Abraham's faith was imputed to him for righteousness before he was circumcised. By faith alone he and his seed received the promise. Abraham is the father of all that believe. Our faith also shall be imputed to us for righteousness.
Anno Domini 58.
THE Apostle having, in the preceding chapter, shewn the impossibility of man's being justified meritoriously by obedience to any law, moral or ceremonial, judged it necessary, for the sake of the Jews, to consider more particularly the merit and efficacy of ceremonial performances. For these having no foundation in the nature of things, the only motive from which they can be performed, must be a regard to the divine command. Hence they have always been considered as acts of piety highly pleasing in the sight of God. This was the case more especially with the Jews, who, because the rites of Moses were of divine appointment, thought the observance of them so meritorious, that they had not the least doubt of obtaining justification and salvation by them: and therefore theywere at all times more careful in observing the rites of the law, than in performing the moral righteousness which it enjoined.
To correct this, which is the error of the superstitious in all religions, the Apostle examined the justification of Abraham, the father of believers; and shewed from Moses's account, that his circumcision, though performed when he was ninety-nine years old, had notthe least influence in his justification; he having obtained the promise of justification by means of his faith, long before he was circumcised. To this example, the Apostle appealed with great propriety, both because circumcision was the most difficult of all the rites enjoined in the law, and because, Abraham being the father of believers, his justification is the pattern of theirs. Wherefore, if circumcision contributed nothing towards Abraham's justification, the Jews could not hope to be justified thereby, nor by the other rites of the law; and were much to blame in pressing these rites on the Gentiles, as necessary to their salvation, and in consigning all to damnation who were out of the pale of the Jewish church.
The Apostle begins his reasonings on this subject, with asking the Jews what it was that Abraham, the father of believers, obtained by those services pertaining to the flesh, which they so highly valued, Romans 4:1.—He did not obtain justification: for if Abraham were justified by the merit of any moral or ceremonial work, he might have boasted that his justification was no favour, but a debt due for what he had performed. Yet in this transaction with God, he had no such ground of boasting, Romans 4:2.—As is plain from God's counting his faith to him for righteousness; which implies, that in rewarding him as a righteous person, God did not discharge a debt, but bestow a favour, Romans 4:3.—For the person who works receives the reward, not as a favour, but as a debt, Romans 4:4.—But to one who is not said to have wrought, but to have believed what was promised by God, whose prerogative it is to justify sinners, his faith is counted for righteousness, by mere favour, Romans 4:5.—Wherefore, from Moses's account of the justification of Abraham, it appears that he was justified freely, without meriting it by any kind of work whatever; consequently that the Gospel method of justification is testified by the law itself, as the Apostle affirmed, chap. Romans 3:21.
The same thing is terrified by the prophets. For David nowhere represents men as justified before God, either by obeying the precepts of God's law perfectly, or by performing circumcision, or byoffering sacrifice, or by doing any of those rites which purify the flesh; but he describes the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord counteth righteousness without such works; saying, (Psalms 32:1-2.) Blessed, like Abraham, are they whose iniquities are forgiven, Romans 4:7.—And to whom the Lord will not count sin, Romans 4:8.—From this it appears, that the not counting of sin is the same with the counting of righteousness, as it obtains pardon for the sinner for all his transgressions.
In chap. 2: the Apostle, by arguments taken from the character and perfections of God, had proved that the heathens may be saved, though they never have enjoyed any external revelation, nor were members of God's visible church. But this doctrine, it seems, the Jews rejected, on pretence that it was contrary to their scriptures. Wherefore, to shew the falsehood of that pretence, the Apostle, after describing the justification of Abraham, introduced the subject of thesalvation of heathens anew, by asking, Cometh this blessedness of justification on the circumcision only, or on the uncircumcision also? and demonstrated the possibility of the salvation of the heathen, though no members of God's visible church, by observing thatAbraham had his faithcounted to him for righteousness, and received the promise of the inheritance in uncircumcision; that is, while he was no member of any visible church, neither performed any ritual service whatever, Romans 4:10.—For it happened full thirteen years before he and his family were made the visible church of God by circumcision
But because the Jews might ask, if Abraham obtained the promise of justification before he was circumcised, why was that rite enjoined to him? The Apostle told them, it was enjoined merely as aseal, or confirmation on God's part, of his counting to him for righteousness that faith which Abraham had exercised in uncircumcision, and of his having made him the father or federal head of all the faithful who are out of God's visible church, to assure us, that their faith, like his, shall be counted to them for righteousness, and rewarded with the inheritance of the heavenly country, of which Canaan was the type, though they be no members of any visible church of God, Romans 4:11.—a seal also or proof of his being the father of all who believe in the visible church, to give them the same assurance concerning their faith, provided that, to their outward profession of faith, they join such an obedience to God, as Abraham exercised while he was out of the visible church, Romans 4:12.—Thus, as in the second chapter the Apostle had established the doctrine of the salvation of the heathens by faith, without arguments drawn from revelation, so in this chapter he establishes the same doctrine by arguments taken from revelation. And by both he has expressly condemned the bigotry of all, who, like the Jews, confine salvation to their own church, or mode of faith; and has beautifully illustrated the righteousness and impartiality of God's moral government of the world.
Farther, To shew that the whole body of the ritual services enjoined by Moses, taken together, had no influence to procure salvation for the Jews, the Apostle told them, that the promise to Abraham and to his seed, that they should be heirs of Canaan, and of the heavenly country typified by Canaan, was not given them by a righteousness of law; that is, by an immaculate obedience to any law, whether moral or ceremonial, but by a righteousness of faith, Romans 4:13.—For if they who are righteous by an immaculate obedience to law, are heirs either of the earthly or of the heavenly country, their faith is of no use in obtaining it; and the promise by which the inheritance is bestowed on them as a free gift, has no influence at all in the matter, contrary to the express declaration of Scripture, Romans 4:14.—Besides, in the nature of the thing, no one who has ever transgressed law, can obtain the inheritance through law. For law, instead of rewarding, worketh wrath to every transgressor, and among the rest to the heirs, not excepting Abraham himself, who by receiving the inheritance as a free gift, was shewn to be, not an innocent person, but a transgressor of some law or other, namely, of the law written on his heart. For where no law is, there is no transgression, nor treatment of persons as transgressors, Romans 4:15.—To these things add, that the promise was bestowed on Abraham and his seed, not by an immaculate obedience to any law, either natural or revealed, butby faith, that the inheritance promised might be a free gift, and be made sure to all persevering believers: not to those only, who enjoy an external revelation, but to those also who, like Abraham, believe out of God's visible church: for the inheritance was promised to them in the person of Abraham, who in uncircumcision was made the father or federal head of such believers, for the purpose of receiving that promise on their behalf, Romans 4:16.—according to what God said to him, A father of many nations I have constituted thee, Romans 4:17.—This great honour was done to Abraham on account of the excellency of his faith; Romans 4:18-21.—For which reason it was counted to him for righteousness, and he received the promise of the inheritance, Romans 4:22.—Now God directed Moses to record this, not for Abraham's sake alone, but for ours also, if we believe in Him who raised Jesus from the dead, Romans 4:23-24.—who was delivered to death to make atonement for our offences, and was raised again for our justification, Romans 4:25.
Thus it appears that the method of justifying sinners, by accepting their faith in place of immaculate obedience which law requires, and by rewarding it as if it were a perfect righteousness flowing from perfect innocence, is no new way of salvation. It was appointed at the fall for Adam and all his posterity, and was then obscurely revealed in the promise that the Seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent: afterwards it was more explicitly declared in the covenant with Abraham, wherein God promised to give to him and to his seed by faith, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, the land of Canaan for an everlasting inheritance, as the reward of their faith. Wherefore, when the Jews in generaldenied salvation to the believing Gentiles, unless they entered into their church by receiving circumcision, they shewed great ignorance of the method of salvation which was established at the fall, and which was made known to themselvesin the covenant with Abraham. And when they refused to be united with the believing Gentiles, into one body, or church, they rebelled against God, and for their disobedience were justly cast off: while a few of their brethren, more obedient to God, continued his people; and the Gentiles, who believed the Gospel, were incorporated with them, as joint members of the covenant with Abraham; and both together formed that great community called the Israel of God, and the church of the first-born. Wherefore, in the article of man's justification, the Mosaic and Christian revelations perfectly agree.
Romans 4:1. What shall we then say— In the foregoing chapter the Apostle has proved, that neitherJews nor Gentiles have a right to the blessings of God's peculiar kingdom, otherwise than by grace, which is free to the one, as well as the other. In this chapter he advances to a new argument, admirably adapted to convince the Jew; to shew the believingGentile in a clear light the high value of the mercies freelybestowed upon him in the Gospel, and at the same time to display the wondrous plans of the providence and grace of God. His argument is taken from Abraham's case. Abraham was the father and head of the Jewish nation. God pardoned him through faith, and took him and his seed into his especial covenant, and bestowed upon them many extraordinary blessings above the rest of the world. Thus he was justified through faith; and it is evident he was justified not upon the footing of obedience to law, or the rule of right action, but in the only way a sinner can be justified,—by the favour of the Law-giver. Now this is the very same way in which the Gospel saves the believing Gentiles, and gives them a part in the blessings of God's covenant. Why then should the Jews so violently oppose the Gentiles being interested in those blessings?—Especially if it be farther observed, that the believing Gentiles are actually included in the promise made to Abraham, and the covenant established with him; for at the time God entered into covenant with Abraham, he considered him as the head, not of one nation only, but of many nations (Genesis 17:4.). As for me, behold my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be, with regard to this my covenant, the father of many, or a multitude of nations; consequently, the covenant being made with Abraham, as the head or father of many nations, all in any nation, who should stand upon the same religious principle with him, were his seed, and with him interested in the covenant that God made with him: but he stood only upon the footing of faith in the mercy of God through the seed of the woman, pardoning his sins and graciously bestowing extraordinary blessings; and upon this footing also the believing Gentiles stand in the Gospel; therefore they are the seed of Abraham, and included in the covenant of promise made to him. Now to all this the Apostle knew very well it would be objected, that it was not faith alone which gave Abraham a right to the blessings of the covenant; but his obedience to the law of circumcision; which, being peculiar to the Jewish nation, gave them also, and them alone, an interest in the Abrahamic covenant: consequently, whoever among the Gentiles would be interested in that covenant, ought to embrace Judaism, and, as the only ground of their right, perform obedience to the law of circumcision, and so come under the obligations to the whole law. With this objection the Apostle introduces his argument, ver. l, 2.; shews that, according to the Scripture account, Abraham was justified by faith, Romans 4:3-5.; explains the nature of that justification by a quotation out of the Psalms, Romans 4:6-9.; proves that Abraham was justified long before he was circumcised, Romans 4:9-11.; that the believing Gentiles are his seed, to whom the promise belongs, as well as to the believing Jews, Romans 4:12-17.; and describes Abraham's faith, in order to explain the faith of the Gospel; Romans 4:17 to the end. See Locke.
Abraham our father— Father is of an extensive and emphatical signification in the Hebrew: amongst other things, it signifies a person who is first in the invention, use, or enjoyment of any thing, with regard to those who imitate him, or derive from him any particular custom or advantage. Genesis 4:20-21. Jabal was the father of shepherds; Jubal was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. Abraham is the father of all them that believe, Romans 4:11 and the father of us all, Romans 4:16.: namely, as he was the first to whom the grant or promise of extraordinary blessings was made upon his faith, and as all that believe are included in that promise, and are justified in the same way that he was. In this sense the Jew here calls Abraham our father; meaning, not only as the Jews were naturally descended, but as they heldall their privileges from him, were included in the promises made to him, and must be justified as he was. Thus we must understand our father, to give the Jew's argument its proper sense and force; and this he meant according to his own narrow notion, as if Abraham, in this respect, was father to the Jews only, and to no other people. But the Apostle proves that he was, in this respect,—namely as the head and pattern of justification,—the father of all them that believe, whether
Heathens or Jews. The expression, as pertaining to the flesh, or with respect to the flesh, evidently relates to circumcision, and the obligation it laid upon the Jews: for in the flesh,—after the flesh,—or appertaining to the flesh, are thus frequently used;—Galatians 6:12. 1 Corinthians 10:18. 2 Corinthians 5:16; 2 Corinthians 11:18. Philippians 3:3. This was the Jew's glorying in the flesh, and is sufficient to point out the sense of Abraham's finding or obtaining, as appertaining to or after the flesh, that whereof he had καυχημα, to glory. See chap. Romans 3:27 and on Romans 2:17. It is what the Jews suppose he procured from God, for his obedience to the law of circumcision, and for answering the peculiar obligations he was thereby brought under; as farther appears from Romans 4:9-12 where, arguing against the Jew's objection started here in the first and second verses, he asks, How was faith reckoned to Abraham?—when he was in circumcision or uncircumcision?—Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision, &c. Now as this reason is undoubtedly full to the purpose of the Jew's objection, it confirms, or rather makes necessary, the sense we have given of the phrase before us.
Romans 4:2. But not before God— This appears to be the Apostle's answer to the Jew's objection (Romans 4:1-2.), and it implies that Abraham might have some sort of glorying, possibly such as the Apostle himself had, 1 Corinthians 9:15. 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 10:18; 2 Corinthians 11:16-30. The Apostle had glorying in his superior vouchsafements and labour, but only before men, and with respect to them; not before God, in regard to whom his language was, Not I, but the grace of God. Note farther, that before God hints, that the Apostle considers Abraham as standing in the court before God's tribunal, when the promise was given him. It perhaps would make this passage clearer, if the present verse ended with the word glory, and the third began with the clause before us. See Raphelius.
Romans 4:3. It was counted— The original word ' Ελογισθη, in our translation, is rendered counted, reckoned, Romans 4:4, &c. and imputed, Romans 4:6, &c.: but as the word and the sense are constantly the same, it would certainly have been better to have rendered it constantly by one word; and reckoned seems as proper as any other. Indeed this is a remark which may be extended to many other words; as it would certainly help the English reader to find out and pursue the sense of Scripture, if the same original word were every where rendered by the same English word.
Romans 4:4. Of grace— Of favour. Raphelius has shewn that the Greek word ΄ισθος does not only mean a reward of debt, but also a gift of favour; and that the phrase
μισθον δωρεην, occurs in Herodotus: so that a reward of grace or favour is a classical as well as theological expression.
Romans 4:5. The ungodly— Abraham is the subject of the Apostle's discourse; and he plainly hints, though he did not choose to speak out, that even Abraham before his conversion was chargeable with not paying due reverence and worship to God, as the word ' Ασεβης, which we render ungodly, properly imports. See on chap. Romans 1:18.
Romans 4:8. Blessed is the man, &c.— See on Psalms 32:1-2 and the Inferences. Will not impute sin] What the imputing or reckoning of righteousness is, Romans 4:6 may be seen in this verse, namely. "the not reckoning of sin to any one;"—"the not putting sin to his account;" the Apostle, in these verses, using the expressions as equivalent. Hence the expression of blotting out iniquity, so frequently used in sacred Scripture, may be understood; that is, the striking it out of the account. The Greek word Λογιζεσθαι, signifies to reckon or account; and, with a dative case, to put to any one's account. See Locke on Romans 4:3 and the note on Romans 4:22.
Romans 4:10. Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision— Faith was reckoned to Abraham for justification, Genesis 15:6 but circumcision was not instituted till about fourteen or fifteen years after that, Genesis 17:1-2; Genesis 17:27 for faith was reckoned to Abraham for justification before Ishmael was born, at least one year. Compare Genesis 15:16 : At Ishmael's birth, he was eighty-six years of age (Genesis 16:16.); and at the institution of circumcision, Ishmael was thirteen, and Abraham ninety-nine years old. See Genesis 17:24-25.
Romans 4:11. And he received the sign of circumcision— Hence it appears, that the covenant established with Abraham, Genesis 17:2-14 is the same with that, Genesis 12:2-3 and Genesis 15:5; Genesis 15:21. For circumcision was not a seal of any new grant, but of the justification which Abraham had received before he was circumcised; and that justification included the Gospel covenant, in which we are now interested: for the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify us heathens through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed, Galatians 3:8. Genesis 12:3. The whole of the Apostle's argument in this chapter proves, that we believing Gentiles are the seed of Abraham, to whom, as well as to himself, the promise was made; consequently it is the Abrahamic covenant in which we now stand; and any argument taken from the nature of that covenant, and applied to ourselves, must be good and valid. It is also undeniably evident from this verse, as well as from Genesis 17 l-11 that circumcision was a seal or sign of the covenant of grace, and not merely of temporal promises; which consequently obviates the most considerable objection that has ever been urged against Infant Baptism. Mr. Locke observes, that the Apostle's sense, at the close of this verse, properly runs thus: "That he might be the father of the Gentiles who believe, though they be not circumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also." Romans 4:12. "And the father of the Jews, that righteousness might be imputed, not to them who have circumcision only, but to them who also walk in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham, which he had being uncircumcised."
Romans 4:13. The heir of the world— Abraham and his seed together are the heir of the world; for the promise is made to both; and the original word αυτου includes both: and his seed, in the next verse, are called heirs as well as he; that is to say, heirs of the world, not lords and possessors of it, as some suppose. The world, we conceive, must here be considered as a great family, and Abraham and his seed as the heir or heirs, to whom, by the free donation of God, belonged the birth-right, the double portion of the father's goods, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power, Genesis 43:33; Genesis 49:3. Deuteronomy 21:15-17. Agreeably to this sentiment, the Lord styles the whole body of the Israelites his son, his first-born, or heir; Exodus 4:22. Jeremiah 31:9. Hence the Christian church or congregation is called the church of the first-born, Hebrews 12:23 which is the thing the Apostle demonstrates in this chapter; namely, that we are heirs, or the first-born of the world, as we are by faith the seed of Abraham, to whom the promise was made, at the same time that it was made to him. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise; Galatians 3:29. This is a very just as well as a very beautiful way of representing the extraordinary privileges and blessings vouchsafed to the peculiar congregation and people of God: for, first, this gives us a clear idea in what sense the Apostle is here speaking of the justification both of Abraham and his seed; for the promise to Abraham and his seed, that he should be the heir of the world, is manifestlythat justification, about which the Apostle is arguing from the beginning of the chapter. This, secondly, shews in what light we are to view the Gentiles, or those parts of the world who are not taken into the congregation of God; namely, not as wholly excluded from his favour and blessing, but as enjoying a less degree of advantage. The heir in the family possessed a double portion of the father's goods, but the rest of the children had some share of the substance: so it is with the heathen; they have their part of God's blessing, though we, as the first-born, enjoy the double portion. This also, thirdly, shews with how much propriety the Apostle uses the instance of Esau, Hebrews 12:16-17 to caution Christians against the contempt and abuse of their present privileges. Esau, as Jacob's heir or first-born, had a birth-right, an invaluable blessing, which for one morsel of meat he sold, and lost for ever; and we also, as the first-born, or heirs of our heavenly Father, have a birthright, even the revelation and promises of all the blessings of the Gospel-covenant. This is our great happiness above the heathen, who have not the promises and grace of this covenant revealed to them: but we may forfeit this birth-right, and shall certainly lose it for ever, if we prefer the pleasures of sin before the favour of God, and that eternal life which he has given us in Jesus Christ our Lord; and then the virtuous heathen, who, through the secret influences of the Spirit of God, sincerely improves his lesser share of the divine goodness, shall, in the life to come, be received into the kingdom of God, through the alone merits of the Saviour of the world, while the profane and wicked Christian, who receives the grace of God in vain, shall be cast into outer darkness.
Romans 4:14. For if they which are of the law be heirs— The Apostle here speaks of the performance of the law, with reference to a moral impossibility: for it seems evident from what follows, that the law is to be considered as insisting on an obedience absolutely perfect: so that those good men who were justified under it, were not justified by it, but by the dispensation of grace under which Abraham was; which, though not a part of the covenant of God by Moses, was not, and could not be abrogated by it. See Galatians 3:17 and Doddridge.
Romans 4:15. Where no law is, &c.— "Of that concerning which there is no law, with the sanction of a punishment annexed, there can be no transgression, incurring wrath or punishment." Thus it may be rendered, if we read the original word ου, with an aspiration, as some do: but whether it be taken to signify where or whereof, the sense will be the same; for the Greek word παραβασις here, to make St. Paul's argument of force, must signify such a transgression as draws upon the transgressor wrath and punishment by the force and sanction of a law; and so the Apostle's proposition is made good,—that it is the law alone which exposes us to wrath, and that it is all which the law in this sense can do, for it gives us no power to perform. Locke.
Romans 4:16. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace— By favour. Here it should be well observed, that faith and favour do mutually and necessarily infer each other; for the grace or favour of God in its own nature requires faith in us, and faith on our part in its own nature supposes the grace or favour of God. If any blessing is the free gift of God in order to influence our temper and behaviour, then in the very nature of things it is necessary that we be sensible of this blessing, and persuaded of the grace of God who bestows it; otherwise, it is not possible we should improve it. On the other hand, if faith in the goodness or favour of God, with regard to any blessing, is the principle of our religious hopes and actions, then it follows, that the blessing is not due in strict justice, or uponthe footing of law; but that it is the free gift of divine goodness. If the promise to Abraham, constituting him and his seed the heirs or first-born of the world, is of faith on our part, then is it by favour on the part of God; and it is of faith that it might be by favour. Favour, being the mere good-will of the donor, is free and open to all whom he chooses to make the objects of it: and the divine wisdom appointed faith to be the condition of that promise, because faith, or a persuasion of the truth of the promise, is on our part the most simple principle; bearing an exact correspondence to grace or favour, and reaching as far as that can extend; that so the happy effects of that promise might spread far and wide, take in the largest compass, and be confined by no condition, but what is merely necessary in the nature of things. See Bengelius, and Calmet. Mr. Locke observes, that the grammatical constructionat the beginning of this verse does not seem much to favour inheritance, as the word to be supplied, (therefore the inheritance is of faith,) because it does not occur in the preceding verses; but he that observes St. Paul's way of writing, who more regards things than forms of speaking, will be satisfied that it is enough that he mentions heirs, Romans 4:13-14. And that he means inheritance here, is put past a doubt by Galatians 3:18.
Romans 4:17. As it is written, &c.— That Abraham's being the father of many nations, has relation to the covenant that God made with him, may be seen Genesis 17:4-5. Behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations: neither shall thy name any more be called Abram; but thy name shall be Abraham: for a father of many nations have I made or constituted thee, by virtue of my covenant with thee. Dr. Doddridge, instead of, before him whom he believed, even God, reads, like God whom he believed; for so he thinks the original word κατεναντι, may signify. The meaning of the last clause seems to be, "Who speaketh of things which do not yet exist as if they were actually existing; because he knows theywill exist in due time." See Markland on Arnold's Comment on Wisdom of Solomon 11:25.
Romans 4:22. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness— To what has been said concerning the word rendered imputed in Romans 4:8 we add the following remarks: All manner of imputation seems to be a metaphor taken from books of account between creditor and debtor; and from mercantile affairs, it is sometimes applied to judicial; as crimes to be accounted for, are also sometimes called debts. When the matter, however, is well understood in one view, it is easy to apply it to the other: to impute any act of sin, or of obedience to a person, is therefore properly no other than to set it down to his account. The great God of heaven and earth is represented in Scripture,—with humble condescension to our manner of acting and conceiving of things,—as keeping a most exact book of records and accounts, in which those things are registered concerningevery one of us, which he will bring into that last review and survey, by which our characters and states shall finally be determined. And as the most exact and perfect obedience is a debt which we owe him as our great Creator, Benefactor, and Governor: so, on the breach of his law, we owe him some proper satisfaction for it. In this view we are all charged as debtors, poor miserable insolvent debtors, in the book of God. Innumerable sins are imputed, or set down to our account; and were things to go on in this course, we should ere long be arrested by the divine justice, and, being found incapable of payment, should be cast into the prison of hell, to come out no more. But God, in pity to this our calamitous state, hath found out a surety and a ransom for us; hath provided a satisfaction in the death and sacrifice of his only-begotten Son. It is with a gracious regard to this,—to express his high complacency in it, and, if we may so speak, his pleasing remembrance of it, that all who are justified meet with divine acceptance and favour.—But then, it is an invariable rule in the divine proceedings, that this atonement and satisfaction of Christ be a means of justifying those, and only those who believe. Pursuant therefore to the above metaphor, when any particular person believes, this is set down to his account, as a most important article, or as a memorandum, if we may so express it, in the book of God's remembrance, that such a one is now actually become a believer, and therefore is now entitled to justification through Christ. In this sense his faith is imputed for righteousness. Yet it is not regarded by God as the grand consideration which balances the account, or indeed as paying any of the former debt,—which it is impossible it should; but only as that which, according to the gracious constitution of the Gospel; gives a man a claim to what Christ has paid, and which God has graciously allowed, as a valuable consideration, in regard to which he may honourably pardon and accept of all who shall apply to him in his appointed way, or in the way of humble believing. Abraham the father of the faithful, had a clear view of this great Atonement in the visions of God. "He rejoiced to see the day of Christ: and he saw it, and was glad," John 8:56. And he believed, not only in the temporal promises relating to his natural seed, but above all in the spiritual promises which regarded the Messiah, himself, and his spiritual seed: and his faith was counted to him for righteousness. See the Notes on Gen. chap. 22:
Romans 4:24. But for us also— But for our sake also.
Romans 4:25. Who was delivered for our offences— See chap. Romans 3:25, Romans 5:6-10. Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 5:2. Colossians 1:14; Colossians 1:20-22. 1 Timothy 2:6. Titus 2:14. 1 Corinthians 15:17. In these several texts of St. Paul may be seen his own explication of what he says here; namely, that our Saviour, by his death, atoned for our sins, and so the justified believer is made innocent of his past transgressions, and thereby freed from the punishment due to them; and yet still on the condition of persevering faith and love. But he rose again to ascertain eternal life for the faithful; for the reward of righteousness is eternal life, to which inheritance we have a title by adoption in Jesus Christ. But if he himself had not possessed that inheritance, if he had not risen into the possession of eternal life, we, who hold by and under him, could not rise from the dead; and so could never come to be pronounced righteous, and to receive the reward of it, if faithful, even everlasting life. Hence St. Paul tells us, that if Christ be not raised, our faith is vain; we are yet in our sins: that is, as to the attainment of eternal life, it is all the same as if our sins were not forgiven. And thus he rose for our justification, not only as his resurrection affords the most solemn confirmation of the whole new covenant, but also enables him consistently with the divine perfections to raise us from the dead, and to give us, dying in faith and holiness, eternal life. John 14:19. See Locke.
Inferences.—It is the corrupt inclination of the heart of man to seek for something to justify himself in his own good works, and in his own will; which does not come from God, and which is owing only to himself. The sincere Christian, on the contrary, places all his joy in owing every thing to God, through Jesus Christ: and whoever is desirous to glory in any thing independently of Him, will meet with nothing but shame and confusion at the last. In this view Abraham is the first witness to grace, and the righteousness of faith before the law, ver. l, 2 and the pattern of right conduct to every truly faithful person.
We are saved by a divine scheme, which allows us not to mention any works of our own, as if we had whereof to glory before God, but teaches us to ascribe our acceptance before God to the belief in Him who justifieth the ungodly. Nor need we be ashamed of flying to such a method: Abraham, the father of the faithful, had recourse to it himself, Romans 4:3-5 and built on it his eternal hope. May we share his disposition of mind, that so we may inherit the same promises: and thus we also, walking in the steps of our father Abraham, shall be called like him the friends and children of God; and sit down with the patriarchs and prophets of old in his heavenly kingdom!
If there be indeed any such thing as happiness to be enjoyed by mortals, it is the portion of that man of whom David speaks,—of him whose iniquity is pardoned, whose sin is covered, and who enjoys the manifestation of that pardon, Romans 4:7-8. Well may such endure the greatest afflictions of life with cheerful submission, and look forward to death with comfort,—to that awful yet transporting day, when the sting of all these evils shall be taken out, and returning tokens of the divine favour convert them into blessings. How earnestly should we then supplicate the throne of grace, that this happiness may become ours! that the great and glorious Being, whom by our sins we have so offended, and in whom alone the right and power of pardon resides, would spread the veil of his mercy over our provocations, and blot them out of the book of his remembrance! Let us only, on the one hand, fix it in our minds, that it is the character of the man to whom this blessedness belongs, that in his spirit there is no guile: and on the other reflect, that it is in consequence of the righteous obedience of Christ unto the death of the cross and his infinite merit which faith receives and applies.
How common is it for men to glory in the piety and holiness of those to whom they bear any relation; but how rarely do they walk in their-steps, by imitating their example! see Romans 4:12. The faith which does not dispose us to forsake all for the sake of God, and to sacrifice every thing to his known will, is not the faith of a son of Abraham; not such a faith as can ever be accounted for righteousness.
Though by our manifold transgression of the perfect law of God, we can never inherit by any claim from that, which only worketh wrath and condemnation, in consequence of our breach of it (Romans 4:14-15.); yet shall we, by believing and obeying the Gospel of our Redeemer, find the promise sure to us, as the spiritual seed of Abraham, (Romans 4:16.) and be for ever happy in the enjoyment of that better Canaan, where every earthly inheritance shall be no more.
Let us then bear continually in our minds the great, the venerable example of Abraham our father; labour to the utmost to trace his steps, and have faith in that omnipotent God, who at his pleasure quickeneth the dead, and calleth the things which are not, as if they were, Romans 4:17. If sense were to judge, it would pronounce many of those difficulties insurmountable, which seem to oppose the accomplishment of his promises;—but we have the truth of God pledged as our security, that they shall all be fulfilled to the faithful in their season. Surely no argument should be so effectual as this to render us strong in faith, and thus dispose our hearts to glorifying God, Romans 4:20. He hath promised, and he is able also to perform; for with him all things are possible. Already has he done that for us, which we had much less reason to expect or conceive, than we now have to hope for any thing remaining. He that delivered up his Son Jesus for our offences (Romans 4:25.), to redeem us by his blood from final and everlasting ruin;—How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
Be it our daily joy, that this mighty Saviour was raised again for our justification. A belief of the resurrection of Christ comprehends every thing, since it includes the belief of all the mysteries and truths of Christianity, whether antecedent or subsequent; the resurrection being in fact the seal of every thing which the blessed Jesus did, suffered, taught, and promised. Let it therefore be continually considered as the noblest argument to establish our faith in him who performed this illustrious work of mercy and of power. So shall it be accounted to us likewise for righteousness, Romans 4:22-23. Yea, so shall the righteousness of God be revealed to our souls from faith to faith to all the blessed purposes of our justification (see chap. Romans 1:17.); and, if we perseveringly cleave to this adorable Saviour, we shall be accepted through his blood to all eternity.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Abraham was the renowned ancestor, on their descent from whom the Jews so highly prided themselves. If therefore it can be made to appear, that he who was so eminent for his obedience was justified not by works but by faith, then surely none of his descendants, who came so short of his excellent character, may expect to be justified in any other way.
What shall we say then that Abraham, our father as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? Did he obtain justification by the efforts of his natural wisdom and strength, or by circumcision, or his other outward privileges and performances? No, in no wise. For,
1. If he were justified by works, he might have had room for boasting; but whatever excellence there was in his character before men, he had nothing whereof to glory before God. Therefore, when speaking of Abraham, the Scripture expressly observes, Genesis 15:6. Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness; that which he believed respecting the promised seed, who should suffer in his stead, was reckoned to his account, as the ground of his justification before God, and not any doings or duties of his own.
2. If Abraham were justified by works, his reward would have been of debt, not of grace; for perfect obedience would have entitled him to eternal life: but God called Abraham when he was ( ασεβη ) an ungodly person, and justified him through faith in the promised Messiah. And to him that worketh not, who is utterly unable to perform that immaculate obedience which the law requires, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, conscious that this is his character, and perceiving the absolute necessity of an infinitely meritorious sacrifice for his sins, even that which God hath provided in his Son; his faith is counted to him for his justifying righteousness and title to God's favour. If Abraham then must be justified as an ungodly sinner, as one that worketh not, it would be strange presumption in his descendants, or any others, to expect justification in any other way.
3. He argues the necessity of free justification from the declarations of the Psalmist, who describes him as the truly blessed man, not who has no sins to answer for, but who has them not counted or imputed to him, being justified from them all by the free grace of God, without any works of his own, of whatever kind, to recommend him to the divine regard.
2nd, The blessedness above described is, no doubt, most desirable; the question is, to whom it belongs? Is it peculiar to the circumcised Jews, or common to the uncircumcised Gentiles? The former would fain monopolize it as the sole privilege of those who were within the pale of circumcision; but the Gospel declares the uncircumcised Gentiles alike capable of receiving it.
It was faith, not circumcision, which was Abraham's justifying righteousness, as we have before shewn. This was imputed to him, and in consequence thereof he was a justified man, fourteen years before he was circumcised. It is evident therefore that when he afterwards submitted to this instituted ordinance of God, and received the sign of circumcision, it was not in order to his being justified, since that he had been long before, but as a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised; a visible token that God had taken him and his seed into the bond of the covenant, and an assurance to him, if faithful, of all the blessings which were to be procured by that Redeemer in whom he had believed. Thus, in this eminent instance of him who bore the distinguished title of father of the faithful, and from whom the Messiah should spring in whom all nations were to be blessed, the Gentiles, though uncircumcised, might behold the way of justification freely opened to them, and stand in the nearest relation to Abraham, whose faith they followed, as his spiritual children; and, though they were not his natural descendants, might share in all his most distinguished blessings, and righteousness be reckoned or imputed unto them also, in like manner as it was to him during his uncircumcised state.
And herein also God shewed to the Jews, that it was not their being the natural descendants of Abraham, and partakers of circumcision with him, which entitled them to pardon; but that the distinguishing privileges of that covenant of grace into which Abraham was admitted, belonged only to those who walked in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had, being yet uncircumcised: and without which, circumcision, and all their other duties and performances, would never procure for them justification to life.
3rdly, As circumcision was not a justifying righteousness to Abraham, nor to any of his seed; neither was the law, in which the Jewish people trusted. For the promise, that he should be heir of the world, was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law of Moses, which was not yet given, nor in virtue of any personal obedience of his or theirs, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, and the title to the blessings promised arose from the fulfilling the law, whether that of Moses or any other, then faith is made void; there is no place for the exercise of it; and the promise is of no effect, since the blessings of it would depend on our perfect and immaculate obedience: if that were not perfect and immaculate, the promise would be useless, which must necessarily be the case in our present corrupted state; because the law worketh wrath, and can only deliver over every man to the righteous judgment of God, as transgressors. Had there indeed been no law given, had no notice of God's will, traditionary or revealed, been afforded, there would have been no conscience of sin, for where no law is, there is no transgression: but now that there is a law, the offender is obnoxious to the curse, which is the sanction annexed to the transgression of it. Therefore, since none by their obedience to any law, moral or ceremonial, could possibly be entitled to the promised blessings, God so ordained, that it should be of faith, that it might be of grace; that the promise, and all the blessings contained in it, might appear to be given of God's mere goodness, without the least desert on our part, faith stretching out its empty hand to receive the inestimable treasure, to the end the promise might be sure to every persevering believer, even to all the seed, to the spiritual seed of Abraham, even to every faithful soul; not to that only which is of the law, who live under the Mosaical dispensation, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, though Gentiles by birth and profession, yet who through faith become, in God's account, the children of this eminent patriarch, who is the father of us all, whether believing Jews or Gentiles; as it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations. In a spiritual sense, before him whom he believed, even God, was he thus reputed as the father of nations; even before him who quickeneth the dead; Abraham and his wife, whose bodies were now as good as dead; or the Gentiles dead in trespasses and sins; or the bodies of the deceased in the last day: and who, in virtue of his almighty power, calleth those things which be not as though they were, since whatever he wills, at his word starts into being. Persuaded of this, notwithstanding all the difficulties which his faith had to encounter, Abraham against hope, if reason were consulted, believed in hope; and against all arguments which sense or experience urged, he rested satisfied in the fulfilment of the promise, that he should become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, Genesis 15:5 when, pointing him to the stars, God assured him, so shall thy seed be, so numberless, so illustrious. Having this divine promise, he staggered not a moment through any improbabilities which unbelief might suggest, from the consideration of his own great age, which, with regard to his having children, rendered his body as if already dead, nor at the deadness of Sarah's womb, long since past child-bearing; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, with the fullest assurance expecting the fulfilment of what God had promised, and was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness; and what he saw about to be done by the promised seed, Christ Jesus, was now reckoned to his account, and he stood thereby justified before God. Note; Where God has promised, whatever objections carnal reason and unbelief may make, it is our wisdom to turn a deaf ear to every suggestion, and confidently wait the accomplishment of his word; and this gives God the highest glory.
4thly, Great was the faith of the patriarch, great the honour put upon him thereby! But this record borne to him of his acceptance before God was not written for his sake alone, historically to inform us of that which rendered him so eminent; but for us also, as a pattern, comfort, and encouragement to us, and an assurance that the same righteousness shall be counted to us, for our justification, if we, as true sons of this father of the faithful, believe as he did, on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who, as our substitute and surety, was delivered for our offences, to bear our sins in his own body on the tree; and, having so done, was raised again for our justification.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Romans 4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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