ as his own; and, while he can act every spiritual grace in measure and degree, he lives by faith in the Lord Jesus, and has an interest in “the great and precious promises, by which he is made partaker of the Divine nature,” and is blessed with the enjoyment of all the promises, which “all in Christ are yea, and in Him amen, unto the glory of God by us.”
9. He is blessed with the law of God “written in his heart,” and has a right to enjoy all the blessings of the covenant which is “ordered in all things and sure.” He is daily conforming more and more to the Divine image, and is daily more and more “made meet to be partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.”
II. The means by which this blessedness is obtained on our part is faith.
1. To ascertain this principle we must consider the doctrine of regeneration, by which we understand a saving change effected in the believer by the gracious influences and operations of the Holy Spirit, for Christ’s sake.
2. When this saving change is effected, the believer is considered in Scripture as “a new creature”--a “new man”--“created in Christ Jesus unto good works”; and the confidence and reliance of this new man upon the Lord Jesus Christ is called faith. (James Kidd, D. D.)
Non-imputation of sin
Mr. Lyford, a Puritan divine, a few days previous to his death, being desired by his friends to give them some account of his hopes, replied, “I will let you know how it is with me, and on what ground I stand. Here is the great punishment of sin on the one hand; and here am I, a poor sinful creature, on the other; but this is my comfort, the covenant of grace, established upon so many sure promises, hath satisfied all. The act of oblivion passed in heaven is, ‘I will forgive their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more, saith the Lord.’ This is the blessed privilege of all within the covenant, of whom I am one … I know my interest in Christ … Therefore my sins, being laid on Him, shall never be charged on me.”
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only?
…Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.
Circumcision--sacramental efficacy and infant baptism
Rightly have all Protestant churches maintained, as against Romanist, that there are only two sacraments, “symbolic acts, instituted by Christ Himself, and enjoined upon all His followers to the end of time.” Baptism takes the place of circumcision as the rite of initiation into the Church--it is “the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11-12). And the eucharist succeeds to the passover, in connection with that redemptive act to typify which the passover was instituted (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). The eucharist itself has become a sacrifice to be offered up by priestly hands. Note--
I. The significance and efficacy of Christian baptism as it stands related to circumcision.
1. Circumcision did not confer on Abraham the righteousness of faith, nor was it a pre-required condition of it; it was simply given as “a sign” and for “a seal” of a righteousness which was already in possession. And so of baptism. This does not itself wash away sin; it is not a condition pre-required in order to this; but it is given as “a sign” and for a Divine “seal” of the fact that, for all believers, sin has been put away by the sacrifice of Christ.
2. But the following texts may be cited in opposition: Titus 3:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3; John 3:5. All this is quite true. But the water referred to is the water of which the water in baptism is but the outward sign; which really washes away sin, and secures the answer of a good conscience towards God. What this water is, of which that in baptism is but a type (1 Peter 3:21); of which the prophet Ezekiel declared that by the sprinkling thereof Jehovah would cleanse His people from all their filthiness and from all their idols (Ezekiel 36:25); in respect to which David made earnest request (Psalms 51:7); may be sought for in that “water of purification” which was provided by mixing with clear water from a running brook the ashes of the burnt red heifer. The great reality will be found in that mingled stream of “blood and water” which flowed on Calvary (John 19:34; 1 John 5:6-8). That “fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness” was the atonement completed. To be “born of water” is to have the atonement effectually applied. We maintain that the water and the Spirit, in regeneration, are distinct, and produce distinct results; that the water in baptism is significant, not of the renewing of the Holy Ghost, but of the forgiveness and purgation of sin; and moreover that the purgation always precedes the renewing. And so baptism with water is always associated with the remission of sins, as that which shall remove out of the way the fatal obstruction to the incoming of the quickening Spirit (cf. Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16)
3. Baptism does not itself wash away the sin. It is not the medium through which the real Divine washing is imparted. But it is a “sign” that the washing is needed, and has been provided for; and, to all believers, it is a “seal,” given by Christ Himself, that the iniquity is purged. As circumcision was to Abraham, so is baptism to the believer in Jesus--he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he already had before he was circumcised.
II. The bearing of this on infant baptism.
1. It is maintained that the Lord Jesus gave no authority for the baptism of any but actual adult believers. It is at once admitted that, when an assembly of adult Jews or Gentiles heard the preached gospel for the first time, the rite of baptism was only to be administered to those amongst them who were prepared intelligently to make this confession of faith. But it does not follow that the children of such individuals were not to be admitted with them to this sacred rite. We know that children were so admitted into the kingdom of God amongst the Jews; as we know also that all Hebrew-born male infants were required, by Divine command, to be circumcised when eight days old. And the apostles, being Jews, would doubtless continue to act as Jews, unless expressly forbidden so to act by the Master. We know of no such prohibition. Jesus encourages the little ones to be brought to Him, for that “of such is the kingdom of God.” St. Paul addresses children in the church assemblies as if they, as a matter of course, constituted part of such assemblies (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20). And when we read of the apostles baptizing whole households, we are not told that the infants were excluded.
2. But is not this the word of the Master, “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved”? Truly. And is it not manifest that tender infants cannot believe? Certainly. But what follows? That infants ought not to be baptized, because they cannot believe? Must it then also follow that infants, dying in infancy, cannot be saved, because that they cannot believe, and because it is written, “He that believeth not shall be damned”? But in whose right, then, do they come to inherit eternal life? In their own? What then did Jesus mean when He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” etc., “Ye must be born again”? According to that teaching, not even infants can enter into the kingdom of God, except they be born of water and of the Spirit. But if they need the thing signified by baptism; if that thing has been provided for them through the great Mediator; if, though they cannot personally believe, they are graciously susceptible of that thing; and if all who die in infancy do really become participators in it, then who is he that “shall forbid water,” that they should not be baptized?
3. But “they ought not to be baptized, because they cannot make a personal profession of faith.” Could then the infant children of Abraham and his descendants make a personal profession of faith? Clearly not. And yet, by God’s own appointment, the “sign” and “seal” of “the righteousness of faith” was to be put upon every one of them when eight days old. Yet the children of Christian parents are as capable of the righteousness of faith as were the children of Hebrew parents.
4. The principle on which some Christians proceed is to exclude as many as possible from the Church. That of the Lord and His apostles was to include as many as possible. The former said, in respect to the “little children, of such is the kingdom of God”; and in respect to earnest adult workers in the cause of righteousness, “He that is not against us is on our part.” And one of the latter states that “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the (believing) wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the (believing) husband”; and he adds, “Else were your children unclean; but now they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). Now, children who may be pronounced “holy” must be proper subjects of baptism. Why may they not have been consecrated and sealed as holy in baptism? But, assuming that both parents and children, admitted into the Church of Christ by baptism, are present in the Church assembly, while his pastoral is being read, the apostle would have them to remember that the fact that they are thus admitted and present, even though it be through the bath of baptism, does not do away with their reciprocal obligations, but renders them still more urgently imperative. Therefore the loving words of exhortation to both (Ephesians 6:1-4). (W. Tyson.)
Circumcision and infant baptism
1. It looks a rational system to make sure of the thing signified ere you impress the sign. We read of this one convert and that other having believed and been baptized, and this should be the order with every grownup person. But mark how it fared with Abraham and his posterity. He believed and was circumcised; and it was laid down for a statute in Israel that all his children should be circumcised in infancy. In like manner, the first Christians believed and were baptized, and then their children. Express authority is needed to warrant a change; but it is not needed to warrant a continuation. It is this want of express authority which stamps on the opposite system a character of innovation. When once bidden to walk in a straight line, it does not require the successive impulse of new biddings, to make us persevere in it. But it would require a new bidding to justify our going off from the line. Had the mode of infant baptism sprung up as a new piece of sectarianism, it would not have escaped notice. But there is no record of its ever having entered amongst us as a novelty; and we have therefore the strongest reason for believing that it has come down in one uncontrolled tide of example and observation from the days of the apostles. And if they have not given us any authority for it, they at least, had it been wrong, and when they saw that whole families of discipleship were getting into this style of observation, would have interposed and lifted up the voice of their authority against it. But we read of no such interdict. We have therefore the testimony of apostolic silence in favour of infant baptism.
2. But is it not wrong when the sign and the thing signified do not go together? Yes. In the case of an adult the thing signified should precede the sign. But in the case of an infant the sign precedes the thing signified. The former has been impressed upon him by the will of his parent, and the latter remains to be worked within him by the care of his parent. If he do not put forth this care, he is in the fault. He is like the steward who is entrusted by his superior with the subscription of his name to a space of blank paper, on the understanding that it was to be filled up in a particular way, agreeable to the will of his lord; and, instead of doing so, has filled it up with matter of a different import altogether. The infant, with its mind unfilled and unfurnished, has been put by the God of providence into his hands; and after the baptism which he himself hath craved, it has been again made over to him with the signature of Christian discipleship, and, by his own consent, impressed upon it; and he, by failing to grave the characters of discipleship upon it, hath unworthily betrayed the trust that was reposed in him. The worthies of the Old Testament circumcised their children in infancy, and the mark of separation reminded them of their duty to rear them as a holy generation; and many a Hebrew parent was solemnised by this observance to say, like Joshua, that whatever others should do, he with all his house should fear the Lord; and this was the testimony of God to Abraham, that He knew him, that he would bring up his children after him in all the ways that he had himself been taught; and it was the commandment of God to His servants of old, that they should teach their children diligently of the loyalty and gratitude that should be rendered to the God of Israel. And if this be enough to rationalise the infant circumcision of the Jews, it is equally enough to rationalise the infant baptism of Christians. The parent of our day, who feels as he ought, will feel himself in conscience to be solemnly charged that the infant whom he has held up to the baptism of Christianity, he should bring up in the belief of Christianity. It is well that there should be one sacrament in behalf of the grownup disciple, for the solemn avowal of his Christianity before men, and the very participation of which binds more closely about his conscience all the duties and all the consistencies of the gospel. But it is also well that there should be another sacrament, the place of which in his history is at the period of his infancy, and the obligation of which is felt, not by his conscience still in embryo, but by the conscience of him whose business is to develop and to guard and to nurture its yet unawakened sensibilities. This is like removing baptism upward on a higher vantage ground. It is assigning for it a station of command and of custody at the very fountainhead of moral influence.
3. Baptism, viewed as a seal, marks the promise of God, to grant the righteousness of faith to him who is impressed by it; but, viewed as a sign, it marks the existence of this faith. But if it be not a true sign, it is not an obligatory seal. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. But he who is baptized and believes not shall be damned. It is not the circumcision which availeth, but a new creature. It is not the baptism which availeth, but the answer of a good conscience. God hath given a terrible demonstration of the utter Worthlessness of a sign that is deceitful, and hath let us know that on that event as a seal it is dissolved. When a whole circumcised nation lost the spirit, though they retained the letter of the ordinance, He swept it away. Beware, ye parents, who regularly hold up your children to the baptism of water, and make their baptism by the Holy Ghost no part of your concern or of your prayer--lest you thereby swell the judgments of the land, and bring down the sore displeasure of God upon your families. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The spiritual family of Abraham
Under the old covenant the ground of man’s justification with God was the same as it is under the new, viz., faith. Ordinances varied, being but helpful accessories leading to, or resting upon, the one changeless basis of man’s justification.
I. Faith alone could admit Jews or Gentiles to the spiritual family of Abraham.
1. Faith was Abraham’s sole ground of acceptance (Romans 4:9; Galatians 3:6). The promises (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 17:4-6) preceded his circumcision.
2. Faith was indispensable for the Jews, although descended from Abraham, and circumcised (Romans 4:12; Romans 2:28-29; Romans 9:6-7). For neglecting this truth, and unduly trusting in their privileges of birth and circumcision, Christ rebuked them in Matthew 3:9; John 8:39; and in the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:22-23).
3. Faith admits Gentiles (verse 11) into the family of Abraham (Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:9; Galatians 3:29), “who is the father of us all” (verse 16). Zaccheus was thus admitted (Luke 19:9).
II. Circumcision had a two-fold aspect.
1. To Abraham and adult proselytes it was a seal of antecedent faith (verse 11).
2. To infants receiving it, as did Jesus when eight days old, it was the seal of their admission into covenant with God; an incentive and pledge of future faith. If a child did not receive it, “he hath broken My covenant” (Genesis 17:14).
III. Analogy between baptism and circumcision.
1. St. Paul implies this when naming baptism (Galatians 3:26-27; Galatians 3:29) in connection with the Christian’s adoption into the family of Abraham and heirship of the promises.
2. Thus, to adults, baptism is, as circumcision was to Abraham, a seal of antecedent faith (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; Acts 8:37).
3. To infants, baptism is, like circumcision, the seal of admission to covenant; pledge and incentive to future faith. The analogy of Genesis 17:14, “he hath broken My covenant,” bears strongly on need of infant baptism.
1. Examine ourselves as to performance of covenant promises made to God in baptism and renewed in confirmation.
2. Shun Jewish error of resting on rites and on privileges while ignoring the spiritual root of the matter--faith (Galatians 5:6; Galatians 6:15-16). (A. Scott Robertson, M. A.)
That he might be the father of all them that believe.
The father of the faithful
Two points are involved in this name.
I. Abraham was himself faithful. In him was most distinctly manifested the gift of faith. In him, long before Luther, long before Paul, was it proclaimed that man is “justified by faith.” “Abraham believed in the Lord and He counted it to him for righteousness” (verse 13; cf. Genesis 15:6). Powerful as is the effect of these words when we read them in their 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 the 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.” “It was counted to him,” and his history seals and ratifies the result. His faith transpires not in any outward profession, but precisely in that which far more nearly concerns him and every one of us, in his prayers, in his actions, in the justice, the uprightness, the elevation of soul and spirit which sent him on his way straightforward without turning to the right hand or to the left. His belief, vague and scanty as it may be, even in the most elementary truths of religion, is implied rather than stated. It is in him simply “the evidence of things not seen,” “the hope against hope.” His faith in the literal sense of the word is only known to us through “his works.” He and his descendants are blessed, not, as in the Koran, because of his adoption of the first article of the creed of Islam, but because he obeyed (Genesis 26:5; Genesis 18:19).
II. He was the father of the faithful. In modern times it has too often happened that the doctrine of “faith” has had a narrowing effect on those who have strongly embraced it. It was far otherwise with Paul, to whom it was almost synonymous with the admission of the Gentiles. It was far otherwise with its first exemplification in Abraham. His very name implies this universal mission. “The Father” (Abba); “The lofty Father” (Ab-ram); “The Father of multitudes” (Ab-raham); the venerable parent, surveying, as if from that lofty eminence,, the countless progeny who should look up to him as their spiritual ancestor. He was, first, the Father of the chosen people, the people who by reason of their faith, though in one sense the narrowest of all ancient nations, yet were also the widest in their diffusion and dispersion--the only people that, by virtue of an invisible bond, maintained their national union in spite of local difference and division. But he was much more than the father of the chosen people. It is not a mere allegory or accidental application of separate texts, that justify St. Paul’s appeal to the case of Abraham as including within itself the faith of the whole Gentile world. His position, as represented to us in the original records, is of itself far wider than that of any merely Jewish saint or national hero; and he is, on that ground alone, the fitting image to meet us at the outset of the history of the Church. He was “the Hebrew” to whom the Arabian no less than the Israelite tribes look back as to their first ancestor. The scene of his life, as of the patriarchs generally, breathes a larger atmosphere than the contracted limits of Palestine--the free air of Mesopotamia and the desert--the neighbourhood of the vast shapes of the Babylonian monarchy on one side, and of Egypt on the other. He is not an ecclesiastic, not an ascetic, not even a learned sage, but a chief, a shepherd, a warrior, full of all the affections and interests of family and household, and wealth and power, and for this very reason the first true type of the religious man, the first representative of the whole Church of God. This universality of Abraham’s faith--this elevation, this multitudinousness of the patriarchal character has also found a response in later traditions and feelings. When Mohammed attacks the idolatry of the Arabs, he justifies himself by arguing, almost in the language of Paul, that the faith 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. (Dean Stanley.)
Abraham’s spiritual fatherhood
This idea was quite a familiar one to St. Paul. In Galatians he expands and illustrates it still more fully. It represents Abraham--
I. As a grand type or example of believers (cf. Genesis 4:20-21)
II. As the first of the saints. No doubt Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Shem were saved by faith, but still it was not until the time of Abraham that one was chosen in whom this great truth should be clearly and conspicuously exemplified.
III. As the federal head of the faithful. All believers are accounted as his seed, so that the promises made to him are also made to them, and the covenant entered into with him is also the same as that entered into with them. We have now another head, that is, Christ, and in Him the promises of God assume a far higher and more spiritual aspect than they did in regard to Abraham; but still the headship of Abraham is not destroyed, but absorbed. So far as God’s covenant with him extended, it is still firm and binding, and it belongs to all his seed, even all believers. It was a germ, out of which has sprung the higher covenant of God in Christ; but still we shall find in it much which may excite our interest, provoke our gratitude and determine our conduct. (T. G. Horton.)
The true children of Abraham
I. How they are reckoned.
1. Not by birth.
2. Not according to law.
3. But by faith.
II. How they are distinguished.
1. By the true circumcision of the heart, which is both a sign and a seal of the righteousness of faith.
2. By walking in the steps of Abraham’s faith.
III. What are their privileges.
2. Inheritance. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Who walk in the stops of that faith of our father Abraham.--
The faith of Abraham
1. A simple child-like dependence on the naked word of God.
2. An acceptance of and trust in God’s promised Saviour.
3. A renouncing of his own works as meritorious.
4. A faith that wrought by love, making him the friend of God (James 2:23).
5. One that overcame the world, leading him to seek a hotter country (Hebrews 11:10).
6. One that evidenced its reality by a self-denying obedience (Hebrews 11:17; Hebrews 11:17; James 2:21). True Abrahamic faith is love in the battlefield. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not … through the law.
The promise made to Abraham
I. The promise, “that he should be heir of the world,” was made not entirely to Abraham, but to his seed also (Romans 4:16). This promise included--
1. Both the earthly and the heavenly Canaan, for--
(1) Abraham and the other believing patriarchs so understood it (Hebrews 11:8-10; Hebrews 11:13-16). But no promise of it is to be found unless it was couched under that of the earthly Canaan as a type. 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. But that the promise was given was manifest from the passages from Hebrews just quoted, and also from Hebrews 6:12.
(2) Believers in all ages are called heirs according to the promise of inheritance given to Abraham (Galatians 3:10; Galatians 3:10; Hebrews 6:17-20).
2. But the word “world” means the whole inhabited earth that was to be the possession of Abraham’s seed; and the possession of Canaan was but a small prelude to it. 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 may not be for a good while invested with the actual possession of it. The view of “the promise,” therefore, must be understood of the seed, collectively considered. Were we speaking of the wars in any former period of British history, we should say, without hesitation, “We were successful in such a battle.” So we may, with perfect propriety, say that the promise spoken of is to us because it shall be verified to the seed of which we are a part. The following scriptures countenance this view of the promise (Psalms 72:8; Psalms 72:8; Daniel 7:27; Isaiah 54:3). When “the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea,” and thus the declaration be fulfilled, “in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed”; then the promise, that Abraham should be “the heir of the world,” shall be fully verified, the whole earth becoming the possession of his seed--the people of God.
II. In considering the extent of the promise, I have necessarily led you to anticipate my view of the seed here spoken of. Of this we have a plain infallible interpretation (Galatians 3:16). That the name “Christ” is sometimes used as inclusive of His people, the Head being intended to express the whole body connected with it is evident from 1 Corinthians 12:12. It is so used in Galatians. For while Christ is here said to be the Seed, to whom the promises were made, it is said that believers are “Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” And the reason of their being so called is their being “all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28-29). The passage before us likewise makes the same thing evident. The seed, in this verse, is that of which Abraham is the father, in the spiritual sense, even the seed spoken of in verses 11, 12 consisting of “all them that believe.” These passages show, then, that the promises contained in the Abrahamic covenant--
1. Were both made to the same seed: “To Abraham and his seed were the promises made.” There is no hint of the distinction that the temporal promise was made to the fleshly seed as such, and the spiritual promise to the spiritual seed as such. But the promises of that covenant, without difference, are declared to have been made, “not to seeds as to many, but as of one, ‘and to thy Seed’ which is Christ.”
2. And if this be a just view of the matter, it follows that these promises were made on the same footing. None of them were given on the ground of law or personal obedience, but all by grace (Galatians 3:16). Which leads us to consider--
III. The ground on which the promise rests. The inheritance must certainly mean, in the first instance, the earthly inheritance; that which is literally specified in the promise. And it must have continued to be held not by law, but on the footing of the original grant made to Abraham and to the one seed here mentioned. The heavenly inheritance is admitted to be entirely a matter of free promise, and never can become, as to us, a matter or right on the ground of personal obedience or of law. Now, if it was otherwise with the earthly inheritance, the type fails in one of the most important and striking points of resemblance. But we are not left to inference. Recorded facts appear in perfect harmony with the apostle’s statement.
1. What was the reason why the Israelites wandered forty years in the wilderness till the rebellious generation was consumed? It was unbelief (Hebrews 3:18-19; Hebrews 4:2) which amounted to a rejection of the Word of God and a rejection of God Himself, as the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
2. The Israelites are, indeed, spoken of as continuing to hold the land of Canaan in possession through obedience; but by this obedience we must understand “the obedience” of faith, that is, obedience springing from and evincing faith, for, “if the inheritance be of the law it is no more of promise”; and “if they who are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.” These expressions stand in perfect opposition to the idea of the land of Canaan being ever held as the reward of legal obedience. Many passages, accordingly, describe the obedience required of Israel as being inward and spiritual subjection, manifested by outward (Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Deuteronomy 6:1-19). And such subjection is the fruit and evidence of faith.
3. The reason why the Jews were, with such awful judgments, at length cast out from the Land of Promise, and now continue “a proverb, and a bye-word, and a hissing among all nations,” corresponds with these ideas. It was unbelief--rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 11:20, etc.; Luke 19:41-44; Mat 23:34-39; 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16; Acts 3:23, etc.). The curses which Moses so many hundred years before had denounced against them, if they should prove disobedient, were verified on account of their unbelief. Thus it appears that the promise was originally “through faith”--that it was as professors of Abraham’s faith that the Israelites entered on the possession of Canaan--that the possession was continued through “the obedience of faith”--and that, on account of the opposite disobedience, judgments were threatened and inflicted. By faith the inheritance was obtained; by faith it was held; and by unbelief it was lost. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
Abraham’s privilege and how he attained it
I. The position which Abraham attained.
1. He was made by God “the heir of the world.” We must look upon the patriarch--
(1) As the natural head of the nation.
(2) As the federal head of a peculiar people, for all believers are styled the children of Abraham. “They which are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
2. It is necessary to keep these distinct, otherwise we shall confound the blessings peculiar to Israel with blessings peculiar to Christians.
(1) There are certain “blessings” of a substantial nature, every one of which became secured by charter to the house of Israel. Do we not find Scripture portraying the beauty, the glory, and the fertility of that land which God was to give to His people? Do we not find promises of temporal protection--all of which are bestowed upon the natural children of Abraham?
(2) Now ask whether this presents to us the blessings peculiar to the spiritual people? Where have we in the Word of God assurances that prosperity and worldly distinction are to belong to them? That they may belong to their condition is possible, but that they are not a necessary part of their present condition is very certain. A man may be a Lazarus in rags, lying at the rich man’s gate, and he may be a child of God. But the blessings that God has prepared for the spiritual progeny of Abraham are those that, like so many stars in the firmament, are found to be studded in the rich constellations of this Epistle.
3. Both these sets of blessings were dependent upon Jesus; for Abraham was not the heir of the world absolutely; he was the figurative heir, the representative and the type of a greater One, whom God appointed Head of all things. The truth is this, that the world in its bankruptcy is to be reinstated by Christ and Christ alone. He is not only the world’s grand Trustee, He is the world’s mighty Heir. Everything has come into His hands; all power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth; and, therefore, as we have seen these double blessings, so we say that there is a double touchstone with regard to them.
(1) Christ was the Touchstone to Israel. Its fortunes hung trembling in the balance when the Lord Jesus Christ came, and who can question that if Israel had received the long-expected One with open arms Israel would have been the chief among the nations still? But it was a stumbling stone, and they stumbled at it and missed the pathway to happiness, to glory, and to continued national blessedness, simply by the rejection of Christ. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not;…your house is left unto you desolate.”
(2) The same touchstone tells upon a believer still. Everything turns upon this: will you or will you not have Christ?
II. How it was he became possessed of it.
1. It was impossible for him to attain it by law, for between Abraham and the giving of the law there was a long lapse of four hundred and thirty years. If the agency was not in existence the position could not be attributable to it. And even if the law had been in existence, Abraham by the law even then could not have become possessed of the position, because the condition of the law is faultless obedience, and Abraham was not faultless. Abraham could not have claimed his position by virtue of a law which he never could keep.
2. But there is another process by which men look for spiritual advantage, viz., through ordinances. You shall find men at the present day who will tell you that baptism is an ordinance of justification. Now circumcision is the correlative of baptism, and yet we find the apostle here laying particular stress on this, that Abraham’s position was not dependent on his circumcision because the circumcision came subsequent to his gaining the position.
3. And then when we pass from the negative to the positive and ask ourselves how it was that he obtained it, the answer is, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” It is this that makes the simplicity of salvation! Whether in times patriarchal, Jewish, or Christian man has no other resort; and an appeal to the mercy of God through Christ Jesus is after all but putting into exercise that process whereby” being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Dean Boyd.)
Abraham the heir of the world only through the righteousness of faith
I. The promised inheritance--“the world.”
1. But in turning to the original covenant (Genesis 17:1-27), we find that only “the land of Canaan” was promised (Genesis 15:18). Along with that, however, are the assurances of Genesis 22:15-18; Genesis 22:15-18. On these rest all the predictions of the kingdom of the Messiah, even as these have their backward reference to Genesis 3:15. Which also had its implicit reference to the original place of dominion over all the earth from which man by transgression fell. Of the restoration of that dominion Psalms 8:1-9 is a triumphant anticipation; while on the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 22:17-18) is founded the assurance, given to the King of Zion, that Jehovah would give to Him “the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession” (Psalms 2:8). On this also was made the similar announcements of (Psalms 72:8; Zechariah 9:10). And it is precisely upon this ground that St. Paul here assumes that the promise made to Abraham and his seed was a promise that they should inherit the world, of which Palestine was but a predictive type. The promise, therefore, clearly implied that so surely as the literal seed of Abraham were put in possession of the land of Canaan, so surely will the Christ Himself and His believing people, who are truly the Israel of God, be put into possession of the whole earth. For our Jesus, the seed of Abraham, shall “not fail nor be discouraged till He have set judgment in the earth,” etc. (Isaiah 42:1-4). He is the Heir of the world, and He shall yet have His inheritance.
2. But even this does not fill up or complete the promise. For that was the promise of eternal inheritance (Genesis 17:7-8). Such possession is not possible in this probationary state. To Abraham himself there was given “none inheritance,” though God had “promised” it (Acts 7:5). He, and Isaac, and Jacob, who were “the heirs with him of the same promise,” died without possession. Yet they lived and died in the confidence that the promise should be made good. And why? Because they looked for something better and more enduring, of which these earthly things were but the temporary types (Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:16). It was in recognition of this hope that the sublime predictions of Isaiah, concerning Messiah’s kingdom, stretched out far away into the future, till they laid the foundations of and brought forth to perfection “the new heavens and the new earth” (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; Daniel 12:1-3; Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 11:39-40). In and with Christ, the Seed of Abraham and the Son of God, “whom He hath appointed heir of all things,” we shall “inherit all things” (Revelation 21:1-27).
II. The heirs of this inheritance--Abraham and his seed. We must notice--
1. Those who are not heirs, or are not included in this seed to which the promise was made. Abraham himself was not an heir nor the father of heirs, merely as a man, but only as a believing man. The promise was not made either to him or to his descendants through the law, which had no existence till some “four hundred and thirty years after,” and even if it had the promise must have been made of no effect; for the law, being transgressed, works only wrath. It was not conditional upon circumcision; for the promise was made before circumcision had been enjoined. It was not conditional upon natural descent; for then Ishmael and the sons of Keturah, and Esau with their descendents, must all have been included in the seed of promise--which they most certainly were not. Therefore the right of heirship did not pertain to the Jew as a Jew. It was needful that the nation, as a nation, should be maintained in possession of the land till the Christ should come, who was the true Seed of Abraham, and the appointed Heir of all things. But the promise apart from this would have received a true fulfilment, though the whole multitude of the seed had been gathered from amongst Gentile nations. For--
2. The true heirs are the men who are made partakers of “precious faith,” like that of Abraham. That promise was given to him and confirmed by an oath, as he was a believing and justified man. Had he fallen away the whole covenant must have been annulled so far as he was concerned, and his right to the inheritance cancelled. And the seed which was to share the promise and the inheritance with him was to be, not a natural, but a spiritual seed. If an Israelite attained to the righteousness of faith, then he became part of the seed of Abraham and an heir according to the promise. But the same thing might be truly affirmed of any and every Gentile who also became a believer. For “before God” Abraham is the father of all believers from amongst all nations, as it is written, “I have made thee a father of many nations.” And, therefore, to whatever nation, tribe, or people they may pertain, those who have become one with Christ by faith have given to them this assurance (Galatians 3:29). (W. Tyson.)
But through the righteousness of faith.--
The righteousness of faith
1. There are two great streams of tendency at work on the ordering of human destinies. There is the current of things which makes for righteousness through the great universe, which is ultimately irresistible; and there lies in the mystery of human freedom the source of an effort and tendency which is ever striving against it, which brings men and human affairs into ceaseless collision with it, and which thereby fills the world with anguish and wreck. A new element is added to the anguish by the conflict which rages within man himself. The righteousness which reigns around has an awful witness within which cannot be silenced; and the inward protest is reinforced with terrible emphasis by all the misery with which unrighteousness never fails to chastise a people or a soul. Rest there cannot be while unrighteousness is regnant. The cry for righteousness is the strongest and most agonising cry of a man’s awakened spirit. Till he has set himself with the stream, till he is borne up and on by the current, he cannot see even the beginning of peace.
2. There are mainly two methods in which the restoration seems feasible. There is the legal method which proceeds upon a strenuous effort of intellect and will to obey the commandment. “There stands the law against whose rigid breastwork you are constantly dashing; study, it, mark well its lines, keep within its borders, and live.” This method is now in full vogue in our agnostic schools. Sin is mainly ignorance; throw fresh light on things, educate, and save. By all means, is the response of the gospel; still “one thing thou lackest” if thou wouldst be saved--faith, the principle of a living righteousness which satisfies God and satisfies the soul. The deepest principle of the Old Testament culture and discipline for man’s spirit is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” etc. Loving Him we shall love His righteousness. And that the love might be profound and mastering, God lived amongst us. Was light needed, His life flooded the world with it; was love needed, the love that endured the cross-bound man by its cords to the Sufferer’s heart of hearts. Was sacrifice needed, He made His soul an offering for sin, and reconciled the Father and the sinner on the basis of the perfect Sacrifice, which presented the righteousness from which man had revolted and to which man must be restored, invested in the glorious beauty and splendour of ineffable and infinite love. To believe is to open the heart to this world of purifying, uplifting, saving influence. To believe is to establish a vital link by which warm currents of quickening energy pass between the living soul and the living Saviour; so that He lives in us by His Spirit, and we live in Him. The germ of His perfect righteousness by faith is within us; the full form of it will be developed as we grow into His likeness, behold His glory, and enter fully into the possession of His bliss. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void.--
Faith made void by the law
Law implies a right and a title; faith or grace a gift. If a person has duly purchased an estate, there is no need that he should put out his hands as a suppliant to receive the title deeds. And so if man looks for the heavenly inheritance by law, by compliance with the terms “This do and live,” there is no longer any necessity for the kindly offices of faith which says, “Believe and live.” If law enters upon the scene, faith’s “occupation is gone”; it is emptied, drained of its contents, and rendered useless and worthless. (C. Neil, M. A.)
Because the law worketh wrath.--
The law in its relation to salvation
I. It prepares the way.
1. It exposes sin.
2. Convinces of sin.
3. Disposes the sinner to receive mercy.
II. It cannot save.
1. It gives no promise of mercy, and no power to obey.
2. But the more clearly it is revealed, the more powerfully it impels the sinner to Christ. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The condemning power of the law
The blessings which the heirs of the Divine promise receive can never be from the law, because “the law worketh wrath.” To give life is in direct opposition to its very nature. To offer it to a sinner is like offering fire to a man perishing of thirst. For the innocent and obedient, indeed, it is ordained to life, and was so in the case of man before the Fall. Subsequently its operation was wrath alone. The law worketh wrath.
I. In the obedience it demands. If it were a mere outward system, and referred wholly to open transgressions, it would rather encourage men to endeavour to meet its claims, that they might hope for the life which they would thus deserve. But “the law is spiritual.” Such is the exceeding breadth of its requisitions, the perfect obedience which it claims, the heart-reaching power of its demands, that it charges man with guilt not only in his transgressions, but in his obedience.
1. If he loves God the law asks, “Does love rise to the full measure of the precept? Is it with all the heart,” etc. If not, there is sin even in this best attainment, and so condemnation.
2. So in regard to all efforts to fulfil the commands of God. The law cannot receive the disposition in place of the act, or the desire instead of the duty. It allows no deficiency. It presents as its standard perfection of character, and denounces death as the only alternative. To this man can never attain, and so stands condemned. In thus shutting us out, however, from all hope in itself, it shuts us up to the Saviour.
II. In the sentence which it passes. In this, too, it urges man to flee from all attempts to obtain life by any personal satisfaction for his offences. The penalty of disobedience is death. But death is a state from which there is no return, but by the direct interposition of Divine power. Certainly God has provided a remedy but this is not in the law, or in man’s obedience. It is in the perfect work and righteousness of Christ. In this man lives forever; but in works of his own the curse abides, and the law offers no mitigation or redress. Thus it worketh wrath and wrath forever. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
The condemning power of the law
Tell me, then, ye who desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? Does it say anything to you but “Do this and thou shalt live”? Does it set before you any alternative but “Cursed is he that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the law to do them”? Has it any other terms but these? “Do this,” the wrath-working law proclaims; “Do it all from first to last and thou shalt live; but an everlasting curse awaits you if you offend in any one particular.” Plead what yon will, these denunciations are irreversible. You may say, “I wish to obey”; and it answers you, “Tell me not of your wishes, but do it.” “I have endeavoured to obey.” “Tell me not of your endeavours, but do it.” “I have done it in almost every particular.” “Tell me not what you have done almost; have you obeyed it altogether, and in all things?” “I have for many years obeyed it, and once only have I transgressed.” “Then you are cursed; if you have offended in one point you are guilty of all. But I am sorry, I cannot regard your sorrow.” “But I will reform, and never transgress again.” “I care nothing for your reformation.” “But I will obey perfectly in future, if I can find mercy for the past.” “I can have no concern with your determinations for the future; I know no such word as mercy; my terms cannot be altered for anyone. If you rise to these terms, you will have a right to life, and need no mercy. If you fall short in any one particular, nothing remains but condemnation.” (C. Simeon, M. A.)
For where no law is, there is no transgression.
No law, no transgression
Would it not have been better, then, that man should have been left without law? Certainly not. For--
(1) If there were no law there could be reward of obedience, and so the Christian religion would have lost part of its attractiveness. And--
(2) It might well be that certain courses of conduct, though they could not properly be called transgression, would yet bring with them misery and suffering.
I. The general truth of the assertion. Where there is no law, there is--
1. No prescribed mode of action.
(1) In the physical world. Suppose that no path had ever been marked out, let us say, for a planet, but that it had always travelled hither and thither in any direction. In such a case it could not transgress its law. To transgress is to pass over the boundaries, but with no boundaries determined that could not be. So it was when “the earth was without form and void”; before as yet out of chaos God had called the cosmos, with its light, its order, and its law.
(2) In the social world. In certain low states of barbarism there is no such thing as government. No course of conduct is either prescribed or forbidden, but all actions are indifferent, so that whatever a man may do he does not transgress.
(3) In the moral and spiritual world. There are in man moral distinctions, he knows what is good and what is evil. Because of this, those who have not the written law of God are, as the apostle teaches, a law unto themselves, for they have a conscience which approves or condemns. But suppose it otherwise; suppose man really did not know right from wrong; in such a case there would be neither law nor transgression.
2. No knowledge of sin. The law does not make man a transgressor, but it makes him know that he has transgressed. As Paul teaches: “I had not known sin but by the law”; “Without the law sin is dead”; “Sin is not imputed when there is no law.” It prescribes righteousness, and in so doing proscribes sin. It is when the commandment comes sin revives, and is made to appear exceeding sinful. But as long as we are incapable of knowing, we are incapable of sinning. “We sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth.”
3. No supreme authority to judge, to acquit or condemn. Transgression is disobedience, and this could not be except by reference to one who has authority to exact obedience.
II. The assertion in the light of Christianity. So far we have referred to law generally, but we are under the highest and best law ever laid down for the guidance of human conduct--the law of Christ’s love. This law is--
1. Clearly stated. In earthly kingdoms it is often a very difficult thing to know what the law in a given case is; but we know the will of Christ, for we have His new commandment.
2. Widely known. Not yet universally, but wherever the gospel of Christ is preached.
3. Easily obeyed. It is not enough that a law be clearly stated and widely known. The behests of a tyrant might be that. But Christ said, “My yoke is easy.” “His commandments are not grievous.” The Psalmist said, “O how love I Thy law.” “I love Thy commandments above gold, yea, above fine gold.” And the law of Christ is better, holier, and more easily obeyed than that which the Psalmist thus esteemed.
4. Of beneficial tendency. In many earthly kingdoms there have been laws adverse to the prosperity of the subjects. But Christ’s reign is both in righteousness, and for the highest benefit of His followers. They have liberty, life, peace, hope, etc. “Blessed are they that do His commandments.” “In keeping of them there is great reward.”
III. How this ought to affect our life and conduct. The character of a people may be known by their laws. What manner of persons thus ought they to be who have become Christ’s subjects? This great truth should lead to--
1. Earnest solicitude.
2. Cheerful obedience.
3. Activity for the extension of Christ’s rule. (J. A. T. Skinner, B. A.)
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.
How is salvation received
I. The fact.
1. It is of faith. And what is faith? It is taking God at His Word, and acting upon that by trusting in Him. Some of the Puritans used to divide it into three parts.
(1) Self-renunciation, which is, perhaps, rather a preparation for faith than faith itself.
(2) Reliance, in which a man trusts, and leaves his soul in the Saviour’s hands.
(3) Appropriation, by which a man takes to himself that which God presents in the promise. We shall, however, better understand what faith is as we consider--
1. Abraham’s case.
(1) He believed the promise of God firmly and practically. He was in Chaldea when the Lord promised to give him a land and a seed, and straightway he went forth, not knowing whither he went. When he came into Canaan he had no settled resting place, but still believed that the land wherein he sojourned as a stranger was his own. God promised to give him a seed, and he waited till he was a hundred years old and Sarah ninety when Isaac was born. Nor did he doubt when the Lord bade him take Isaac and offer him up as a sacrifice.
(2) He had an eye to the central point of the promise, the Messiah. When the Lord said that He would make him a blessing, and in him should all the nations of the earth be blessed, I do not suppose Abraham saw all the fulness of that marvellous word; but our Lord declares, “Abraham saw My day and was glad.”
(3) He considered no difficulties whatever (Romans 4:18-19). These were terrible difficulties; they were for God to consider, and not for him.
(4) He gave glory to God (Romans 4:20). God had promised, and he treated the Lord’s promise with becoming reverence. He knew that Jehovah is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent. Abraham glorified the truth of God, and at the same time he glorified His power. It belongs to puny man to speak more than he can do; but is anything too hard for the Lord?
(5) He rested upon the Lord alone (Romans 4:21). There was nothing whatever in his house, his wife, himself, or anywhere else, which could guarantee the fulfilment of the promise. He had only God to look to, and what could a man have more? And this is the kind of faith which God loves and honours, which wants no signs, evidences, or other buttresses to support the word of the Lord. Dictum! Factum! These twain are one with the Most High.
2. The faith of every man who is saved must be of this character. When we are saved--
(1) We take the promise of God and depend upon it.
(2) We believe in God over the head of great difficulties. If it was hard for Abraham to believe that a son should be born unto him, methinks it is harder for a sinner to believe the hopeful things which the gospel prophesies unto him.
(a) Can the gospel message be true to such a worthless rebel as I am? Despite the trepidation of the awakened spirit, the Holy Spirit enables it to quiet itself with the firm persuasion that God for Christ’s sake doth put away its sin.
(b) Another miracle is also believed in, namely, regeneration. This is quite as great an act of faith as Abraham to believe in the birth of a child by parents who were advanced in years. The faith which saves believes in Jesus and obtains power to become children of God and strength to conquer sin.
(c) Does it not seem incredible that such feeble, foolish creatures as we should continue in faith? Yet this we must do; and the faith which saves enables us to believe that we shall persevere, for it is persuaded that the Redeemer is able to keep that which we have committed unto Him.
(d) We believe, according to God’s promise, that we shall one day be without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” “Without fault before the throne of God.” But how is this to be? Surely our confidence is, that He who has promised it is able to perform it.
(3) This saving faith rests in the power of God as manifested in Jesus (Romans 4:24-25). It is not to us a thing incredible that God should raise the dead; we therefore believe that because God has raised the dead He hath raised us also from our death in sin, and that He will raise our bodies too.
II. The first reason why God has chosen to make salvation by faith, “that it might be of grace.” He might have willed to make the condition of salvation a mitigated form of works. If He had done so it would not have been of grace. As water and oil will not mix, and as fire and water will not lie down side by side in quiet, so neither will the principle of merit and the principle of free favour. Grace and faith are congruous, and will draw together in the same chariot, but grace and merit pull opposite ways, and therefore God has not chosen to yoke them together.
1. In Abraham’s case, inasmuch as he received the blessing by faith, it is very evident that it was of grace. No man thinks of Abraham as a self-justifying person, saying, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men.” His name is not “the father of the innocent,” but “the father of the faithful.”
2. Inasmuch as we are saved by faith, every believer is made to see for himself that, in his own instance, it is grace. Believing is such a self-renunciating act that no man who looks for eternal life thereby ever talked about his own merits. He cannot get away from simple faith, for the moment he attempts to do so he feels the ground going from under him.
3. Through the prominence given to faith, the truth of salvation by grace is so conspicuously revealed that even the outside world are compelled to see it, though the only result may be to make them cavil.
4. Moreover, faith never did clash with grace yet. When the sinner comes and trusts to Christ, and Christ saith to him, “I forgive thee freely by My grace,” faith says, “O Lord, that is what I want.” “But if I give thee everlasting life it will not be because thou deservest it, but for Mine own name’s sake.” Faith replies, “O Lord, that also is precisely as I desire.”
5. Faith is the child of grace. The believer knows that his faith is not a seed indigenous to the soil of his heart, but an exotic planted there by Divine wisdom; and he knows too that if the Lord does not nourish it his faith will die like a withered flower. Faith is begotten and sustained by a power not less mighty than that which raised our Lord from the dead.
III. A further reason. “To the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed.” For--
1. It could not have been sure to us Gentiles by the law, because we were not under the law of Moses at all. The Jew, coming under the law, might have been reached by a legal method, but we who are Gentiles would have been altogether shut out. Therefore grace chooses to bless us by faith in order that the Gentile may partake of the blessing of the covenant as well as the Jew.
2. The other method has failed already in every ease. We have all broken the law already, and so have put ourselves beyond the power of ever receiving blessing as a reward of merit. What remaineth, then, if we are to be saved at all, but that it should be of faith?
3. It is of faith that it might be sure. Under the system of works nothing is sure. Suppose you were under a covenant of salvation by works, and you had fulfilled those works up till now, yet you would not be sure. But after all you have done for these long years you may lose everything before you have finished your next meal. But see the excellence of salvation by grace, for when you reach the ground of faith you are upon terra firma.
4. If the promise had been made to works there are some of the seed to whom most evidently it never could come. If salvation to the dying thief must come by works, how can he be saved? but he believed, cast a saving eye upon the Lord Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me,” and the promise was most sure to him, for the answer was, “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Salvation of faith, that it might be by grace
I. Because faith is the gift of God, not the recompense of any previous desert. Were it otherwise, all would live and die in unbelief; for no one could deserve the gift, and no one would believe on whom it was not bestowed. Faith is a coming to Christ for life; but this coming is alone the effect of Divine influence (John 6:65). The habit, the exercise, and the increase of faith, are all from God.
II. Faith is a suppliant grace, sensible of its own poverty and inefficacy (Proverbs 18:23). One of the most modest, and yet importunate suppliants was the woman of Canaan; and our Lord attributed her importunity to the strength of her faith. The prayer of faith is the least assuming, the most submissive. Its language is, Lord, save, or I perish. God be merciful to me a sinner.
III. Faith receives all from Christ; it is the empty hand extended towards Him for a full and complete salvation. Love may be said indeed to give, but it is the office of faith only to receive. Faith receives the truths and blessings of Christ Himself; and is constantly receiving out of His fulness, even grace for grace. It is also of the nature of faith to receive all with humility and self-abasement (Psalms 115:1; Romans 3:27).
IV. The entire dependence of faith upon the will of God. Its language is, Let Him do with me as seemeth good in His sight. If I am condemned, the sentence will be just; if saved, it will be owing to a multitude of tender mercies. Its hand is laid, not upon the duties it performs, but upon the head of the great atoning sacrifice. When it asks it is in the name of Jesus; what it expects is alone for His sake, both grace here and glory hereafter.
V. There is an imperfection in faith, which shows that it can have no meritorious influence on our salvation. If faith has any strength, it arises not from itself, but from its object; it needs continual support, and is often ready to sink under the weight of objections and oppositions. It may in this respect be said of graces as it is of persons, God hath chosen the things that are weak and despised (1 Corinthians 1:28-29; 1 Corinthians 12:24).
VI. Faith is humble and self-denying. Its language is, after all its laborious exertions, “Yet not I”--I can do nothing. It is Christ that has done, it is He that must do all. “I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof,” says the centurion. “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel,” replied the Saviour. It puts on the robe, but it did not weave it; it shows the debt paid, but did not discharge it. We are said to live by faith; yet faith says, It is not I, but Christ liveth in me.
1. If salvation be of faith, what will become of unbelievers (John 3:18-36).
2. If salvation be of faith, that it might be by grace, then it is no wonder that Satan employs his utmost endeavours to prevent faith, and also to destroy it (2 Corinthians 4:4).
3. Let his malignant activity excite us to watchful. Less and diligence, and to beware of his devices. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Salvation by grace through faith
I. Salvation is by faith in order--
1. That it might be by grace, or pure favour and goodwill. Coming thus--
(1) It honours God as an act of royal beneficence.
(2) It honours man as making him the object, not of Divine justice and wisdom merely, but of Divine charity.
(3) It blesses the recipient by culturing humility and gratitude.
2. That the promise may be sure to all--
(1) Were it by works, however, some may fancy themselves able to gain it, the mass of mankind must despair.
(2) Were it by works the original purpose of its provision could not be fulfilled, for the promise was to all nations.
(3) Faith in a condition which all may fulfil; the feeblest as the strongest, the most guilty as the least guilty, the debtor of ten thousand talents as the debtor of an hundred pence.
III. This faith is exemplified in Abraham. He is the father of all who believe, as Tubal is the father of iron workers, and Jubal of musicians. His faith is exhibited as--
1. A faith that regarded God as the quickener of the dead and Creator of things not existing--as a God with whom nothing was impossible.
2. A faith that looked for fulfilment of the promise when there was no probability of that fulfilment; as when he believed in his possession of Canaan.
3. A faith that expected when fulfilment seemed impossible; as when he believed the promise of a son to himself and aged, barren Sarah.
4. A faith that failed not when fulfilment seemed to be stopped by the acts of God Himself; as When the whole promised seed lay doomed to death upon the altar.
5. A. faith that staggered not--a full persuasion of heart.
6. A faith that practically confided: as when he went forth from his father’s house, and when he bound Isaac for death; thus a faith made perfect by works. His seed are all who imitate his faith. (W. Griffiths.)
Salvation by grace through faith
I. Salvation is by faith.
1. A deliverance.
2. Effected for us.
3. Through faith.
4. In Christ.
5. Without merit.
II. That it might be of grace.
4. Enjoyed as grace. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Salvation by grace
In a period of religious awakening, Sammy thought himself a subject of the work, and, with others, presented himself for admission to the Church. The office bearers hesitated, on the ground that he might not have sufficient capacity to comprehend the doctrines of the gospel and the evidences of conversion. They concluded, however, to examine him, and began with the subject of regeneration. “Do you think, Sammy,” said the pastor, “that you have been born again?” “I think I have,” was the answer. “Well, if so, whose work is that”? “Oh! God did a part, and I did a part.” “Ah! what part did you do, Sammy?” “Why, I opposed God all I could; and He did the rest.” The result of the examination was, that, so far as they could judge, the Holy Spirit had been Sammy’s theological teacher, and had indeed created him anew in Christ, “not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Christian Treasury.)
Faith not meritorious, but effectual
It does not stand in the place of obedience, as the terms of a new bargain, that has been substituted in room of an old one. It is very natural to conceive that, as under the old covenant we had salvation for our works, so, under the new, we have salvation for our faith; and that, therefore, faith is that which wins and purchases the reward. And thus Heaven’s favour is still looked upon as a premium, not for doing, it is true, but for believing. And this has just the effect of infusing the legal spirit into our evangelical system; and thus, not merely of nourishing the pride and the pretension of its confident votaries, but of prolonging the disquietude of all earnest and humble inquiries. For, instead of looking broadly out on the gospel as an offer, they look as anxiously within for the personal qualification of faith, as they ever did upon the personal qualification of obedience. This transfers their attention from that which is sure, even the promises of God--to that which is unsure, even their own fickle and fugitive emotions. Instead of thinking upon Christ, they perpetually think upon themselves. They ought surely to cast their challenged and their invited regards on Him, who calls them to look upon Him from all the ends of the earth and be saved! But no! they cast their eyes with downward obstinacy upon their own minds; and there toil for the production of faith in the spirit of bondage; and perhaps, after they are satisfied with the fancied possession of it, rejoice over it as they would over any other meritorious acquirement in the spirit of legality. This is not the way in which the children of Israel looked out upon the serpent in the wilderness. They did not pore upon their wounds to mark the progress of healing there; nor did they reflect upon the power and perfection of their seeing faculties; nor did they even suffer any doubt that still lingered in their imaginations, to restrain them from the simple act of lifting up their eyes. And when they were cured in consequence, they would never think of this as a reward for their looking, but regard it as the fruit of Heaven’s gracious appointment. Do in like manner. It will make both against your humility and your peace, that you regard faith in the light of a meritorious qualification; or that you attempt to draw a comfort from the consciousness of faith, which you ought directly to draw from the contemplation of the Saviour. If salvation be given as a reward for faith, then it is not of grace. But we are told in this verse that it is of faith, expressly that it might be by grace. In the one way, you can only be as sure of the promise as you are sure of yourself; and what a frail and fluctuating dependence is this! In the other way, you are as sure of the promise as you are sure of God; and thus your confidence has a rock to repose upon. And in the very act of leaning upon God, man is upheld not only in hope but in holiness. It is in the very position of standing erect upon the foundation of the promises that the promised strength as well as the promised righteousness is fulfilled to him. It is in the very act of looking unto Jesus, that the light of all that grace and truth which shine from the countenance of the Saviour is let in upon the soul; and is thence reflected back again in the likeness of this worth and virtue from his own person. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
To the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed.--
The promise made sure--grace and faith
I. The end in view--that “the promise may be sure to all the seed.” Every promise of God is sure in the sense of being trustworthy. But the fulfilment is not necessarily sure to any, for they come short of its stipulations. The certainty here is the opposite of what is deprecated in Romans 4:4 : “the promise being made of none effect,” i.e., falling short of its full accomplishment. Let us think of the origin of the promise.
1. Let us behold the Father taking up the question of the inheritance. It is the heirship of the world (Romans 4:13). Who are ultimately to inherit? That must be settled before anything about it can become the subject of promise at all. And in settling that, there must be sovereign choice.
2. The Son has from everlasting an interest in the promise. The inheritance which it conveys is in the first instance destined to Him (Hebrews 1:2). He is the one seed; and others are included in the seed only as being one with Him. Through what a ministry on His part they are to become fellow heirs with Him He all along knows full well. He is to “bear their griefs and carry their sorrows”; to be “made sin,” to be “made a curse” for them. Through such sore “travail of His soul” in their stead He is to obtain the fulfilment of the promise: to “see” in them “His seed”; the seed that being one with Him is to be the heir of the world, to inherit all things in Him.
2. The Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son; as in the essence of the Divine nature, so also in this covenant of peace. He is a party to it. The seed who are to be heirs are to be put into His hands, to be made one with the Son in His heirship, and one with one another in the Son. That the promise may be sure, He must put forth His soul-subduing power. Is He to do so otherwise than on the footing of its being “sure to all the seed”?
II. The two steps by which alone it is to be reached. But why should there be any steps? Why may not the mere fiat of Omnipotence at once secure the end in view? God has but to speak, and “Out of these stones He is able to raise up children unto Abraham.” Yes! And if it were “stones” that He had to deal with, the old creation formula--Let it be--would suffice. The voice might go forth, not only figuratively, “Thy seed shall be as the sand,” but literally, “Let the sand by thy seed.” And if the seed could be as stones, or as sand, ever after, to be managed as stones or sand, the problem of securing that the promise should be sure might be easily solved. But it is not so. For the materials are not stone or sand, but beings who have possessed and abused the faculty of free will. The problem is solved, however, when we take into account the two steps here indicated as securing the result.
1. It is “by grace.” The whole economy is alive and instinct with grace.
(1) Its origin is very gracious. It has its rise in the favour which the Son ever finds in the Father’s right from everlasting. What but this grace moves the Father to “appoint the Son heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2)? And that is at once the source and pattern of all subsequent exercises of the same grace in time.
(2) It is by the same grace that, in virtue of His being “appointed heir of all things,” the Son is the agent “by whom God made the worlds,” and “who upholdeth all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). It is for the grace He ever has with the Father that, as the Lord of creation and providence, and now the Lord of the economy of redemption, He has “in all the preeminence” (Colossians 1:16-18).
(3) For very specially this grace appears in His having constituted the Saviour of men. When He comes into the world on His errand of redemption He finds grace and favour in the Father’s eyes (Matthew 3:17). When He leaves the world, His work being finished, He finds grace and favour still (Romans 1:4). It is because the Father graciously accepts Him as the righteous one (Isaiah 53:11), that He “sets Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:20). This grace, love, on the Father’s part, how gladly does the Son always own (Proverbs 8:30-31)! How willingly does He welcome the task that is to cost Him so dear (Psalms 40:7-8)!
(4) And now it may be seen how the Father’s treatment of those who are the Son’s seed, is simply an extension of the favour which He bears to the Son Himself. They are embraced or comprehended in the grace which the Son ever finds in the Father’s sight. It is on this principle that the Father proceeds in pardoning, acquitting, justifying, glorifying them (Ephesians 1:6).
2. It is “of faith.” Why? Simply, that it may still be all “by grace.” We have seen that it is by grace alone that any are admitted into fellowship with the Son in His gracious work and ministry of substitution. Let us now see what grace there is in the terms, or the manner, of their admission, Freely, unreservedly, unconditionally; if they will; when they will. Ah! but does not this really destroy all certainty? If they will! Does it not cast doubt on everything? When they will! When will they? Will they ever? Of what avail then is all this grace to them? And yet how can the thing be otherwise? How can any enter into union with the Son, so as to have the promise made sure to them in Him, otherwise than by its being freely left to their own free choice? If the grace is to be free, it must be not only freely given, but freely taken. There can be no coercion. There must be cordial and congenial consent. No otherwise can the promise be sure to beings capable of choice. Their free, unforced yes must be got. And if that yes be got, all is safe. Hence the necessity of faith, which is simply that free affirmative response. This may be seen more clearly if we consider--
(1) Faith. The whole virtue of faith lies in its being your actual appropriation of the benefit. Its charm consists in dealing with what is presented to it as its object, not through anything, even itself, coming in between, but directly and immediately, without any regard to itself at all. Now the object with which it has to deal is the promise, or rather the Son, to whom, in the first instance, the promise belongs, and is sure. The only use of faith is that it embraces Christ.
(2) With its office, the nature of faith corresponds. Our entire moral nature is concerned in it. Every faculty and feeling is taken up with Christ. There is no unoccupied power of the mind within at leisure to take cognisance of the rest.
(3) But how shall this full, simple, direct, straightforward faith spring up in any soul? Plainly it is not natural to man. Witness the extreme difficulty of getting men to comprehend it. A Divine teacher is needed to purge the inward sight, and open the eye of the soul. And if, for simply lodging a clear idea of this Divine method of grace in the intellect, the agency of the Divine Spirit Himself is needed, how much more when we are asked to approve of it, to go along with it and become parties to it? Thus “by grace are we saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.” (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations.
God’s promise to Abraham
I. Its grandeur and importance.
1. A spiritual seed.
2. A worldwide blessing.
II. The power by which it must be accomplished.
III. The means by which that power is enjoyed--faith. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
God, who … calleth those thugs which be not as though they were.--
The Divine conception of uncreated things
Those philosophers of old who held that man pre-existed before his birth into this world had just one element of truth in their doctrine. Man--body, soul, and spirit--pre-existed eternally in the mind and will of God, and as such was an object of Divine contemplation and compassion. Grand architectural fabrics pre-exist long before the ground is cleared, the materials are collected or prepared--yes, long before the plans are drawn. They pre-exist in the mind of the architect and in the will of the constructor. Many things, however, exist in the mind and will of man which, through his inability or caprice, fail to have any formal or substantial being whatever. Consequently it behoves us not to speak too confidently upon the execution and realisation of our conceptions. But with God, who is of infinite power and who changes not, the things in His mind and will are as sure and certain as if they were already ushered into life and activity (cf. Hebrews 11:3)
. (C. Neil, M. A.)
Who against hope believed in hope.--
I. Its basis the absolute promise of God.
II. Its measure.
1. Strong against hope.
III. Its issue.
1. God’s glory.
2. His own salvation. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Undeterred by difficulties
Men differ among themselves. They differ as plainly in their relation to God. The differences appear in their lives. Blorn or Thorfinn will make a longer voyage than Eric, because they are bolder men. But Blorn will push his ship further south than Thorfinn if he has a stronger wind and a better chart. We need not fear our work, nor turn aside from our duty. The hungry multitude need not depart though we have but five loaves, if we are bidden to give them to eat. We might well attempt larger things. Few men have made proof of their ability. Life need not be spent in the valleys. Our way need not be shut in by hills. The promise is distinct, rational, effective. Dare anything which is duty. Believe in yourself because God believes in you, and accept the honour of high service. Leibnitz said that all difficult things are easy, and all easy things are difficult. If the hard thing drives us to God it becomes easy in the act. Farragut repeated Lord Collingwood’s saying, that we are not to be afraid of doing too much. The weight of the universe presses on the shoulders of every man to hold him to his task. “The only path of escape known in all the world of God is performance. You must do your work before you shall be released.” How all things hold us up to God, and every thought of greatness puts us under bonds to trust and receive! Westminster Abbey holds no nobler dust than his who faced the darkness and desperation of Africa, and single-handed forced his way through its deadly gloom, and earned a place among England’s kings. Is there anything to stir the ambition, to nerve the arm, to empower the life, like the summons of our God, who throws the impossible at our feet and bids us take it up, and about His demands binds the cords of His promises? (A. McKenzie.)
Who, against hope, believed in hope
Where hope has a great object in view, there will always be fear. If not fear, there will always, however, be that sort of timorous fluctuation which distinguishes hope from assurance. It is thus in worldly affairs. When a great good is expected, but not yet possessed, there will always be an apprehension of losing it. It is thus, too, with every good man who views the Christian dispensation as he ought. When he contemplates the scheme of man’s redemption in all its vastness--the wonderful means employed, and the immensity of the views it opens--he recoils at his own insignificance; and thinks it against hope to believe that such a creature as he feels himself can ever be the object of such Divine beneficence. On the other hand, when he considers the love of God to man in his creation, which could have no end but man’s happiness--when he considers that the very act of his creation is an assurance of God’s future protection--when he reflects on the numerous promises of the gospel, of the truth of which he is clearly convinced by abundant evidence--his diffidence vanishes, and he cannot help, in the language of the text, against hope, believing in hope. (John Gilpin, M. A.)
I. Its ground. The promise of God.
1. The general promise (Genesis 15:1), that God would take him into His protection and abundantly reward his obedience. The like promise is made to all the faithful (Psalms 84:11).
2. The particular promise. When God had told Abraham that He would be his shield, etc., he replied, “Lord, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless”; and again, “Behold, Thou hast given me no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir” (Genesis 15:2-3). These words of Abraham imply some weakness of faith, though they also may be a revival of an old promise (Genesis 12:3). And they say in effect, Lord, how can I take comfort in the promised reward, since I do not seek the fulfilling of Thy promise touching my seed? But now mark the Lord’s reply (Romans 4:4); and then God led him forth (Romans 4:5)--ocular demonstration leaveth a stronger impression upon the mind--upon this “Abraham believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:6). He was a believer before, but now he commenceth a strong believer: “He believed in hope against hope,” etc.
I. Its excellency.
1. “He believed in hope against hope.” Spiritual hope can take place when natural hope faileth. Most men’s faith is borne up by outward probabilities; they can trust God no further than they can see Him; but true faith dependeth upon Him when His way is in the dark, as Paul could give assurance when all hope was taken away (Acts 27:20-22). I prove this--
(1) From the genius and nature of faith. There must be some difficulty in the thing to be believed or else it is not an object of faith (chap. 8:24).
(2) From the warrant of faith, which is the Word of God. We must believe God upon His bare word, though we know not what time or way He will take, or by what means the thing promised will be accomplished. In things future and invisible we believe against sense; in things incredible we believe against reason (Hebrews 11:1). It must not be, saith sense; it cannot be, saith natural reason; it both can and will be, saith faith.
(3) From the object of faith, God all-sufficient. We must gauge neither His goodness nor power by our measure. Not His goodness (Isaiah 55:8-9; Hosea 11:9); nor His power (Zechariah 8:6).
2. He considered not the difficulties (Romans 4:19). Here we learn that we must not oppose natural impediments to the power and truth of God. Note--
(1) How we are or not to consider difficulties.
(a) In some sense it is our duty to consider them, that we may not go about the most serious work hand over head. Christ bids us sit down and count the charges (Luke 14:28). The saints are wont to put hard cases to themselves (Psalms 3:6; Psalms 23:4).
(b) Therefore the ends must be observed. We must consider them to weaken our security, but not to weaken our confidence in the promise. The difficulties of salvation must be sufficiently understood, otherwise we think to do the work of an age in a breath (Luke 8:24; Joshua 24:19); for it is not so easy a matter as you take it to be.
(c) Difficulties must be thought on to quicken faith, not to weaken it. If they be pleaded against the promise they weaken faith; if they be pleaded to drive us to the promise they quicken faith.
(2) The inconveniences of this sinful considering the difficulties in all the parts of faith.
(a) As to assent. If you will not credit it unless the thing be evident in itself, you do not believe Christ but your own reason; and instead of being thankful for the revelation you quarrel with tits truth, because it is in some things above your capacity. You should be satisfied with the bare word of God, and captivate your understandings to the obedience of it.
(b) As to consent and acceptance. There are many things may be objected against entering into covenant with Christ. First, our great unworthiness. This is one reason why the instance of Abraham is proposed as a pattern of faith to the Gentiles. As Abraham considered not his natural incapacity to have children, so they not their unworthiness to be adopted into God’s covenant. If you be such a sinner, the more need of a saviour. You would laugh at him that would argue I am too cold to go to the fire, too sick to send for the physician, too poor to take alms, too filthy to go to the water to be washed. Celsus objected against Christianity that it was a sanctuary for men of a licentious life. Origen answered him that it was not a sanctuary to shelter them only, but an hospital to cure them. Secondly, the fickleness of the heart. You are afraid to bind yourselves to God. The truth is this consent implieth a delivery over of yourselves to Christ, and you must consider difficulties so as to fortify your resolution (Matthew 16:24; Matthew 20:22). And not to consider is to discourage your consent.
(c) For affiance. There seemeth to be an impossibility to sense and reason from first to last. If the difficulties of salvation were sufficiently understood, we should see it is the mere grace and power of God that carrieth it on in despite of men and devils (Ephesians 1:19). As for instance, the reconciling of a guilty soul to God (Ephesians 2:3); the changing of an obstinate heart (Jeremiah 17:9); and the giving us an holy nature and life (Job 14:4); or to quicken us that were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1); to strengthen a feeble and weak creature (2 Corinthians 3:5).
3. “He staggered not at the promise through unbelief.” This may refer to three acts or parts of faith:
(1) Assent. If we have the word and promise of God we should believe anything as surely as if we had the greatest evidence in the world. Thus some of the disciples doubted of the truth of Christ’s resurrection (Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:21). This argueth a weak faith; but faith is strong as it overcomes our speculative doubts, and settles our souls in the truth (Acts 2:36).
(2) Consent. When the consent is weak and wavering faith is weak (Hebrews 10:23). But such a confirmed resolution as leaveth no room for wavering argueth a strong faith (Acts 21:13).
(3) Dependence and trust (James 1:6-8).
4. “He was fully persuaded that what God had promised He was fully able also to perform.” A strong, steady, and full persuasion of the power of God argueth a great faith.
(1) There is no doubt of His will when we have His promise; but the ability of the promiser is that which is usually questioned. Unbelief stumbleth at His can (Psalms 78:19; Luke 1:34; 2 Kings 7:2). Nay; and the children of God themselves. Sarah was rebuked when she laughed (Genesis 18:12-14).
(2) God’s power and all-sufficiency is to the saints the great support of faith in their greatest extremities. They are relieved by fixing their eye on God’s almightiness; as Abraham here. So Hebrews 11:19; so for perseverance (Jude 1:24); and for the resurrection (Philippians 3:21). In matters conditionally promised we must magnify His power, and refer the event to His will (Matthew 8:2).
(3) There are two things to enlarge our thoughts and apprehensions about the power of God (verse 17). We have to do with a God who can say to the dead, Live. He that can quicken the dead can quicken those that are dead in trespasses and sins.
III. Its fruit and effect--an exact and constant obedience. In Isaiah 41:2 the righteous man is supposed to be Abraham, often designed by that character; and he was called to his foot, to go to and fro at God’s command, as the centurion said (Matthew 8:9). There are two great instances of Abraham’s obedience:
1. His self-denial in leaving his country (Hebrews 11:8). Such a total resignation there must be of ourselves to the will of God.
2. Another trial was Hebrews 11:17-18. Because God would make Abraham an example of faith to all future generations, therefore He puts him to this trial, to see whether he loved his Isaac more than God. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Hope built on faith
I. Our salvation appears impossible to human expectation and can only be hoped for on the ground of faith. After the Saviour had laid before His disciples that cherished riches were a hindrance to religion, they exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?” There are many other aspects of godliness which suggest the same doubt, and to which the same gracious answer applies, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” The law of self-preservation in human nature would suggest the desirability of being saved, but the same law has no remedy to offer. Man is naturally hopeful, but within his own breast there are no grounds of salvation. God is just; man is guilty. To remove sin from the book of remembrance above and the book of conscience below, suggests insuperable difficulties to man’s reason. The good hope through grace comes of faith. We have the Word of God for our foundation; on that we build our faith, and of faith springs our hope.
II. The extension of the kingdom of the messiah and the salvation of the world, is an expectation which rests, not on human probabilities, but on faith in God’s promise. There is no prayer more frequent than--“Thy kingdom come.” The whole heart of the Church is bound up in an intense desire to see mankind under its roof. But make a map of the world, and paint Christian countries white, and all the others black. You will see that the labours of eighteen centuries have only touched the fringe of the garment. The human aspect of the matter is discouraging, and we are ready to ask, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” The day of universal judgment is delayed to allow time for the spread of the gospel. We believe that the earth will be covered with a knowledge of the Lord; that the Saviour will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied; then the heathen will be His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth His possession. This is the hope of faith. (Weekly Baptist.)
And being not weak in faith … he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief.
The sinfulness of staggering
I. What is it to stagger at the promise? The word “staggered” is properly to make use of our own judgment and reason, in discerning of things, of what sort they be (1 Corinthians 11:29). In the sense wherein it is here used (as also Matthew 21:21). It holds out a self-consultation and dispute, concerning those contrary things that are proposed to us (so also Acts 10:20). To stagger then at the promise is to take into consideration the promise, and all the difficulties that lie in the way of its accomplishment, and so to dispute it, as not fully to cast it off, nor fully to close with it. E.g., the soul considers the promise of free grace in the blood of Jesus, weighs those considerations which might lead the heart to rest firmly upon it; but considers his own unworthiness, etc., which, as he supposes, staves off the efficacy of the promise. If he add a grain of faith, the scale turns on the side of the promise; the like quantity of unbelief makes it turn upon him; and what to do he knows not: let go the promise he cannot, take fast hold he dares not, but wavers to and fro. Thus the soul comes to be like Paul (Philippians 1:23), or as David (2 Samuel 24:14). He sees, in a steadfast closing with the promise, presumption; on the other hand, destruction; arguments arise on both sides, he knows not how to determine them, and so hanging in suspense, he staggers. Like a man meeting with two paths, that promise both fairly, and knows not which is his proper way, guesses and guesses, and at length sits down until someone comes that can give direction. The soul very frequently in this hesitation refuses to go one step forward till God come mightily and lead out the spirit to the promise, or the devil turn it aside to unbelief. It is as a light in the air: the weight that it hath carries it downwards; and the air, with some breath of wind, bears it up again. Sometimes it seems as though it would fall by its own weight; and sometimes, again, as though it would mount quite out of sight; but poised between both it tosseth up and down, without any great gaining either way. The promise draws the soul upward, and the weight of its unbelief sinks it downward; but neither prevails. Like the two disciples going to Emmaus (Luke 24:14), “They talked together of the things that had happened,” and (Romans 4:22) they gave up. Yet they cannot quite give over all trusting in Christ (Romans 4:23-25): hereupon they staggered (Romans 4:17); much appears for them, something against them, they know not what to do.
II. Notwithstanding any pretences whatever staggering is from unbelief. The two disciples just mentioned thought they had good cause of all their doubtings (Luke 24:20). But our Saviour tells them that they “are foolish, and slow of heart to believe.” Peter venturing upon the waves at the command of Christ (Matthew 14:1-36), seeing the “wind to grow boisterous,” also hath a storm within, and cries out, Oh; save me! The real cause of his fear was merely unbelief (verse 31). And upon several occasions doth our Saviour lay all the staggering of His followers as to any promised mercy upon this score (Matthew 8:26; Matthew 8:26; see also Isaiah 7:9; Isaiah 7:9; Hebrews 4:2). But these things will be more clear if we consider that when a man doubts his reasonings must have their rise, either from something within himself, or from something in the things concerning which he staggereth. He that doubteth whether his friend be alive or not, his staggering ariseth from the uncertainty of the thing itself; when that is made out, he is resolved, as it was with Jacob in the case of Joseph. But he that doubteth whether the needle in the compass being touched with the lodestone will turn northward all the uncertainty is in his own mind. If when men stagger at the promises we demonstrate that there is nothing in the promise that should occasion any such staggering, we lay the blame on unbelief. Let us now see weather anything be wanting to the promises.
1. Is there truth in these promises? If there be the least occasion to suspect their truth, or the veracity of the Promiser, then our staggering may arise from thence, and not from our own unbelief. But now the Author of the promises is the God of truth, who has used all possible means to cause us to apprehend the truth of His promises.
(1) By often affirming the same thing. There is not anything that He hath promised us but He hath done it again and again; e.g., as if He would say, “I will be merciful to your sins,” I pray believe Me, for “I will pardon your iniquities,” yea, it shall be so, “I will blot out your transgressions as a cloud.”
(2) By confirming the truth with an oath (Hebrews 6:13-18).
(3) By entering into covenant to accomplish what He has spoken.
(4) By giving us a hostage to secure us of His truth, one exceedingly dear to Him, of whose honour He is as careful as of His own. Jesus Christ is the pledge of His fidelity in His promises (Isaiah 7:14). “In Him are all the promises of God yea and amen.” Thus also to His saints He gives the further hostage of His Spirit, and the first fruits of glory.
2. But though there be truth in the promise, yet there may want ability in the promiser. A physician may promise a sick man recovery who, though he could rely upon the physician’s truth, yet doubts his ability, knowing that to cure is not absolutely in his power; but when He promises who is able to perform, then all doubting is removed. See then whether it be so in respect of God’s promises (Genesis 17:1). When difficulties, temptations, and troubles arise, remember God is not only true and faithful, but Almighty (Romans 4:21; chap. 11:23; Ephesians 3:20). When men come to close with the promise, to make a life upon it, they are very ready to inquire whether it be possible that the word should be made good to them. He that sees a little boat swimming at sea looks upon it without any solicitousness; but let this man commit his own life to sea in it, what inquiries will he make? So whilst we consider the promises at large, as they lie in the Word, they are all true; but when we go to venture our souls upon a promise, in an ocean of temptations, then every blast we think will overturn it. Now here we are apt to deceive ourselves. We inquire whether it can be so to us, as the Word holds out, when the question is not about the nature of the thing, but about the power of God. Place the doubt aright, and it is this: Is God able to accomplish what He hath spoken? Can He pardon my sins? Now, that there may be no occasion of staggering upon this point, you see God reveals Himself as an all-sufficient God, as one that is able to go through with all His engagements. But you will say, Though God be thus able, yet may there not be defects in the means whereby He worketh? As a man may have a strong arm able to strike his enemies to the ground, but yet if he strike with a feather, or a straw, it will not be done. But--
(1) God’s instruments do not act according to their own virtue, but according to the influence by Him to them communicated.
(2) It is expressly affirmed of the great mediums of the promise, that they also are able. There is
(a) The procuring means, Jesus Christ (Heb 5:27; Hebrews 2:18).
(b) The means of manifestation, the Word of God (Acts 20:32).
(c) The means of operation, the Spirit of grace (1 Corinthians 12:11).
3. But there may be want of sincerity in promises, which, whilst we do but suspect, we cannot choose, but stagger at them. But there can be no room for staggering here; for nothing can be plainer or more certain than that the promises of God signify His purpose, that the believer of them shall be the enjoyer of them. So that upon the making out of any promise, you may safely conclude that upon believing the mercy of this promise is mine. It is true, if a man stand staggering, whether he have any share in the promise, and close not with it by faith, he may come short of it; and yet without the least impeachment of the sincerity of the Promiser; for God hath not signified that men shall enjoy them whether they believe or not. If proclamation be, made granting pardon to all such rebels as shall come in by such a season, do men use to stand questioning whether the State bear them any goodwill or not? The gospel proclamation is of pardon to all comers in; it is for thee therefore to roll thyself on this, there is an absolute sincerity in the engagement which thou mayest freely rest upon.
4. But though all be present, truth, power, sincerity; yet if he that makes the promise should forget, this were a ground of staggering. Pharaoh’s butler probably spake the truth according to his present intention, and afterwards had doubtless power to have procured the liberty of a prisoner; but “he did not remember Joseph.” This forgetting made all other things useless. But neither hath this the least colour of Divine promises (Isaiah 49:14). The onuses of forgetfulness are--
(1) Want of love. But infinite love will have infinite thoughtfulness and remembrance.
(2) Multiplicity of business. But although God rules the world, He will not forget (Psalms 77:9).
5. But where all other things may concur, yet if the promiser may alter his resolution, a man may justly doubt the accomplishment of the promise. Wherefore the Lord carefully rejects all sinful surmises concerning the least change or alteration in Him, or any of His engagements (James 1:18; Malachi 3:6). In conclusion, then, such staggering must dishonour God, for--
1. It robs Him of the glory of His truth 1 John 5:10).
2. It robs Him of the glory of His fidelity to His promises (1 John 1:9).
3. It robs Him of the glory of His grace.
In a word, if a man should choose to set himself in a universal opposition unto God, he can think of no more compendious way than this. This then is the fruit, this the advantage of our staggering; we rob God of glory, and our own souls of mercy. (J. Owen, D. D.)
It was God’s purpose that Abraham should be a surpassingly excellent example of the power of faith. It was therefore necessary that his faith should be exercised in a special manner. To this end God gave him a promise that in his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed, and yet for many a year he remained without an heir. Doubtless he weighed the natural impossibilities, but he maintained a holy confidence, and left the matter in the hands of the Sovereign Ruler. His faith triumphed in all its conflicts. Had it not been that Sarah and Abraham were both at such an advanced age there would have been no credit to them in believing the promise of God, but the more difficult its fulfilment, the more wonderful was Abraham’s faith. By such unquestioning confidence Abraham brought glory to God. It glorifies God greatly for His servants to trust Him; they then become witnesses to His faithfulness, just as His works in creation are witnesses to His power and wisdom. Let us view the text in regard to--
I. The individual worker.
1. You are conscious of your spiritual weakness. You say, “If God intends to bless souls, I cannot see how they can be blessed through me. I feel myself to be the most unworthy instrument in the world.”
(1) Such a lowly sense of our own unfitness is common at the beginning of Christian labour, and arises from the novel difficulties with which we are surrounded. We have not gone this way heretofore, and being quite new to the work, Satan whispers, “You are a poor creature to pretend to serve God; leave this service to better men.” But take comfort; this is part of your preparation; you must be made to feel early in the work that all the glory must be of God.
(2) This sense of weakness grows on the Christian worker. To continue in harness year after year is not without its wear and tear; our spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak, and faintness in pursuing reveals to us that our own strength is perfect weakness. The more earnest your labours for the Lord, the more clear will be your sense of your own nothingness.
(3) There are times when a want of success will help to make us feel most keenly how barren and unfruitful we are until the Lord endows us with His Spirit. Those whom we thought to be converted turn out to be merely the subjects of transient excitement, those who stood long, turn aside, and then we cry out, “Woe is me! How shall I speak any more in the name of the Lord?” Like Moses, we would have the Lord send by whomsoever He would send, but not by us; or like Elias, we hide ourselves for fear, and say “Let me die, I am no better than my fathers.” I suppose there is no worker who is quite free from times of deep depression, times when his fears make him say, “Surely I ran without being called.” At such moments it only needs another push from Satan to make us like Jonah to go down to Joppa, that we may no longer bear the burden of the Lord. I am not sorry if you are passing through this fiery ordeal, for it is in your weakness God will show His own strength, and when there is an end of you there will be a beginning of Him.
2. It may be also that our sphere of Christian effort is remarkably unpromising. In that Sunday school class the boys are obstinate, the girls frivolous. You had not reckoned upon this. The more you try to influence their hearts the less you succeed. It is possible you are called to labour where the prejudices, temptations, and habits and ways of thought are all dead against the chance of success. But Christian work never succeeds until the worker rates the difficulties at their proper rate. The fact is, to save a soul is the work of Deity; and unless we have made up our minds to that, we had better retire, for we are not ready for labour.
3. Yet the godly worker has that which sustains him, for he has a promise from God. Abraham had received a promise, and he knew the difficulties and weighed them; but having done so, he put them away as not worth considering. God had said it, and that was enough, The promise of God was as good as its fulfilment; just as in trade some men’s bills are as good as cash. Now if we are to be successful we must get hold of a promise too. You say, “If I could have a special revelation, just as Abraham had, I would doubt no more.” Now God gives His promises in many ways. Sometimes He gives them to individuals, at other times to classes of character. Now God has been pleased to give the revelation, in your case, to character. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Now if you have gone forth, wept, and carried forth precious seed, the Lord declares that you shall doubtless come again rejoicing. “My word shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Have you delivered God’s word? if so, then God declares it shall not return unto Him void; and these promises are quite as good as though they had been spoken to you by the voice of an angel. A promise however given is equally binding upon a man of honour, and a promise of God, no matter how delivered, is sure of fulfilment; all you have to do is to lay hold upon it.
II. The church.
1. We have set our hearts upon a revival. But I fear that our temptation is to suppose there is some power in the ministry, or in our organisation, or our zeal. Let us divest ourselves of all that. As to causing a genuine revival by our own efforts, we might as well talk of whirling the stars from their spheres. If God help us we can pray, but without His aid our prayer will be mockery. If God help us we can preach, but apart from Him our preaching is but a weary tale told without power.
2. There is not only difficulty in ourselves, but in the work. We want to see all these people converted. But what can we do? The preacher can do nothing, for he has done his best and has failed, and all that any can suggest will fail also. The work is impossible with us, but do we therefore give up the attempt? No, for is it not written, “I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye My face in vain”? Christ must see of His soul’s travail, must see of it in this place too. We have God’s promise for it; we cannot do it, but He can.
III. Every pleading soul. If your heart has been set upon any special object in prayer, if you have an express promise for it, you must not be staggered if the object of your desire be farther off now than when you first began to pray. Wait at the mercy seat in the full persuasion that although God may take His time, and that time may not be your time, yet He must and will redeem His promise when the fulness of time has come. If you have prayed for the salvation of your child, or husband, or friend, and that person has grown worse instead of better, still God must be held to His word; and if you have the faith to challenge His faithfulness and power, assuredly He never did and never will let your prayers fall fruitless to the ground. Remember that to trust God in the light is nothing, but to trust Him in the dark--that is faith.
IV. The seeker. You imagined at one time that you could become a Christian at your own will at any moment; and now how to perform that which you would you find not. You desire to break the chains of sin, but they are far easier to bind than to loose. You want to come to Jesus with a broken heart, but your heart refuses to break. You long to trust Jesus, but your unbelief is so mighty that you cannot see His Cross. I am glad to find you in this poverty-stricken state, for I believe that in your case you must know your own powerlessness. Every sinner must learn that he is by nature dead in sins, and that the work of salvation is high above out of his reach. Self-despair throws a man upon his God; he feels that he can do nothing, and he turns to one who can do all things. Now the next thing is to find a promise. “Whosoever calleth upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Have you called upon the name of the Lord? Have you cried to Him, “God be merciful to me a sinner”? If you so call you must be saved. “Whosoever cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” Do you come? If so, you cannot be cast out. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Religious faith rational
That its object is marvellous is quite true; and it is also true that no mind will form itself to a habit of faith without the influences of Divine grace. But to say that such a faith as that of Abraham, which led him to believe God’s word when opposed to his own experience, is a strange principle and irrational, is absurd.
I. For we act on trust every hour of our lives.
1. We trust to our memory, and our confidence in it is so strong that no man could persuade us to reject its testimony.
2. We trust our reasoning powers. Who of us would doubt, on seeing strong shadows on the ground, that the sun was shining, though our face happened to be turned the other way?
3. And we trust our memory and our reasoning powers in this way, though they often deceive us; because on the whole they are faithful witnesses, and because in all practical matters we are obliged to decide by not what may be possibly, but what is likely to be. There is a chance, e.g., that our food today may be poisonous, but it looks and tastes the same, and we have good friends round us; so we do not abstain from it, for all this chance.
4. But it may be said that such belief is not what is meant by faith--that to trust our senses and reason is to trust ourselves--and though these do sometimes mislead us, yet we can use them to correct each other; but it is a very different thing to trust another person, which is faith in the Scripture sense of the word. But reliance on the word of another is no irrational or strange principle of conduct in the concerns of this life. For what do we know without trusting others?
(1) Are there not towns within fifty or sixty miles of us which we have never seen, but in which we fully believe? What convinces us? The report of others--this faith in testimony which, when religion is concerned, is called irrational.
(2) Consider how we are obliged to confide in persons we never saw, or know but slightly; nay, in their handwritings, which, for what we know, may be forged.
(3) It is certain that we all must sooner or later die, and men arrange their affairs accordingly. Yet what proof have we of this? because other men die? how does he know that? has he seen them die? he can know nothing of what took place before he was born, nor of what happens in other countries. How little, indeed, he knows about it at all, except that it is a received fact.
(4) We constantly believe things against our own judgment; i.e., when we think our informant likely to know more about the matter under consideration than ourselves, which is the precise case in the question of religious faith. And thus from reliance on others we acquire knowledge of all kinds, and proceed to reason, judge, decide, act, form plans for the future. But it is needless to proceed; the world could not go on without trust. The most distressing event that can happen to a state is the spreading of a want of confidence between man and man. Distrust, want of faith, breaks the very bonds of human society.
5. Now, shall we account it only rational for a man to yield to another’s judgment as better than his own, and yet think it against reason when one, like Abraham, sets the promise of God above his own short-sighted expectation?
II. The main reason for disbelief. It may be objected, “If God had spoken to us as He did to Abraham, it were madness to disbelieve; but it is not His voice we hear, but man’s speaking in His name. How are we to know whether they speak truth or not?”
1. Whatever such may say about their willingness to believe, in a great many cases they murmur at being required to believe, dislike being bound to act without seeing, and prefer to trust themselves to trusting God, even though it could be plainly proved to them that God was speaking to them. Their conduct shows this. Why otherwise do they so frequently scoff at religious men, as if timid and narrow-minded, merely because they fear to sin? Clearly, it is their very faith itself they ridicule. To trust another implicitly is to acknowledge one’s self to be his inferior; and this man’s proud nature cannot bear to do. It is therefore very much to our purpose to accustom our minds to the fact that almost everything we do is grounded on mere trust in others, and that visible dependence reminds us forcibly of our truer and fuller dependence upon God.
2. Unbelievers condemn themselves out of their own mouth. Our obedience to God is not founded on our belief in the word of such persons as tell us Scripture came from God. We obey God primarily because we feel His presence in our consciences bidding us obey Him. Now, if they trust their senses and their reason, why do they not trust their conscience too? Their conscience is as much a part of themselves as their reason is; and it is placed within them in order to balance the influence of sight and reason and yet they will not attend to it; for 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. Nothing shows this more plainly than their conduct. Supposing a man says to them, “You know in your heart that you should not do so”; they get angry; or attempt to turn what is said into ridicule; anything will they do, except answer by reasoning. Their boasted argumentation flies like a coward before the stirring of conscience; and their passions are the only champions left for their defence. They in effect say, “We do so, because we like it”; perhaps they even avow this in so many words. And are such the persons whom any Christian can trust? Surely faith in them would be of all conceivable confidences the most irrational. For ourselves, let us but obey God’s voice in our hearts, and we shall have no doubts practically formidable about the truth of Scripture. Our doubts will be found to arise after disobedience. And if we but obey God in time 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. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
But was strong in faith, giving glory to God.--
I. What it is.
1. Abraham grew strong in faith; faith grows by exercise.
2. He was made strong by faith; faith is a bracing grace. The world’s heroes are strong by faith in themselves, God’s by faith in Him (Judges 6:14; Hebrews 11:1-40; David, Daniel, etc.). Weak faith is not rejected, but strong faith is commended. Strong faith triumphs over doubts and fears (Matthew 14:30-31).
II. What it does. It glorifies God as unbelief dishonours Him. It gives glory to all His attributes, especially His faithfulness, benevolence, almightiness, for it builds on them alone. Honouring God is therefore honoured by Him. Not to believe Him is to offer Him the greatest insult (1 John 5:10). God’s honour and man’s interest, both combined. Faith secures both. Abraham giving glory to God waxed strong in faith. As faith glorifies God it becomes stronger and stronger, and is a worthy medium of justification as giving God all the glory. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
I. Strong faith is supported by abundant reasons.
1. All the reasons which justify our believing in God at all justify our believing in Him most firmly. It can never be right to believe unless the statements are true, and if true they deserve undivided faith. If anything be strong enough for you to trust your eternal destiny to it, your trust ought to be immovable as a granite rock. If it be right to enter into faith’s stream at all, every possible argument proves that the deeper you go the better.
2. Reasons for strong faith may be found in the character of God. Our reliance upon man must be cautiously given; but--
(1) “The Lord is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent.” Should we not have strong faith who believe in a God whose very essence is pure truth?
(2) God is omnipotent, and therefore believing should be strong. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” “With God all things are possible.”
(3) All things else change, but God knoweth no shadow of a turning. Believe immutably in an immutable God.
(4) He is the God of love. What a wanton insult it is to mistrust one who cannot be unkind.
3. When I turn mine eyes to our Lord Jesus it appears incongruous that the Son of God should be received with meagre confidence. Can we doubt His ability to save? Abraham had strong confidence when he saw the type--the burning lamp passing between the pieces of the slain victims. With how much greater confidence should we rest in the antitype.
4. We ought to give God strong faith, because there is no evidence which could justify mistrust.
(1) All down the ages those who have trusted in Him have never been confounded. We read in the eleventh of Hebrews the record of what the Lord wrought in those who believed in Him. Now, per contra, there standeth nothing.
(2) On the bed of death the truth generally comes out, yet who ever heard a solitary believer declare that it is a mistake to confide in the blood of Jesus, or to rest in the faithfulness of God? Somewhere or other this thing would have come out if it had been so.
(3) Have you experienced anything which casts suspicion upon the character of God? When you have trusted Him has He failed you? Will you put your finger upon a promise which He has broken?
II. Strong faith produces the most desirable results. We can only dwell upon the one mentioned here, “giving glory to God.” This is “man’s chief end.” Strong faith answers that end because--
1. It treats him like God. Unbelief is practical atheism; because, denying the truthfulness of God, it takes away what is a part of His essential character. I would not grieve those who have but little faith, but still weak faith limits the Holy One of Israel! It believes Him up to such a point, or under such and such circumstances, whereas strong faith treats God according to His infinite character.
2. It treats Him as a father, and acts towards Him in the childlike spirit, i.e., with unlimited confidence. Can my Father do an unkind thing, be untrue, be false or changeable? Impossible!
3. It strengthens all the other graces, and all these bring glory to God.
4. It gives a striking testimony to the world, The faith which can practise eminent self-denial or achieve great enterprises attracts the eyes of men; they see your strong faith, and they glorify your Father which is in heaven. I have known some faith which would have required a microscope to perceive it, and when we have declared that little faith saves the soul, the worldling has replied, “Well, it is a very small concern at any rate.”
5. It enables Him to work in us and through us. As our Saviour could not do many mighty works in a certain place because of their unbelief, so is God hampered with regard to some of us.
III. Strong faith which gives glory to God may be exercised by persons who are otherwise exceedingly weak.
1. What a joy this is to you who are sufferers in body! You cannot do apostolic work and range a continent, but you may exhibit a placid patience, a sweet resignation, a sacred hopefulness as to the future, a Divine disdain as to the fear of death.
2. So you may have few talents, and yet you may have strong faith. You need not be a genius in order to give glory to God, for the strength of your faith will do it. You can glorify God by holding firmly to the truth of which you understand so little, but which you love so heartily.
3. Some saints are conscious of weakness of every sort, but they must not, therefore, think that they cannot honour God by strong faith, for Abraham was so old that his body was now dead, and yet he believed that he would be the progenitor of the chosen seed. The depth of your weakness is just the height of your possibilities of honouring the Lord.
IV. This strong faith varies as to its manner of working, very much according to the person and his circumstances.
1. There is one thing that strong faith does not do, it never talks big and boasts of what it will accomplish. There is a great deal of difference between confidence in yourself and confidence in God. Barking dogs do not often bite, and those men who promise much very seldom perform. Point me to one boastful word that fell from Abraham. David said little to his envious brothers, but he brought home the giant’s head.
2. Faith exercises itself as in the case of Abraham, by believing God’s word. God had said many things to him, and he believed them all.
3. But Abraham’s was not alone receptive faith: his was a faith which obeyed the precept. The test of obedience was the strange command to take his only son and offer him up for a sacrifice, but he went to do it.
4. Abraham’s faith awakened in him great expectations. He was looking for an heir, from whom should spring a seed as the stars of heaven for multitude. We shall be full of expectation if we have strong faith: looking for blessings, expecting prayers to be answered, and promises to be fulfilled.
V. Strong faith is especially to be expected in certain quarters.
1. In those who know God. “They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee, for Thou Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee.”
2. Those who have had a long experience of Him. Speak well of the bridge which has carried you over so many times. Let those of us who have been twenty-five years in the ways of God put aside our childish doubts.
3. Those who have lived in fellowship with Him.
4. Those who are getting near to heaven. Do not let it be among the last memories of earth that you doubted your Beloved.
5. Teachers and preachers. We shall never win sinners to faith if we preach what we do not intensely believe. And I do not think we shall have many conversions unless we expect God to bless the word. It is the rule of His kingdom. “According to your faith so be it unto you.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Trusting the Promiser
Said Hester Ann Rogers: “By thus trusting the promise and the Promiser, I have conquered, and, glory be to God, through His strength I shall prevail. It is by hanging on Jesus, as an infant on its mother’s breast, I retain my peace, and love, and joy.”
John and Charles Wesley were once conversing about an important project, which they agreed was desirable, but Charles thought they could not do it. John thought they should attempt it. At length Charles said, “When God gives me wings I’ll fly.” John replied, “When God tells me to fly I’ll trust Him for the wings.” (H. K. Burton.)
Amongst us there may be a lack of faith. The unbelieving man is weak, and the believing man is strong. Faith pours vigour into the understanding, the judgment, the affection, and the will. In proportion to a man’s faith so is his power. This principle has been illustrated times without number, by the soldier on the battlefield, the sailor on the great deep, the traveller in other lands, and men in every department in life. Without strong faith, Hannibal never could have attempted the bold enterprise of crossing the Alps. Without strong faith, Columbus never could have sailed upon the untried waters, amid the insubordination of his crew. Without strong faith, Cook, Bruce and Livingstone never could have confronted and overcome such gigantic difficulties in unknown countries. Without strong faith in reason and science, Socrates and Galileo never could have been so daring and dauntless, so great and sublime. A mere sneerer--the man who sits in his easy chair, folds his arms, believes in nothing, and laughs at everything--could have done none of these things, and can do nothing for the improvement of the race worthy of a moment’s consideration. What steam is to the locomotive, or what life is to the body, faith is to successful action. (A. McAuslane.)
Faith glorifying God
The leading thought here is the connection of God’s glory with our faith. Having that faith, as the gift of God, we glorify Him. And being strong in that faith, we glorify Him all the more. To be glorifying to God, therefore, our faith--
I. Must have a promise of God to rest on. Human faith, not resting on a Divine promise, is either folly or fanaticism.
1. Even in the natural world this is true. We walk by faith; but it is by faith grounded on the promise that nature’s laws will operate with the regularity hitherto observed. Strong in that faith you walk safely, and glorify God. But if you disregard that promise, you rush into danger and dishonour God.
2. The promise to Abraham was fitted to try his capacity of believing to the uttermost. The only thing that could lessen the difficulty was that there could be no doubt as to the exact thing promised, or as to the particular person to whom it was promised. Ah! but one says, Give me a promise like that and I will not hesitate for a moment. But consider--
(1) May not Abraham’s words elsewhere be applicable here?--“If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” Is it clear that if I am not now complying with the gospel call, addressed to all sinners, I would comply with it more readily if it were addressed to me by name? And again, if forgiveness of sin, renewal, etc., are now felt to be intangible, would it obviate the difficulty to have them made up into a material packet which my hand may handle, my eye see, my mouth swallow? Called by name I might refuse as now; that would not make me willing, and if I got the blessings embodied in some sensible sign, it would be the embodiment alone that became mine. The blessings embodied would seem as shadowy as ever. Be sure that the call is personal and pointed enough, and that the promise is to be realised experimentally. Let us together taste and see that God is good.
(2) Understand clearly the object of faith of Abraham. Immediately it was a son in his old age. But surely he did not contemplate that barely in itself. He looked at it in its spiritual significancy; in its bearing on the fulfilment of the great original promise, which he had been told was to be fulfilled in his seed. But for that aspect of it, the promise could really have no meaning to him. In a worldly point of view, what need has he of this child, for whose birth the very laws of nature are to be suspended? For his own temporal prosperity, for the preservation of his name and memory in a numerous posterity, provision has been made already. The promise then is not merely that a son is to be born to him, but that in that son he is to see the day of Christ afar off with gladness. Viewed thus, Abraham’s faith really differs in no material respect from that which you are called to exercise. He has no promise on which his faith may lean more special and personal than you have; and what his faith has to lay hold of is the same unseen Saviour, and the same spiritual salvation that you have set before you in the gospel. And, simply relying, as you may rely, on the testimony of God concerning Him who is to be his seed in Isaac, he believes, and righteousness is imputed to him. Hence--
(3) Abraham’s case becomes now really ours. Or, if there is any difference, the advantage is with you. Abraham had presented to him an event future and conditional upon certain necessary antecedents (verses 19, 20). You have an accomplished fact (verse 24). Isaac is to be born; and in him is to be found the seed of the woman that is to bruise the serpent’s head: that is Abraham’s ground of hope. Christ is risen; the seed of woman having actually bruised the serpent’s head: that is yours.
II. Must be such as will be glorifying to God. My faith must have its root in a real personal dealing between God and me. He and I must meet personally, face to face; as truly as He and Abraham did. We must know one another; trust one another. No other kind of faith than that can be glorifying to Him. What! Shall I be contented that a member of my family should go about to satisfy himself by evidence from hearsay, or from circumstances. Is that a sort of faith which I can feel to be either complimentary or kind? Is it not, on the contrary, a bitter disappointment. For does it not show that I am held to be, not a friend, or father, who may be fondly resorted to, that I may be trusted and consulted; but at the best a suspected stranger, about whom it may be desirable to be informed?
III. Must be strong or in the way of becoming strong. Now, in considering this we must bear in mind the Lord’s own saying--“If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed … nothing shall be impossible with you.” The woman with an issue of blood was apparently not strong in faith. And yet her faith did a great thing for her, and surely God was greatly glorified through it. And indeed it was strong faith to say, “If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole,” for it was such immediate, personal dealing with the Lord that put all His power and love in operation on her behalf. The strength of Abraham’s faith consisted--
1. Negatively, in not considering what sense may urge against the promise (verses 19, 20). If he had considered these things he would have been weak in faith.
(1) Certainly they were formidable obstacles that had to be overcome by a miracle of power upon and a miracle of faith within him. Everything that he could see and know and feel, in nature and in himself, was against his believing. And what had he on the other side for believing? Simply God speaking; God promising. That, however, prevailed.
(2) But we must distinguish this “not considering” these difficulties from the mere shutting of the eyes to the fact of their existence. I may be so bent upon the attainment of an object as unconsciously to overlook all intervening obstacles, and fondly persuade myself that what I wish must be possible, simply because I wish it. Or I may be so impatient, foolhardy, as to be wilfully blind to everything but the gratifying of my heart’s desire. Not such was the faith of Abraham. He had full in view the obstacles in the way of the promise. And this was the very strength of his faith, that, having them full in view, he disregarded them.
(3) Alas! how is faith weakened and made to stagger by your considering what sense says or suggests against it.
(a) Am I called, as a sinner, to believe in Christ for the forgiveness of my sin and my peace with God? God Himself is telling me, not of a child to be born, but of the Child actually born; and not of His birth merely, but of His wondrous life and death; and of His rising from the dead, etc., God is telling me of this Christ as mine, if I will but have Him to be mine. Alas! I give heed to considerations that seem to make all this impossible. I am not worthy enough, or vile enough. I have not repentance enough, or faith enough. I will not make up my mind absolutely to reject Christ. But I stagger at the promise through unbelief. I stagger into unbelief. Is this giving glory to God?
(b) As regards a holy life, this evil is sorely felt. Ah! how am I tempted here to consider my own deadness; and so to consider it, as to put up with it, and make allowance for it. How apt am I to dwell on infirmities and hindrances; how ready to acquiesce in what I am, as if it were all I might be. How does all this interfere with my giving glory to God!
(c) For others my faith is to be exercised. I plead with God for a child, a brother, a friend. I have promises to plead. Ah! I can it be that here too I am hindered by my considering the suggestions of sense, and giving heed to difficulties and questions respecting his deadness and mine?
(d) For the seed of Abraham; for Him who is the seed of Abraham, and for all that is His; His cause and kingdom; the progress of His gospel; the winning of souls to Him; for all that, I am commanded to believe God. Alas! for my weakness in this faith. How do I consider the mountains that are in my way! For all this staggering the remedy is to be found, at least in part, in the negative way of not considering the difficulties which sense may raise.
2. Positively, notice what being strong in faith really is. It is simply being fully persuaded “that what He had promised He was able also to perform” (verse 21). Nay, but who doubts that? you ask. I at least never dream of calling in question the omnipotence of God. And yet I see not how that will of itself make me, or any man, strong in faith. Very true. But the faith in question is not believing something about God, but believing God. Ah! in that view it is everything, to be fully persuaded that what He has promised He is able also to perform. It is a blessed thing to remember that it is the Almighty who speaks to you, who bids you speak to Him. O ye of little faith, whereof do you doubt? Is anything too hard for Him who asks you to believe Him? Be, then, strong in this faith, giving glory to God. For it is faith in God’s power that most glorifies Him; it is distrust of His power which lies at the root of most of the unbelief that is so dishonouring to Him. “If Thou canst do anything,” we are apt to say, with the afflicted father. Let us ponder the gracious answer, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” And let us enter into the spirit of the gracious reply, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.” Conclusion: Lay to heart the ground of believing strongly. It is not that it gives peace, joy, salvation, but that it gives glory to God. To be weak in faith is not merely to miss or mar a privilege, but to dishonour the God whom you are bound to glorify. To be dwelling on hindrances standing in the way of His free word of promise; to be distrusting His ability to sweep them all away, and make His word of promise good; can anything be more fitted to affront the Almighty, the faithful, true, and loving Jehovah? Is it not literally and truly making him a liar? Beware of so great a sin. You may fancy that there is humility in it. You feel your own unworthiness and unsteadfastness so deeply that you dare not venture to be too confident or to presume. Presume!--the presumption is all the other way! The intolerable presumption is to refuse to take God at His word. Be clothed with humility. And that you may be clothed with humility, be not faithless but believing. Be strong in faith, giving glory to God. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
And being fully persuaded that what he had promised He was able also to perform.
Having full assurance (Luke 1:1; Romans 14:5; 2 Timothy 4:5; 2 Timothy 4:17). Metaphor from a ship carried forward with full sail, “Gave out all his canvas.” Ventured all on God’s word. Believed without hesitation or reserve. Full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22). Grounded on full assurance of understanding (Colossians 2:2). Conducts to full assurance of hope (Hebrews 6:11). Faith a filling grace. Unbelief empties and keeps empty. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The full persuasion of God’s ability
God’s ability the foundation of faith’s stability. Faith honours God by counting Him able (Job 42:2; Genesis 18:14; Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37; 1 Samuel 14:6; 2 Chronicles 14:11). (T. Robinson, D. D.)
Faith as a condition of receiving
Is it any wonder that, when we stagger at any promise of God through unbelief, we do not receive it? Not that faith merits the answer or in any way earns it, or works it out; but God has made believing a condition of receiving, and the giver has a sovereign right to choose his own terms of gift. (Samuel Hart.)
Now it was not written for his sake alone.
The Scriptures used by every generation
Do you ever think, as you pass along the chapters of the Bible, that they are now like the king’s highways; that more saints than tongue could count have walked along these pages toward heaven; that each verse has been a bosom like a mother’s to some child in Christ; that each verse has had in it blessings for multitude of souls; that these passages of hope and joy have made melody for thrice ten million struggling souls; that these Scriptures are a sublime renewal of the miracle of the loaf which increases by using, and which feeds without diminution? These unwasting chapters have supplied armies and multitudes of faint and hungry saints, but there is not a particle gone. There is as much yet for the famishing soul as when first they were set forth. To the end the loaf shall be broken, and shall yield a liberal abundance for every human want; and to the end the undiminished whole shall remain a witness and a miracle of the Divine spiritual bounty. (H. W. Beecher.)
Lessons of faith from Abraham
I. The end of our faith--deliverance from sin.
II. The basis of our faith--God’s promise--the death and resurrection of Christ.
III. The encouragement of our faith--Abraham’s example. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
As Abraham believed in life from the dead, so also we, because--
1. God gives us a pledge of it in the resurrection of Christ.
2. God promises to raise us from a death of sin to a life of righteousness.
3. Faith realises the resurrection power. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
It shall be imputed.--
A man is denominated righteous as a wall may be esteemed red or green. Now that comes to pass two manners of ways--either by the colour inherent and belonging to the wall itself, or by the same colour in some diaphanous, transparent body, as glass, which, by the beam of the sun shining on the wall, doth externally affect the same as if it were its own, and covers that true inherent colour which it hath of itself. In like manner, by the strict covenant of the law, we ought to be righteous from a righteousness inherent in and performed by ourselves; but in the new covenant of grace we are righteous by the righteousness of Christ, which shineth upon us, and presenteth us in His colour unto the sight of His Father. Here, in both covenants, the righteousness from whence the denomination groweth is the same, namely, the satisfying of the demands of the whole law; but the manner of our right and property thereunto is much varied. In the one we have right unto it by law, because we have done it ourselves; in the other we have right unto it only by grace and favour, because another man’s doing of it is bestowed upon us and accounted ours. (G. H. Salter.)
Christ’s imputed righteousness
We read in our chronicles that Edmund, surnamed Ironside and Canute, the first Danish king, after many encounters and equal fights, at length embraced a present agreement, which was made by parting England betwixt them two, and confirmed by oath and sacrament, putting on each other’s apparel and arms, as a ceremony, to express the atonement of their minds, as if they had made transactions of their persons to each other; Canute became Edmund, and Edmund became Canute. Even such a change of apparel is betwixt Christ and His Church--Christ and every true repentant sinner; He taketh upon Him their sins, and putteth upon them His righteousness; He changeth their rags into robes; He arrays them with the righteousness of the saints; that two-fold righteousness, imputed and imparted; that of justification, and the other of sanctification; that is an undercoat, this is an upper; that clean and fair, this white and fair; and both from Himself, who is made unto them not only “wisdom, but righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” (G. H. Salter.)
Jesus our Lord.
Jesus our Lord
1. It is the part of Faith to accept great contrasts, if laid down in the Word, and to make them a part of her daily speech. This name, “Lord,” is a great contrast to incarnation and humiliation. In the manger, in poverty, shame, and death, Jesus was still Lord.
2. These strange conditions for “our Lord” to be found in are no difficulties to that faith which is the fruit of the Spirit. For she sees in the death of Jesus a choice reason for His being our Lord (Philippians 2:7-11). “Wherefore God hath highly exalted Him.” She delights in that Lordship as the fruit of resurrection; but there could have been no resurrection without death (Acts 2:32-36). She hears the voice of Jehovah behind all the opposition endured by Jesus proclaiming Him Lord of all (Psalms 2:1-12; Psalms 110:1-7).
3. It never happens that our faith in Jesus for salvation makes us less reverently behold in Him the Lord of all. He is “Jesus” and also “our Lord.” “Born a child, and yet a King.” “My Beloved,” and yet “My Lord and my God.” Our simple trust in Him, our familiar love to Him, our hold approaches to Him in prayer, our near and dear communion with Him, and, most of all, our marriage union with Him, still leave him “our Lord.”
I. His tender condescensions endear the title. “Jesus our Lord” is a very sweet name to a believer’s heart.
1. We claim to render it to Him specially as man, “who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25). As Jesus of Nazareth He is Lord.
2. We acknowledge Him as Lord the more fully and unreservedly because He loved us and gave Himself for us.
3. In all the privileges accorded to us in Him He is Lord.
(1) In our salvation we have “received Christ Jesus the Lord” (Colossians 2:6).
(2) In entering the Church we find Him the Head of the body, to whom all are subject (Ephesians 5:23).
(3) In our life work He is Lord. “We live unto the Lord” (Romans 14:8). We glorify God in His name (Ephesians 5:20).
(4) In resurrection He is the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18).
(5) At the Advent His appearing will be the chief glory (Titus 2:13).
(6) In eternal glory He is worshipped forever (Revelation 5:12-13).
4. In our dearest fellowship at the table He is “Jesus our Lord.” It is the Lord’s table, the Lord’s supper, the cup of the Lord, the body and blood of our Lord; and our object is to show the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:20; 1 Corinthians 11:26-27; 1 Corinthians 11:29).
II. Our loving hearts read the title with peculiar emphasis.
1. We yield it to Him only. Moses is a servant, but Jesus alone is Lord. “One is your Master” (Matthew 23:8; Matthew 23:10).
2. To Him most willingly. Ours is delighted homage.
3. To Him unreservedly. We wish our obedience to be perfect.
4. To Him in all matter of law making and truth teaching. He is Master and Lord; His word decides practice and doctrine.
5. To Him in all matters of administration in the Church and in providence. “It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good” (1 Samuel 3:18).
6. To Him trustfully, feeling that He will act a Lord’s part right well. No king can be so wise, good, great as He (Job 1:21).
7. To Him forever. He reigns in the Church without successor. Now, as in the first days, we call Him Master and Lord (Hebrews 7:3).
III. We find much sweetness in the word “our.”
1. It makes us remember our personal interest in our Lord. Each believer uses this title in the singular, and calls Him from his heart, “My Lord.” David wrote, “Jehovah said unto my Lord.” Elisabeth spoke of “The mother of my Lord.” Magdalene said, “They have taken away my Lord.” Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.” Paul wrote, “The knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord,” etc.
2. It brings a host of brethren before our minds, for it is in union with them that we say “our Lord,” and so it makes us remember each other (Ephesians 3:14-15).
3. It fosters unity and creates a holy clanship as we all rally around our “one Lord.” Saints of all ages are one in this.
4. His example as Lord fosters practical love. Remember the foot washing and His words on that occasion (John 13:14).
5. Our zeal to make Him Lord forbids all self-exaltation. “Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ. Neither be ye called masters,” etc. (Matthew 23:8; Matthew 23:10).
6. His position as Lord reminds us of the confidence of the Church in doing His work. “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach,” etc. (Matthew 28:18-19). “The Lord working with them” (Mark 16:20).
7. Our common joy in Jesus as our Lord becomes an evidence of grace, and thus of union with each other (1 Corinthians 12:3). Conclusion:
1. Let us worship Jesus as our Lord and God.
2. Let us imitate Him, copying our Lord’s humility and love.
3. Let us serve Him, obeying His every command. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.--
An epitome of the gospel
I. Christ was delivered, etc.--the person--delivered--unto death--for our offences--by the determinate counsel of God.
II. Christ was raised, etc.--the fact--the design--because a demonstration of Divine power and grace, and a guarantee to faith. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The great substitute
During the Reign of Terror in trance, when many persons every day were being executed by the guillotine, a young man was led to the foot of the scaffold among others to die. His father stood by him, and when the son’s name was called the father stepped forward, ascended the scaffold, and died in his place. Here Christ is said to have died for us. Let us look at--
I. The cause of Christ’s death.
1. “Offences.” Sins. Transgressions. Sin is not a trifle to be forgotten. It is seed that bears terrible fruit. Someone is injured by every sin we commit. Sin harms ourselves and offends God.
2. “Our offences.” Christ Himself was without sin, but our sin was laid upon Him (Isaiah 23:6). Our sins are not one, but many. (Romans 5:16).
II. The manner of it.
1. “He was delivered,” that is, handed over like a criminal to the executioner. “Between two thieves.”
2. It was voluntary.
3. Preceded by great sufferings.
4. Painful beyond expression.
III. The virtue of it. It was a sufficient atonement. Christ did not fail in redeeming us. He was “raised again for our justification.”
IV. The claims of it. Such love claims our love and service. (Preacher’s Magazine.)
Christ’s deliverance and resurrection
I. Christ was delivered for our offences.
1. Whom was He delivered by?
(1) God (Acts 2:23).
2. What to?
(1) To shame (Isaiah 53:3).
(2) To pain (Isaiah 53:4-5).
(3) To death (Galatians 3:13).
3. What for? “Our offences.”
(1) All men are guilty (Psalms 14:3; Galatians 3:22).
(2) This guilt cannot be taken away but by satisfying God’s justice (Hebrews 9:22).
(3) No creature can satisfy it (Psalms 49:7-8).
(4) Hence Christ undertook it (1 Timothy 2:5).
(5) Neither could He do it but by suffering (Hebrews 9:22; Matthew 15:28; 1 Timothy 2:6).
(6) No suffering would serve the turn but death, and that on the Cross.
(7) By His death He hath satisfied for our offences (1 John 2:2; Romans 3:25 : Revelation 1:5).
(8) Hence our sins came to be pardoned; and so, He being delivered for us, we are delivered from our offences--
(a) As to their guilt (Matthew 1:21).
(b) As to their strength (Acts 3:26).
III. He was raised again for our justification.
1. How raised again? From death by God (Acts 2:23-24; Matthew 28:13-15; Luke 24:4-6).
(1) He was a real man.
(2) He really died (Matthew 27:50).
(3) He really rose again (Luke 24:37-40; John 20:27).
2. What is justification? A forensic term opposed to accusation (chap. 8:33).
(1) Man hath sinned (Romans 3:23).
(2) This he is accused for by--
(a) God’s justice.
(b) The law.
(d) Conscience (Romans 2:15; 1 John 3:20).
(3) Christ hath borne our punishment (Isaiah 53:6).
(4) He hath also performed obedience for us.
(5) This His righteousness is imputed to us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
(6) By this we are cleared from the charge brought against us.
(7) This is my justification.
3. In what sense did Christ rise for our justification, or what dependence hath our justification on Christ’s resurrection?
(1) Christ undertook to satisfy God’s justice for us.
(2) This He could not do but by suffering death.
(3) So long as dead, He had not done this (1 Corinthians 15:14).
(4) His rising again argued death conquered, and justice satisfied (Acts 2:24).
4. Therefore being risen He cleanses us from our sins and so justifies us.
1. Was Christ delivered? Then--
(1) Admire the mercy of God in delivering His Son for us.
(2) Be mindful of Him.
2. Is Christ risen? Then--
(1) We shall rise (1 Corinthians 15:12).
(2) Let us mind the things where He is (Colossians 3:1).
3. Did He rise for our justification? Then believe on Him that you may be justified (Romans 5:1).
(1) In the merits of His death.
(2) The truth of His resurrection.
(3) The constancy of His intercession. (Bp. Beveridge.)
The resurrection the Saviour’s recompense
The resurrection of our Lord is but one of that series of acts by which the Son of God is fulfilling the commission which He received from the Father to bring back to Him lost creation. We must never so fix our attention on the details of the work of Christ as to lose sight of its wholeness. It was not the first appearance of the Son of God as man which began that work; it was not His disappearance from mortal sight which completed it. Nor is it any one specific link of Christ’s appearance in the flesh on which the salvation of the world exclusively hangs; but on all of them taken together, inserted into, and mutually dependent on each other, as visible parts of that far greater invisible whole. And, accordingly, St. Paul makes mention of the resurrection of Jesus as consequent upon (not in order of time merely, but of relation) the death of Jesus; and this death, again, as consequent upon (in similar order of relation, and of cause and effect) the offences of mankind: “For” means on account of, as the result of, our offences, Christ was delivered by the Father to an expiatory death; and on account of, as the result of, our justification, that expiation having been thereby effected, Christ was raised again to everlasting life. Here, then, we see the resurrection of Jesus, connected not merely in the sequence of time, but in the consequence of cause and effect, with the expiatory death of Jesus. Wherein does the connection consist? I answer, the resurrection was vouchsafed by God to Jesus--
I. As the reward of that justifying death. This is a doctrine which St. Paul exhibits more clearly than by the single particle of our text in Philippians 2:9 (see also Psalms 91:14; Psalms 91:14; Isaiah 53:11-12; Hebrews 12:21). And here we have an instance of God’s general principle of conduct towards His people. He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Them that honour Him He will honour. “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love which ye have showed towards His name.” “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” And we must not let the thought lie idle in our minds; we must live upon it by an appropriating faith. Faith in the absolute certainty and constant exercise of God’s moral and retributive government, gives life and spirit to our energies, and patient perseverance to our struggles.
II. As the public testimony from God of its efficacy and acceptance. Jesus had undertaken a mighty work--no less than the taking away the sin of the world; and the assurance of the full sufficiency and complete acceptance of His sacrifice is essential to our faith, and peace, and holiness. As, therefore, God vouchsafed to testify His acceptance of preceding offerings, so, by raising up His Son, did He testify that the justifying act was done and was sufficient, that access to His presence was procured for every penitent, that we may now have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. When Abraham offered sacrifice God vouchsafed to give him visible testimony of its acceptance (Genesis 15:17-18). When Moses and the Israelites offered burnt offerings to the Lord then “they saw the God of Israel--they saw God and did eat and drink.” When Elijah had prepared the burnt sacrifice then “the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice,” etc. And so, too, after the sacrifice of Jesus was offered, then came there the sign from heaven; then was there the public proclamation--now, by facts, of what had been already told in words--“This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee!” Oh, let the anxious penitent, who feels that on his justification through the merits of Christ must ever hang all his peace and hope, look with thankful adoration to the testimony given thereto. “He was raised again for”--for having wrought out and completed--“our justification”; and that raising again is the public manifesto from the court of heaven that the act is registered and recognised before the throne of God. Does anyone urge that his particular justification could not have been accomplished before his repentance and faith? Then observe that our personal faith is not the antecedent to our justification, but simply the recipient of that which has been wrought out for us by Jesus only, on the Cross. It is the benefits of justification to the individual penitent that depends upon his laying hold of that free gift which has been prepared for him. What he needs is simply warrant to return to God; and, therefore, when he is turning, what more is requisite for him to do but to lift the eye of faith, and see that the path is open, that the barriers between him and his God have been long ago removed; that the new and living way has been consecrated through the veil; that is to say, Christ’s flesh; and, therefore, that he has only to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith? Your state of justification, your feelings of acceptance and adoption, depend, indeed, on having in your bosom the scroll of pardon, sealed with Jesus’s blood; and your continuance in the enjoyment of that state depends on your frequent looking at it, and your watchful preservation of it: but the act of justification--it has been already achieved; the pardon itself--it has already passed the great seal; the scroll in which it is recorded--it has been already exhibited on the Cross of Jesus; and you cannot write, nor seal, nor countersign it. Look up then upon the record and leap for joy; behold the public testimony of it, and “bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of His abundant mercy hath begotten you again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
III. As the pledge that all who realise in themselves the efficacy of that death shall be similarly rewarded with participation in that resurrection. Jesus died, not as an individual only, but as the substitute and representative of guilty man; and Jesus was raised again, not as an individual only, but as the head and’ representative of pardoned men; and consequently as we realise the efficacy of His death, so does the fact which Easter commemorates assure us that we shall realise the glory of His resurrection (Romans 6:5-10). (T. Griffith, A. M.)
Christ raised for our justification
Justification (in the full sense of the word) is the holding righteous, not merely the not holding guilty. The man who is justified is not merely not condemned, he is actually accounted to be righteous. And the apostle, in the text, connects the former with the death, the latter with the resurrection, of Christ. By that, the record of our sins is blotted out from God’s book; by this, there is conveyed to us our title to a place in His eternal and glorious kingdom. Why is our justification thus associated with the Resurrection, as our forgiveness is with the Passion? In answer, remember that there are three moments in the act of redemption as manifested in time, and that these are severally embodied in the nativity, the passion, and the resurrection of Christ. Now--
1. Man is alienated from God, and the question is how shall he be set at one with God? The method which God devised was the personal union of Deity and humanity in the Word made flesh. And thus the mystery of the Incarnation marks the first step in this Divine process of restitution.
2. But the union of the human race with God in the unity of the Incarnate Son, is merely inchoate and partial, while there remains the barrier of sin. And therefore, “God sending His own Son in the flesh, and for sin” (i.e., as a sin offering)
, “condemned sin in the flesh.” Christ died for us, and we in Him; and at His death “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” And thus the Incarnation and the Atonement are each the necessary complement of the other. The Incarnation was necessary that the Atonement might be effected as it was effected: the Atonement was necessary to carry out the work of the Incarnation.
3. But are we at liberty to stop here? Shall we say that the Consummatum est of Calvary marked the completion and close of our redemption, as it symbolised that of our Redeemer’s atoning sacrifice? Not so. By His act of self-immolation Christ threw down the barriers of sin; by it He continually is and will be throwing them down until all things are put under His feet. And therefore He “was delivered for our offences.” But the very act by which those barriers were thrown down impaired the personal union of God and man in Christ. For, although neither the soul nor the body of the Saviour during their temporary separation ceased to be in union with the Divine Word, yet, as Pearson says, “As far … as humanity consists in the essential union of the parts of human nature, so far the humanity of Christ upon His death did cease to be, and consequently He ceased to be man.” Accordingly, the great sacrifice of the Cross removed the obstacle to carrying out the process of restitution initiated in the Incarnation, at the price of partially reversing the Incarnation itself. The work of redemption had indeed gone a step forward, but it had also gone a step backward. A remedy had been provided for sin, but the remedy had left results which needed a further remedy.
4. And then came the Resurrection, which not only set its seal to the Incarnation and the Atonement, but completed the work of both.
(1) Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power,” and the Incarnation itself began anew when God “raised up Jesus again”; as it is written, “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.”
(2) As the atonement on the Cross, by the condemnation of sin in the flesh, purchased for man the non-imputation of sin, and cleared the way for the imputation to him of righteousness--so, from the Incarnation restored and perfected in our risen Lord, flows forth to His redeemed and believing people, both the imputation and also the reality of positive righteousness. Conclusion: In speaking as I do of the power of His resurrection, I am not merely using the language of technical theology, but that of Holy Scripture itself. We are told that baptized and believing Christians were crucified with Christ, died with Him, were planted together in the likeness of His death, were buried with Him by baptism into death, are dead unto sin--and then, on the Other hand, that God brought us to life with Christ, and raised us up with Him, and seated us together with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that we may now reckon ourselves “to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” So again, the same apostle who tells us all this, also says, “that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified”--the word is here used in its negative sense--“by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” And in like manner St. Peter tells us that “Baptism doth now save us … by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” and opens his Epistle with a triumphant burst of thanksgiving (1 Peter 1:3-4). (Bp. Basil Jones.)
Christ risen our justification
I. The death and resurrection of Christ have each their own efficacy and distinct gift.
1. That death paid the ransom for the whole world, but the world lay as yet in darkness and sin. In that awful night, when the first fruits of our redemption, the pardoned malefactor, was by Christ’s side in Paradise, and He brought that blessed tidings to the righteous departed who had so long awaited His coming, how lay our earth? Apostles dismayed and perplexed; Peter weeping his fall; the blood of the Redeemer resting on the Jews and their children; the chief priests seeking to secure the past by further sin; the sun gone down at noon, with drawing itself from witnessing man’s extremest sin. The mercy of the Redemption had been accomplished, but the ransomed were not as yet set free. They were “yet in their sins.” For this blessed day it was reserved to bring life out of death, to “bring out the prisoners from the prison,” and “let the oppressed go free,” “to bring in everlasting righteousness.” His death atoned for us; His resurrection justifies us.
2. What St. Paul declares here, he teaches elsewhere (1 Corinthians 15:17). He says not merely if Christ be not risen no proof hath been given that His atonement hath been accepted, but “your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins”; the world’s sin has been atoned for, but the cleansing blood has not reached to you. The Cross, then, did not at once justify us. Before, all in a manner looked on to it (Revelation 13:8). Since all looks back to it, all flows from it (Revelation 5:12). Yet such was the will of God, that it should not by itself directly convey the mercies it obtained. What He purchased for us by His death He giveth us through His life. It is our living Lord who imparts to us the fruits of His own death (John 10:17; Revelation 1:18). As truly, then, as the death of Christ was the true remission of our sins, though not yet imparted to us, so truly was His resurrection our true justification imparting to us the efficacy of His death, and justifying us, or making us righteous in the sight of God.
II. Scripture tells us how the resurrection is to us the source of justification and life.
1. It was the especial promise of the resurrection that our Lord would thereby come into a closer relation with “His disciples, no longer to be in outward presence with them, but to be in them and be their life” (John 14:17-23).
2. And with this agrees the language in which the blessings of the gospel are, in such a marked and repeated way, afterwards expressed, that we are in Christ Jesus, and that His Spirit dwelleth in us. But we can be “in Christ” only by His taking us into Him by His Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:5). Again, as our Lord declared, “I am the Life,” so St. Paul says, having been “crucified with Christ,” “it is not I which live, but Christ liveth in me,” “your life is hid with Christ in God.”
3. These are indeed all one gift, variously spoken of according to our various needs, or deaths. It is life, as opposed to our state of death in sin; righteousness, whereas we were unrighteous; sanctification, since we were unholy; redemption, as Satan’s captives; wisdom, as become brutish; truth, as in error; but the one gift in all is our Incarnate Lord, who is Himself “made unto us Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption”; “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He doth not merely give these gifts as gifts, precious indeed, yet still outward to and without Himself. He Himself is them, and all to us. These are the gifts which, as man, He received, to shed down abundantly on man, through His risen and glorified humanity.
4. So, further, St. Paul speaks of the knowledge of Christ, and of “the power of His resurrection,” as the fruit of being “found in Him,” and of “the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwelling in” us, and of “the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” being “according” or conformable “to the working of the might of His power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead”; in all cases bringing our life close to the resurrection, and showing how the same Spirit, whereby His body was raised, is communicated to us, and that, because we are in Him, taken unto Him by His indwelling Spirit, and having the Spirit, because “in Him.” This, then, is the sum of what Holy Scripture teaches many ways. All salvation, forgiveness, overcoming of death, restoration to life, oneness with God; all treasures of wisdom, mercy, and righteousness, and holiness lay in His atoning blood; but, that they might be applied to us, He in whom they were must come to us and take Us unto Himself. What in Himself He is, that to us He becometh, by dwelling in us, that we may dwell in Him. And of these gifts His resurrection was the pledge and beginning. It was the earnest that that same Spirit, through which His holy body was raised, should be diffused through that whole body which He purposed to join to Himself, the Head. It was the commencement of that, of which the day of Pentecost was the fulfilment; and thus our weekly festival is at once that of the rising of our Lord, and His coming to us by the Spirit. On the Cross our Lord gave Himself for us; through the resurrection He giveth Himself to us. On the Cross, He was the Lamb which was slain for the sins of the world: in the resurrection, that body which was slain became life giving. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
On the Sacro Monte, at Varallo, is a supposed imitation of the sepulchre of the Lord Jesus. It was a singular thing to stoop down and enter it, of course finding it empty, like the one which it feebly pictured. What a joyful word was that of the angel, “He is not here!” Sweet assurance--millions of the dead are here in the sepulchre, thousands of saints are here in the grave, but He is not here. If He had remained there, then all manhood had been forever imprisoned in the tomb, but He who died for His Church, and was shut up as her hostage, has risen as her representative, surety, and head, and all His saints have risen in Him, and shall eventually rise like Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent