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(5) Abraham himself shown to have been justified by faith, and not by works, believers being his true heirs.
The main points of the argument may be summarized thus: When Abraham obtained a blessing to himself and to his seed for ever, it was by faith, and not by works, that he is declared to have been justified so as to obtain it. Thus the promise to his seed, as well as to himself, rested on the principle of justification by faith only. The Law, of which the principle was essentially different, could not, and did not, in itself fulfil that promise; and that its fulfilment was not dependent on circumcision, or confined to the circumcised, is further shown by the fact that it was before his own circumcision that he received the blessing and the promise, Hence the seed intended in the promise was his spiritual seed, who are of faith such as his was; and in Christ, offering justification through faith to all, the promise is now fulfilled.
What then shall we say that Abraham our father according to the flesh hath found? The connection, denoted by οὗν, with the preceding argument is rather with verses 27, 28 of Romans 3:1-31., than with its concluding winds, νόμον ἱστάνομεν. This appears, not only from the drift of Romans 4:1-25., but also from the word καύχημα in Romans 4:2, connecting the thought with ποῦ οὗν ἡ καύχησις; in Romans 3:27. The line of thought is, in the first place, this: We have said that all human glorying is shut out, and that no man can be justified except by faith: how, then (it is important to inquire), was it with Abraham our great progenitor? Did not he at least earn the blessing to his seed by the merit of his works? Had not he, on that ground, whereof to glory? No, not even he; Scripture, in what it says of him, distinctly asserts the contrary. There is uncertainty in this verso as to whether "according to the flesh" (κατὰ σάρκα) is to be connected with "our father" or with "hath found." Readings vary in their arrangement of the words. The Textus Receptus has Τί οὗν ἐροῦμεν Αβραὰμ τὸν πατέρα ἡμῶν εὐρηκέναι κατὰ σάρκα. But the great preponderance of authority is in favour of εὐρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα. The first of these readings requires the connection of κατὰ σάρκα with εὐρηκέναι; the second allows it, but suggests the other connection. Theodoret, among the ancients, connecting with εὐρηκέναι, explains κατὰ σάρκα thus: "What righteousness, of Abraham's, wrought before he be- lieved God, did we ever hear of?" Calvin suggests, as the meaning of the phrase (though himself inclining to the connection with προπάτορα)," naturaliter vel ex seipso." Bull, similarly ('Harmonic Apostolica,' 'Disputatio Posterior,' c. 12.14-17), "by his natural powers, without the grace of God." Alford, following Meyer, says that κατὰ σάρκα is in contrast to κατὰ πνεύμα, and that it "refers to that department of our being from which spring works, in contrast with that in which is the exercise of faith." Difficulty is avoided if (as is the most natural inference from the best authenticated reading) we take κατὰ σάρκα in connection with πάτερα or προπάτορα, in the sense of our forefather in the way of natural descent, the question being put from the Jewish standpoint; and this in distinction from the other conception of descent from Abraham, according to which all the faithful are called his children (cl. Romans 1:3; Romans 9:3, Romans 9:5, Romans 8:1 Romans 10:18). Among the ancients Chrysostom and Theophylact take this view. For the import of εὐρηκέναι, cf. Luke 1:30 (εὖρες χάριν παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ) and Hebrews 9:12 (αἰωνίαν λύτρωσιν εὑράμενος).
For if Abraham was justified by works, be hath whereof to glory; but not before God. Many commentators take this verse to imply that, even if he was justified by works, he still had no ground of glorying before God, though he might have before men. But the drift of the whole argument being to show that he was not justified by works at all, this interpretation can hardly stand. "Not before God" must therefore have reference to the whole of the preceding sentence, in the sense, "It was not so in the sight of God." Before God (as appears from the text to be quoted) he had not whereof to glory on the ground of being justified by works, and therefore it follows that it was not by works that he was justified.
For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned Unto him for righteousness. This notable text (Genesis 15:6), declaring the ground of Abraham's acceptance, is similarly quoted in the cognate passage, Galatians 3:6. It has a peculiar cogency in the general argument from being in connection with, and with reference to, one of the Divine promises to Abraham of an unnumbered seed; so that it may be understood with an extended application to those who were to inherit the blessing, as well as to the "father of the faithful," and so declaring the principle of justification for all the "children of the promise." Further, it would be peculiarly telling as addressed to the Jews, who made such a point of their descent from Abraham as the root of all their position of privilege (cf. Psalms 105:6; Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 51:2; Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8; John 8:39). The two significant expressions in it are ἐπίστευσε (denoting faith, not works) and ἐλογίσθη εἰς The whole phrase, the apostle proceeds to say, implies that the reward spoken of was not earned, but granted.
Romans 4:4, Romans 4:5
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt (literally, according to grace, but according to the debt, i.e. according to what is due). But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. The expression, "him that worketh" (τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ), evidently means him that works with a view to a reward which he can claim; or, as Luther explains it, "one who deals in works;" or, as we might say with the same signification, "the worker." (For a like use of the present participle, cf. Galatians 5:3, τῷ περιτεμνομένῳ.) So also in Romans 4:5, τῷ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ means one who does not so work. Thus there is here no denial of the necessity of good works. It is the principle only of justification that is in view. "Neque enim fideles vult esse ignavos; sed tantum mercenarias esse vetat, qui a Deo quicquam reposcant quasi jure debitum" (Calvin). One view of the meaning of τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ is that it is equivalent to τῷ ἐργάτῃ, being meant as an illustration, thus: The workman's wage is due to him, and not granted as a favour (so Afford). But this notion does not suit the τῷ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ in the following verse. The strong word ἀσεβῆ ("ungodly") is not to be understood as designating Abraham himself, the proposition being a general one. Nor does it imply that continued ἀσέβεια is consistent with justification; only that even the ἀσεβεῖς are justified through faith on their repentance and amendment (cf. Romans 5:6, ὑπὲρ ἀσεβῶν ἀπέθανε).
Even as David also describeth the blessedness. We might render, "David tells of the blessing on the man," etc.) of the man unto whom God reckoneth (λογίζεται, as before. Imputeth in the Authorized Version suggests the idea of a different word being used) righteousness apart from works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon (λογίσηται, as before, and so throughout the whole passage) sin (Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2). The introduction of this testimony of David to the same principle of justification serves not only to explain it further, but also to show that under the Law too it continued to be recognized; and by David himself, the typical king and psalmist under the legal dispensation. But the argument from Abraham is not discontinued, being resumed in the next verse, and continued to the end of the chapter. If it be said that these verses from Psalms 32:1-11. do not in themselves declare a general principle applicable to all, but only the blessedness to sinners of having their sins forgiven, it may be replied, firstly, that the way in which the verses are introduced does not require more to be implied. All that need be meant is that the ground of justification exemplified in Abraham's case is the same as is spoken of by David as still available for man, and crowned with blessing. But, secondly, it is to be observed that these verses represent and suggest the general tenor of the Book of Psalms, in which human righteousness is never asserted as constituting a claim to reward. "My trust is in thy mercy," is, on the contrary, the ever-recurring theme. St. Paul's quotations from the Old Testament are frequently given as suggestive of the general scriptural teaching on the subject in hand, rather than as exhaustive proofs in themselves.
Romans 4:9, Romans 4:10
Cometh this blessedness then (properly, is then this blessing) upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How (i.e., as the context shows, under what circumstances) was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. Faith, and not works, having been shown to be the principle of Abraham's justification, and those who were under the Mosaic Law, represented by David, having been seen to have shared the blessing of being so justified, the question still remains, whether it may not be confined to them only, or to Abraham's circumcised descendants only. That this cannot be is shown in two ways: firstly (Romans 4:10-13), from the fact that Abraham was himself uncircumcised when he was spoken of as being thus justified, so that neither the capability nor the inheritance of such justification can be viewed as dependent on circumcision; and, secondly (Romans 4:13-16), it is argued that the Law could not appropriate the privilege to his carnal descendants, the very principle of law being the opposite of that on which Abraham is said to have been justified. Thus the seed, innumerable as the stars, to be understood as inheritors of the promise made to him, and sharers in his blessing, are not his circumcised descendants, but a spiritual seed—they which are of faith being the true children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).
Romans 4:11, Romans 4:12
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had in uncircumcision (this was all that circumcision was—a visible sign and seal to his own descendants of the righteousness that is of faith; but not confining it to them, or in itself conferring it) that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might be reckoned unto them also. And the father of circumcision to them who are not of circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had in uncircumcision. The intention of Romans 4:12 is to express that, though the faithful who are not of Israel are Abraham's children, yet his circumcised descendants have not lost their privilege. They are already his children according to the flesh, and his spiritual children too, if they walk in the steps of his faith (cf. John 8:37, "I know that ye are Abraham's seed," compared with John 8:39, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham").
What now follows is to show (as above explained) that the Law could not be the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham, or appropriate its blessing to the Jews.
For not through law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be the heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith, For if they which are of law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect. For the Law worketh wrath: for where no law is, neither is there transgression. The point of the argument is that the principle of law is essentially different from that on which Abraham was justified, and which is hence to be understood in the fulfilment of the promise to him and his seed. How this is so is shortly intimated in Romans 4:15, the idea being more fully expounded in Romans 7:1-25. The idea is (as has been already explained) that law simply declares what is right, and requires conformity to it; it does not give either power to obey, or atonement for not obeying. Hence, in itself, it worketh, not righteousness, but wrath; for man becomes fully liable to wrath when he comes to know, through law, the difference between right and wrong (cf. John 9:41, "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin"). Exactly the same view of the impossibility of the Mosaic Law being the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham is found in Galatians 3:1-29., where also the real purpose of the Law, intervening thus between the promise and its fulfilment, is further explained. The expression in Galatians 3:13, "that he should be the heir of the world," has reference to the ultimate scope of the Abrahamic promises (see Genesis 12:2, Genesis 12:3; Genesis 13:14-16; Genesis 15:5, Genesis 15:6, Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:2-9; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:17, Genesis 22:18). Now, it is true that in some of these promises the language used seems to denote no more than the temporal possession by Israel of the promised land, with dominion (actually realized under David and Solomon) over the whole country from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, as in Genesis 13:14, Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:18, etc. But their full scope transcends any such limited fulfilment, as where it is said that the promised seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the dust of the earth that cannot be numbered, and that in it all the nations of the earth should be blessed. The prophets accordingly recognized a far larger ultimate fulfilment in their frequent pictures of the Messiah's universal dominion; and there was no need for the apostle to prove here what the Jews already understood. The only difference between the view current among them and his would be that they would mostly have in view a universal worldly sovereignty with its local centre on the throne of David at Jerusalem, while he interpreted spirttually, seeing beyond the outward framework of prophetic visions to the ideal they imply. "Heres mundi idem est quod pater omnium gentium, benedictionem accipientium. Totus mundus promissus est Abrahae et semini ejus per totum mundum conjunctim. Abrahamo obtigit terra Canaan, et sic aliis alia pars; atque corporalia sunt specimen spiritualium. Christus beres mundi, et omuium (Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 2:5; Revelation 11:15), et qui in eum credunt Abrahae exemplo (Matthew 5:5) (Bengel). It is to be observed that, though Abraham himself in Genesis 15:13 is spoken of as "the heir of the world," yet the preceding expression, "to Abrabam or to his seed," sufficiently intimates that it is in his seed, identified with him, that he is conceived as so inheriting.
Romans 4:16, Romans 4:17
Therefore it is of faith, that it may be according to grace (κατὰ χάριν, as in Romans 4:4); to the end the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the Law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all, (as it is written, A father of many nations have I made thee,) before him whom he believed, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth the things that are not as though they were. Romans 4:16 introduces no new thought, being but a summing up of what has been said, except that, in Romans 4:17, the text Genesis 17:5 is adduced in support of the extended sense in which "the seed of Abraham" has been understood. In Genesis 17:17, too, the thought is introduced of how Abraham evinced his faith; and this with a view of showing it to have been in essence the same as the justifying faith of Christians.
Who against hope in hope believed (παρ ἐλπίδα ἐπ ἐλπίδι—an oxymoron. For a similar use of ἐπ ἐλπίδι, see 1 Corinthians 9:10; also below, Romans 5:2. Its position in the Authorized Version might suggest its dependence on "believed," which is grammatically possible (cf. Romans 9:33; Romans 10:11), but unallowable here, since hope cannot well be regarded as the object of belief) to the end he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be (Genesis 15:5, viz. "as the stars"). And being not weak in faith, he considered not (i.e. paid no regard to as a hindrance to faith. The codices relied on by our recent Revisers omit ου) before κατενόησεν, and they accordingly translate, "he considered his own body," thus making the idea to be that he was fully aware of the apparent impossibility of his having a son, but believed notwithstanding. But the reading of the Textus Receptus has good support, and especially that of the Greek Fathers, and gives the best sense) his own body now dead (already deadened—νενεκρώμενον—i.e. with respect to virility. So, with the same reference, Hebrews 11:12), when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb; but he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong (rather, was strengthened) in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform. With regard to the construction of Romans 5:20, we may observe that, though in the Authorized Version, which is followed above, the prepositions put before "unbelief'' and "faith" are varied, both words are datives without a preposition in the Greek, and apparently with the same force of the dative in both cases, the sense being, "With regard to the promise, etc., unbelief did not cause him to waver (οὑ διεκρίθη τῇ ἀπιστία), but faith made him strong ἐνεδυναμώθη τῇ πίστει)." The purport of the whole passage is to show, with reference to Genesis 17:15-22; Genesis 18:9-16, how Abraham's faith in the promise of a seed through Sarah, which seemed impossible in the natural course of things, corresponded in essence to our faith in "him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead" (Genesis 18:24). It was faith in a Divine power above nature, able to quicken into supernatural life that which humanly is dead. And as Abraham's faith in this promised birth of Isaac involved a further faith in the fulfilment through him of all the promises, so our faith in the resurrection of Christ involves faith in all that is signified and assured to us thereby—in "the power of a Divine life" in him, to bring life out of death, to regenerate and quicken the spiritually dead, and finally in "eternal redemption'' and the "restitution of all things" (cf. John 3:6; John 5:25; Romans 6:3-12; 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; Ephesians 1:18-23; Ephesians 2:4-8; Revelation 1:18; to which many other similarly significant passages might be added). It may be observed that, not only in the instance here adduced, but in his whole life as recorded in Genesis, Abraham stands forth as an exemplification of habitual faith in a Divine order beyond sight, and trust in Divine promises. In this consists the religious meaning of that record for us all. Notably so (as is especially set forth in Hebrews 11:17, etc.) in his willingness to sacrifice the son through whom the promise was to be fulfilled, retaining still his faith in the fulfilment.
Wherefore also it was reckoned to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned to him; but for our sake also, to whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord front the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised for our justification. It is to be observed that the word here and elsewhere translated "justification" is δίκαιωσις, corresponding with δικαιοσύνη. The correspondence is lost in English. The Vulgate preserves it by justitia and justificatio; and the Douay Version has, here as elsewhere, "justice" for δικαιοσύνη. But "righteousness" expresses the meaning better.
The fatherhood of Abraham.
It is remarkable that the whole of this chapter deals with Abraham—a proof, not only of the greatness of Abraham's character, the conspicuousness of his position in the history of mankind, and the hold the grand figure of the patriarch possessed of the imagination of the apostle, but also of Abraham's real importance in the development of the leading ideas of true religion. We are reminded that Abraham was the father of many nations—the father of the chosen people Israel, the ancestor of the Messiah, the promised Seed. But especially father is it brought before us here that Abraham is the of the faithful, inasmuch as he afforded an early and illustrious example of the virtue upon which St. Paul dilates at length in this Epistle to the Romans—the virtue of faith.
I. ABRAHAM IS THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL IN THAT HE IS AN EXAMPLE OF FAITH IN ITS SUPERIORITY TO SENSE AND TO HUMAN JUDGMENT. The ancestor of the Hebrew nation received repeated assurances of the purpose of the Eternal with regard to himself and his posterity. There was no human likelihood of the fulfilment of these assurances; in themselves they were opposed to all reasonable probability, and there were special circumstances which increased a hundredfold their inherent unlikelihood. But they were, in Abraham's belief, the assurances of God himself, and that was sufficient to command his immediate and unquestioning acceptance. The Divine is the proper object of human faith. Let a declaration be from God; then it should be received with an absolute and unhesitating trust.
II. ABRAHAM IS THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL IN THAT HIS FAITH WAS INDEPENDENT OF EXTERNAL RITES AND PRIVILEGES. St. Paul lays great stress upon the historical fact that the exercise of Abraham's faith in God preceded the institution of the symbolic rite of circumcision. This may seem to us an immaterial consideration; but from the point of view of the apostle it has great importance. He is arguing against an external, ceremonial view of religion, such as was too customary among the Jews, and indeed is too customary among all people through all time. And he made a "point" when he brought forward the fact that Abraham exercised faith in God whilst still uncircumcised; for this is a proof that the essence of religion does not depend upon external privileges, even though they be of Divine appointment. A lesson which we need to learn today, even as did the contemporaries of St. Paul.
III. ABRAHAM IS THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL INASMUCH AS HE EXHIBITED THE POWER OF FAITH TO POSSESS THE MORAL NATURE AND TO CONTROL THE LIFE. The patriarch was not a man to yield the assent of the lips, and to withhold the practical acknowledgment which is the best proof of sincere profession. It is enough, in support of this, to remark that his whole subsequent life was affected and governed by his belief of God's promise. He confessed himself a pilgrim in the land, but whilst for himself he sought a heavenly inheritance, he lived as one persuaded that Canaan was the destined property of his posterity. Faith without works is dead; Abraham's faith was living. As Christians, we are called upon, not only to believe, but to live by faith, to show our faith by our works, and, if we believe God's promises, to give them a place so prominent in our heart that they may sway our conduct and govern our actions. The life which we live in the flesh is to be by the faith of the Son of God. Only thus can we prove ourselves to be true children of faithful Abraham.
IV. ABRAHAM IS THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL ESPECIALLY BECAUSE IN HIM FAITH WAS SHOWN TO BE THE SPRING OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. We are told by the apostle that Abraham's faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. This doctrine of imputation has been misunderstood, when it has been inferred from the teaching of the apostle that, faith being present, righteousness may be dispensed with. The real teaching of St. Paul aims at removing religion from outward actions to inward dispositions. The righteousness which God values is not the performance of services or the submission to rites, so much as the pure thoughts and intents of the heart. So far as what is external is valuable, it is as an indication of what is deep-seated within. Faith brings the soul into right relations with God, and these secure habits of obedience and subjection which display themselves in the words, the deeds, and the course of moral life by which a man is judged by his fellow-men.
Hope against hope.
Faith and hope are allied, though separate, exercises and habits of created, finite mind. Neither of the two is possible to God, who is independent and eternal, and can neither confide in a superior nor anticipate a future. Man's highest welfare depends upon faith, which is the principle of a high and noble life. Hope is less necessary, yet it belongs to a complete development of human nature, which looks forward to the future as well as upward to the unseen. Faith must have an object, and hope must have a ground. Faith is in a person; hope has respect to experience anticipated. If there be faith in a Being who has given definite promises, there will be hope in whatever is the matter of those promises. He who believes in God will hopefully expect the fulfilment of Divine assurances.
I. THERE IS HOPE WHICH IS BASED UPON NATURAL HUMAN EXPERIENCES. TO some extent, hope is a matter of temperament; circumstances which to a despondent man seem to afford no gleam of comfort in looking forward to the future, will arouse the brightest expectations on the part of the man of sanguine disposition. Still, hope is often precluded by the stern teaching of constant experience; and a man would prove himself mad if, in certain circumstances, he should look forward hopefully to the enjoyment of health, honour, or riches. Abraham, in the circumstances referred to in the context, might hope for many blessings; but, if illumined only by the experience of his own life and by the experience of preceding generations, he could not hope for a posterity which should take possession of the land of Canaan as their inheritance. And we, if enlightened only by earthly wisdom, could not venture to anticipate blessings which the gospel, upon Divine authority, assures to the believing and obedient. Human hope could not so far delude us.
II. THERE IS HOPE WHICH IS BASED UPON THE FAITHFUL PROMISES OF THE ETERNAL. With God nothing is impossible; from God nothing is concealed. Therefore, when he deigns to reveal his purposes to men, and when those purposes are purposes of mercy, those to whom they are made are justified in embracing them and in acting upon them. In the case of Abraham, that which human hope would have had no ground for anticipating was assured by the firm and unchanging promises of the Supreme; and Divine hope justly prevailed. He hoped in God against any hope or failure of hope which might be natural to him as man. And Abraham did not hope in vain. He embraced and believed the promises. He and his family, "not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Hope triumphed, even over the bitter trial connected with the sacrifice of Isaac. Looking forward to the future with the bright and piercing eye of hope, our father Abraham saw the day of the Messiah, and he rejoiced and was glad.
APPLICATION. Often the Christian, if reduced to the limits of earthly anticipations, might give way to discouragement and fear. But he has hope, as "an anchor to his soul," by means of which he may ride out the storms of time. Let him hope against hope, and his confidence shall be justified, and his anticipations shall be realized. His is a hope which, in the beautiful language of the Apocrypha, is "full of immortality."
"Strong in faith."
There is nothing upon which men are more given to pride themselves than upon their strength. The athlete boasts of his strength of muscle and of bodily constitution, the thinker of his strength of intellect, the monarch of his strength in war, the self-confident man of his strength of character. Such boasting is vain. Man's estimate of his own powers may seem absurd to other beings; in the presence of the Eternal and Almighty it is profane. Well did the prophet speak the familiar words of warning, "Let not the strong man glory in his strength." There is one respect, however, in which man may be strong. Weak in body in the presence of natural laws, weak in mind before the difficulties of life, man may nevertheless be "strong in faith.'' Here no limits can be set; it is faith that
"Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries, 'It shall be done!'"
I. STRONG FAITH IS REQUIRED BY THE EXIGENCIES OF HUMAN NATURE AND HUMAN CIRCUMSTANCES. The apostles drew their examples of virtue, of practical religion, from the history of the fathers of their nation; the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews recounts the triumphs of faith as apparent in the life of their illustrious progenitors; and St. Paul in this passage, with a view to encourage his readers to the exercise of a living and mighty faith, quotes the example of Abraham, whom be terms "the father of us all." Certainly, there seemed, to human judgment, little likelihood of the fulfilment of Jehovah's promise to the patriarch that the land of Canaan should be the possession of his seed. There was an antecedent improbability, so far as man's foresight could penetrate. And there were special difficulties in the family circumstances of Abraham, which seemed insuperable. Yet, St. Paul reminds his readers, Abraham "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." There is very much in our character and in our life which can only be successfully dealt with by the exercise of strong faith. Our sins, our sorrows, our privations, our ignorance and uncertainty with regard to the future, all call for faith. Intellectual doubts stand in the way of some men's progress and welfare; temptations to worldliness and selfishness are formidable obstacles in the way of others. All have occasion to complain that the light of nature, of reason, is sometimes dim. All are tempted sometimes to discouragement and to despondency. When our hearts are weak and our knowledge is limited, and all our resources fail us, as must often happen in our human existence, where shall we look? Experience is at fault, reason hesitates, man's help is vain. What we need at such times is "strong faith."
II. STRONG FAITH IS JUSTIFIED BY THE ATTRIBUTES AND THE PROMISES OF GOD. Reflection and reason may teach us something of the Supreme; but the clearest light is shed upon his character and purposes by revelation; and it is in Christ Jesus that he has made himself most fully known to us; for "he that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father." If we have the assurance that God is wise and all-powerful, much of our doubt and difficulty will disappear, for we shall enjoy the conviction that our lot is not ordered by chance or fate, but by an overruling Providence. If we are encouraged upon satisfactory authority to believe that God is good and merciful, faithful and compassionate, such belief will relieve us from many apprehensions aroused by a feeling of our own innumerable errors and follies. Such a revelation has been vouchsafed to us. It should ever be borne in mind that the value of faith depends upon the object of faith. Placed upon feeble and fallible men, faith may often fail us; but settled and fixed upon infinite wisdom, righteousness, and love, it can sustain, direct, and cheer us throughout life's pilgrimage. To Abraham certain direct and personal promises were given by God; and Abraham's faith is recorded by the apostle in the statement that he was "fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able to perform." The promises given to mankind through Jesus Christ are no less explicit, and are far more interesting, precious, and far-reaching. We may have, and justly, a very moderate measure of faith in assurances given to us by our fellow-men, a very qualified confidence in themselves. But this ought not to be the case when the eternal and faithful God and his gracious promises are in question. Upon him and his words we may "build an absolute trust." "Believe in God," says Christ; "believe also in me."
III. STRONG FAITH IS RECOMPENSED IN THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD'S PEOPLE. It was so in the case of Abraham, who became the father of many nations, whose posterity inherited the land of Canaan, and to whom his personal faith was "imputed for righteousness." It has ever been so with Christians who have walked, not by sight, but by faith. Confidence in an unseen, but ever-present, Divine, almighty Helper, has been the principle of every truly Christian life. It has brought pardon and peace to the heart of the penitent; it has caused many "out of weakness to wax strong;" it has brought light to those in darkness, and leading to those in perplexity, safety to those in danger, comfort to those in sorrow, and hope to those who were ready to perish. "This is the victory which overcometh the world, even your faith." Nor is this inexplicable; for by faith we lay hold of the strength that is irresistible and invincible, and the might of the believer is not his own, but God's.
Promise and performance.
How condescendingly and graciously does our heavenly Father deign to communicate with his children! What proofs does he give of his interest in us, his sympathy with us! No better illustration of this can be found than in the promises of the holy Word. Stooping, as it were, to our level, God addresses to us not merely precepts to direct our conduct, but promises to sustain our courage and to animate our hope. Exceeding great and precious are the Divine promises uttered and fulfilled for the benefit of the spiritual family dependent upon the bounty, forbearance, and tender mercy of the Most High.
I. DIVINE PROMISES. The promise given to Abraham was of a special character, but both in itself, and in the way in which it was received and acted upon, it is peculiarly instructive to us as Christians.
1. The Giver of the promises upon which we, as believers in God's Word, are called upon to rely, is the Being whose infinite resources, omniscient acquaintance with his people's needs, and unfailing fidelity, place all his assurances apart from and altogether above those of others.
2. The matter of the Divine promises deserves our special attention; they have regard rather to spiritual than to temporal good, and whilst varied in their character, they are singularly adapted to the condition and necessities of men.
3. The receivers of these promises are creatures dependent altogether upon the Divine favour, with no resources of their own, and no hope save that which is based upon the faithfulness of God.
4. The purpose of the Divine promises is to remove natural fear and depression concerning the future, and in place thereof to instil a calm confidence, a bright and peaceful hope. If men were left to their own forecastings of the future, gloomy forebodings would often take possession of their souls; the promises of God are fitted to reassure and reanimate the downcast and cheerless.
II. DIVINE PERFORMANCE.
1. This is assured and certain. We read of God that "he cannot lie." Abraham's confidence was justified, when he was "fully assured that, what God had promised, he was able also to perform."
2. It is complete, satisfactory, and effectual. Abraham was removed from earth before the appointed time arrived for the fulfilment of the promises made to him and to his seed. Yet he foresaw with the clear vision of faith what in due season came to pass. His descendants received and possessed "the land of promise." It is so with all the performances of Eternal Wisdom and Compassion. Not one word that God has spoken shall fail; his promises are "all Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus."
3. God's performance of his plighted word of assurance is such as to justify his people's unhesitating confidence. How can we question either his ability or his willingness?
"The voice that rolls the stars along
Spake all the promises"
HOMILIES BY C.H IRWIN
We have already seen how the apostle has prepared the way for the great doctrine of justification by faith. He showed in the first two chapters that man has no righteousness of his own, that he could not justify himself, but, on the contrary, that both Jew and Gentile are all under sin. "There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Now, in this fourth chapter, he shows that this great fact—the necessity for justification by faith—has already been recognized by Abraham and David. He is writing to Jews, and he takes the case of two men of God with whose lives they were familiar, and whom they held in high respect. He shows that neither Abraham nor David rested in his own righteousness. They rested entirely in the sovereign grace and mercy of God. "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (Romans 4:3). So David also describes the blessedness of those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered; of the man to whom the Lord doth not impute sin (Romans 4:6-8). No two cases more appropriate or more telling could the apostle have selected in illustration of man's universal need of a Divine righteousness. Here were two saints of God, the one called the friend of God, the other the sweet singer of Israel, and yet they both rested, not on their own good works, but on the mercy and free grace of God. True, David had grievously sinned against God, but he did not trust for forgiveness to any penances or works of merit which he might have done in atonement for his sin, but solely to the pardoning mercy of the Lord. Abraham's faith, however, is the main subject of the chapter.
I. ITS REASONABLENESS. The subject of faith is not merely an abstract theological question. Abraham's faith, in particular, is not something which concerned Abraham but has no interest for us. We are told in the close of this chapter that "it was not written for his sake alone, that his faith was imputed to him for righteousness; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:23-25). What, then, do we mean by faith? Faith is a strong inward persuasion manifesting itself in outward acts. We could have no better illustration of it than the life of Abraham. "Abraham believed God." His life was a life of faith in God. He trusted God's word, and he took God's way. Here, then, we have a simple definition of what faith means—trusting God's word and taking God's way. Is not this an eminently reasonable course for a human being to take? So Abraham thought. He was a man of experience when we have the first record of God speaking to him. He was seventy-five years old when God's first command reached him—the command to leave his country and his father's house. It would appear as if Abraham had begun before that time to look beyond the seen to the unseen. His spiritual instincts and his reason told him that those idols which the people round him worshipped could not represent the great Creator of the world. He had already a conviction that there was a God—a reasonable conviction based on the evidence of natural laws. He knew something of that almighty Being's power, and wisdom, and immortality, and unchangeableness. And so he reached the conclusion, which became an irresistible conviction, that "what God had promised he was able also to perform" (Romans 4:18-21). He was "fully persuaded." Upon this Abraham based his faith. For these reasons he trusted God's word and took God's way. Is it not still more reasonable that we should have faith in God? We too have had experience, and not merely our own experience, but the experience of thousands of others from Abraham's day till now, who have trusted God, and found that what he hath promised he is able also to perform. The history of the ages teaches us that heaven and earth may pass away, but that God's words do not pass away; that men will change and die, and mighty empires crumble into dust, but that the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him. It teaches us also this lesson, that God's way is always best, and that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Abraham's faith was a reasonable faith. It is a reasonable thing that we also should trust God's word and take God's way.
II. ITS RESULTS.
1. Abraham's faith led him to unfaltering obedience. It was a strange and apparently a harsh command which God gave to him, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee" (Genesis 12:1). But Abraham did not hesitate. He knew whom he had believed. It was God, the living God, his heavenly Father, who was speaking to him, and he felt he must obey. He knew that God would provide for him; he knew that God would lead him right. How many of us under similar circumstances would show such unhesitating, unfaltering obedience to God's command? How many of us are willing to trust God to take care of us when we are doing his will? Alas! is it not true that we often hesitate to do his will, just because we cannot trust him to take care of us, to bring us safely through the difficulties and to crown our labours with success? But, then, it must be admitted that there is a real, practical difficulty here which sometimes perplexes God's people. Some one may say, "Well, I am quite willing to do God's will, to follow the path of duty, if I could only tell what it was. There are so many cases where I cannot see my way. If I could only hear God speaking to me as he did to Abraham, there would be no difficulty about it." I think the way to meet that difficulty is this. Saturate your mind with the spirit of the gospel, with the teachings of the Word of God, with the spirit of Christ. A Christian is one who has the spirit of Christ. And, while there will be inconsistencies, as a rule we can depend upon the Christian. A remarkable illustration of this was given in Abraham's own case. Before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, the Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord" (Genesis 18:17, Genesis 18:19). God had confidence in Abraham doing what was right, although in one case Abraham acted sinfully and inconsistently. So we can trust the Christian to act in a Christian way. There will be mistakes, inconsistencies, in his life. But there are some things we know he will not do. He will not be among the sabbath-breakers, among the profane, the foul and filthy speakers, among the intemperate, among those who defraud or those who defame their neighbour. And all this we know, because we know him to have the spirit of Christ. We must cultivate this spirit, then, if we would know what the path of duty is.
2. Abraham's faith led him to unflinching self-sacrifice. There are two grand scenes in his life that illustrate this. One was when he gave Lot the permission to choose what portion of the land he would have. Abraham had the right to choose, but he relinquished his own rights in favour of his nephew. The other was when God called on him to offer up as a sacrifice his son Isaac. What a spirit of faith Abraham showed then! He trusted God, and so he took God's way. He had himself said once before, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). And now when God, who gave him his son, asks him to give him back again, his faithful servant is ready to do what God asks. It was enough. The Lord himself had provided a lamb for the burnt offering. But Abraham showed the greatness of his faith by the sacrifice he was ready to make. There is a process in mathematics called the elimination of factors. The factor self had been eliminated from Abraham's character and life. So it will be with the true Christian. The spirit of self-sacrifice is the spirit of Christ, the spirit of Christianity. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." We must be ready to make sacrifice of self for Christ's sake. Such, then, was Abraham's faith. It was a reasonable faith, and a faith that resulted in unfaltering obedience and in unflinching self-sacrifice. He trusted God's word, and he took God's way. That is the way of salvation for every sinner. Such faith is the condition of all righteousness. If we are to please God, if we are to get to heaven, we must take God's way. The manner of Abraham's justification is an encouragement for every sinner, whether Jew or Gentile. If salvation had been by the Law, only those who had the Law, or who kept it, could be saved. But it is "of faith, that it might be of grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the Law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham" (Romans 4:16). The Jews' beast that they were Abraham's seed showed a narrow idea of what the promise was. Abraham was "the father of many nations" (Romans 4:17, Romans 4:18). Abraham's true spiritual children are those who imitate Abraham's faith.—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY T.F. LOCKYER
A test case.
Abraham was their father (John 8:1-59.)—this they were proud to acknowledge; but what was his relationship to God?
I. ABRAHAM'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness must be either absolute or imputed; e.g. a servant in employ, on the one hand tried and true, on the other hand false, but penitent and received again. Which was Abraham's?
1. If of works, it was absolute, and therefore he was in a position of proud integrity before God. Was it so? The whole history proved the contrary. Humble dependence.
2. If imputed, it could only be as he accepted God's promises, and lived by faith in them. And so saith the Scripture (Romans 4:3).
II. ABRAHAM'S FAITH. What was the faith which was reckoned to him for righteousness?
1. Renunciation of self. (Genesis 15:1-21., Genesis 15:17.) He could do nothing.
2. Reliance on God. (Genesis 15:1-21., and implied in 17.) God could do all things.
Such the general principle: faith is the laying hold of all God's mighty love. Hence the spring of all righteousness. In Abraham's case, faith in promises for the future pertaining to the kingdom of God. Virtually, it was the faith of his spiritual salvation. Was not David's case the same? There are iniquities, sins; man can never undo them; God can cover them. So with us. Not of debt, but of grace—on God's part; therefore, not of works, but of faith—on man's part. And hence no arbitrary condition; the appropriation of all the wealth of good offered in God and by God. Well is it said, "Blessed are they," etc.—T.F.L.
All things are of faith.
The position is now established that righteousness is through faith. But, they might say, through the faith of a circumcised man; and the promise of the inheritance was through the Law; and surely the posterity of Abraham came according to the flesh. He answers—Righteousness, heritage, posterity, by faith alone.
1. The righteousness of faith without circumcision. In Gem 15. we have the record of Abraham's justification; the institution of circumcision is narrated in Genesis 17:1-27., fourteen years after. Abraham, therefore, was justified "in his Gentile-hood" (see Godet). Therefore, he is the father of Gentile believers; and in so far as he is the father of Jewish believers, it is because they are believers, not because they are Jews.
2. Circumcision a seal of the righteousness of faith. God strengthens man's faith by visible signs and seals of the faith and of its results. So to Abraham circumcision was an abiding pledge that God accepted his faith for righteousness. And likewise the existence of a separated nation was a testimony to the world. But it was the faith alone that was effectual; circumcision did but attest.
II. HERITAGE. The whole world is promised to the heirs of Abraham as a heritage; this of itself might suffice to show that the heirs are not merely descendants according to the flesh. But the condition of such inheritance shall show the meaning.
1. If the heritage were through Law, then faith and the promise fail.
(1) "Faith is made void;" for it cannot grasp an impossibility, nor can it rightly lay hold of that which must be worked for.
(2) "And the promise is made of none effect;" for an unfulfilled Law works God's wrath towards man, which is in utter contrariety to the fulfilment of a promise of love.
2. Therefore the heritage is of faith, that it may be according to grace, etc.
(1) Faith the sole condition of promise, that while God's grace gives freely, man may freely receive.
(2) Faith the sole characteristic of the heirs of the promise, that so the seed may be, not merely that which is of the Law (even combined with faith), but that which is of faith (apart from Law), comprising beth Jews and Gentiles who are the spiritual children of the great believer.
III. POSTERITY. But it might be objected that an Israel according to the flesh was necessary, in order that the spiritual Israel might be at last accomplished. Truly. But, to cut away the last ground of boasting, even the Israel according to the flesh was the gift of God through faith.
1. The obstacles to such faith. "His own body," etc. And this all full in view: "he considered."
2. The warrant of faith. While viewing the obstacles, he staggered not.
(1) God's promise "A father of many nations." "So shall thy seed be.
(2) God's power. "Able to perform;" "quickeneth the dead," etc. "Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." As before, it was virtually the faith of his spiritual salvation; yes, the very faith which laid hold of the promise of posterity—a posterity that they deemed according to the flesh. Let us learn that by faith we may be righteous, by faith we may possess the earth, By faith we may impress for good the generations following. What an heirship is possible through the faith of one believer!—T.F.L.
Our faith and righteousness.
Abraham's faith was virtually faith in the saving love of God; the special manifestation of that love to him was the raising up of a holy seed. Our faith is a faith in the ultimate Seed of Abraham which has been raised up as the supreme Manifestation of God's love.
I. OUR FAITH. Our faith and Abraham's are one in this—that they lay hold upon God, and God at work for us.
1. The one supreme Object of our faith. God! Whatever God may say to us, whatever he may do for us, the essential Object of our faith is himself. Yes, himself in all his saving love. And though in successive ages he may have revealed more and more of his purposes as men were able to bear it, yet he himself has been ever the same, the Object of man's trust. And though now his purposes and past actions may be variously conceived by men, and though indeed they may be more or less misconceived, yet if he himself, as the Good One, the saving God, be trusted, all is well. We "believe on him."
2. The special subject-matter of our faith. "That raised Jesus," etc. It was not revealed to Abraham how God would eventually work out salvation for mankind, but such salvation as he could grasp was promised—the raising up of a posterity which should possess the world. To us the full meaning of that promise has been made known.
(1) The "delivering up" of Jesus "for our trespasses." Man's sin the necessitating cause: "that he might be just," etc. (Romans 3:26). God's love the efficient cause: "so loved the world," etc. (John 3:16).
(2) The "raising" of Jesus "for our justification." The death did its work; man was justified (i.e. potentially). But if so, the justification of man through the death of Christ demanded his resurrection, just as the trespasses demanded his death. God raised him; our Lord of life for evermore. And it is this grandly operative love that claims our faith.
II. OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. An objective righteousness, complete now by reason of our faith in the atoning work of Christ. What was potential for all men is actual to us, who have received it with humble hearts—even justification through Christ.
2. A subjective righteousness, pledged by the faith which trusts the living Lord. The faith itself the germ also of future righteousness, and therefore "reckoned" for what it will more and more perfectly bring forth.
To us? Oh, simple condition—believe on him!—T.F.L.
HOMILIES BY S.R, ALDRIDGE
A happy man.
It is essential in argument to have common ground where the debate can be carried on. The apostle could count on the agreement of his Jewish readers with his reference to the Scriptures as the court of final appeal. And whilst some modern hearers reject the claims of the Bible, the majority receive it as an inspired authority, so that the preacher's business generally is to prove his case therefrom, and to press home its statements showing what is the appropriate action they involve. Having mentioned Abraham as an instance of justification by faith, the apostle proceeded to summon David as a witness to the same truth in the thirty-second psalm.
I. GOD'S MERCIFUL TREATMENT OF PENITENT SINNERS.
1. Three expressions are employed in the verses cited, respecting sin. It is said to be forgiven, like a debt remitted, the score against us being erased. It is covered, as the mercy-seat hid the Law from view, or as a stone flung into the depths of the sea is buried in its waters, or as a mantle of fleecy snow conceals the defilements of a landscape. Likewise it is act reckoned against the delinquents, as if God turned a deaf ear and unseeing eye when complaint is lodged against him concerning the transgressions of the culprits. He smooths the wax tablets so that none can read the bill of indictment.
2. These expressions signify a complete pardon. The king may not care much for the presence of the pardoned rebel at his court, but the father is joyful at the return of the prodigal son. No intermediate state of indifference is possible in God's attitude towards his creatures; when he forgives, there is full reconciliation. No look, no tone, hints at past unworthiness!
3. These expressions teach plainly gratuitous justification. No mention is made of human merit. Man's repentance cannot obliterate or atone for the past; forgiveness means a wrong condoned, not undone, Man is a slave, who cannot purchase his freedom; he has thrown himself into bondage, and his only hope lies in free manumission.
II. THE HAPPINESS OF THE FORGIVEN.
1. The penalties of sin are averted. This does not mean that all the consequences of past wrong-doing are prevented from following, but that the wrath of God rests no longer upon the sinner. The future sentence against evil is withheld, and the burden of guilt is thus removed.
2. Justification brings with it admission into a state of Divine favour. Acquittal includes more than a negative result, that of no condemnation; there is likewise a positive entrance into the kingdom of heaven, with all its sacred privileges and relationships. Filial love takes the place of the spirit of fear.
3. The blissful consciousness of a right condition. Instead of slurring over sin, trying vainly to forget it, the fact has been faced, the truth admitted, and the touch of God has rolled the load for ever from the conscience. The Scriptures assume the possibility of knowing ourselves forgiven. Faith opens the inner hearing to rejoice in the assurance, "Go in peace." The devout Israelite had the ceremonies of the temple to symbolize God's plan of mercy as well as the declarations of inspired teachers. The Christian has words of Christ to rest upon, as also the apostolic commentaries upon the sacrifice and mission of Christ. "I'm in a new world," said one who realized his altered position God-wards. Peaceful in mind during life, serene in the prospect of death, with God as his Portion through eternity, surely this is happiness worthy of the eulogy of the psalmist.—S.R.A.
Obtaining an inheritance.
An honourable lineage is not to be despised. Many advantages accrue from the law of heredity, by which progenitors transmit distinguishing qualities to their descendants. But the text invites to an unusual course of begetting an ancestry and thus winning a noble inheritance—nothing less than claiming Abraham as our father. The qualification is to exhibit like faith with the father of the faithful. Faith is thus like the horn of Egremont Castle—
"Horn it was which none could sound,
No one upon living ground
Save he who came as rightful heir."
I. THE SIMILARITY OF ABRAHAM'S FAITH TO THAT REQUIRED BY THE GOSPEL.
1. Each has God as its supreme Object, and rests on some promise of God. As the patriarch had respect to the word and power of the Almighty, so the Christian's faith regards the wonder-working might of him who "raised up Jesus from the dead." That in the latter case we look back, not forward, makes no difference as to the essence of faith, and this resurrection becomes itself the ground of believing expectancy in relation to our own future salvation.
2. The subject of faith thereby differentiates himself from his fellows. Out of a world in a condition of rebellion and distrust, Abraham stood forth a monumental pillar of faith. Sin first entered in the guise of a doubt of God's Word, and faith is the throwing off of all suspicion and the adoption of a right attitude before God. Men find it hard to trust God's assurance of pardon and life.
3. The effect of faith is the same. The believer is justified, for God rejoices in the altered state. The implicit credence honours him, and is for his creatures' lasting good. Christ's mission was to show us the Father, revealing his displeasure at sin, and his self-sacrificing sympathy with the sinner.
II. THE PROMINENCE OF GRACE.
1. That the inheritance is won by faith involves the absence of valid merit on the part of the recipient. He receives not the wages of a workman, but the free donation of his King. Pride is pulled up by the roots in this manifestation of the kindness of God. Justification is an exercise of clemency for established reasons.
2. The same truth is recognized in the use of the term "promise." We are entitled to claim the heritage on the ground of God's own declaration, not on the score of our personal worthiness.
3. Only by such a method could the promise to Abraham be fulfilled, that is, "made sure to all the seed." If dependent on physical connection, who but the Israelites could hope for the inheritance? If dependent on obedience to the Law, neither Jew nor Gentile could show conformity to the conditions. A world-wide blessing means the removal of both local and universal restrictions.
III. THIS DIVINE PLAN JUSTIFIED BY ITS RESULTS. Complaints of arbitrariness and indifference vanish before this apprehended scheme of mercy. Faith tends to produce a righteousness of life which the stern threatenings of Law could never effect. The despairing criminal begins to see that past transgressions and failures need not debar him from hope of the prize, and with the entrance of this thought, new energy is infused into his soul. The greater contains the less. If God promise to save, he will not withhold minor temporal blessings. Let us, like Abraham, view the land of promise, look away from all in our surroundings that would check faith in God, and say, "I will trust, and not be afraid."—S.R.A.
Romans 4:23, Romans 4:24
The gospel in Genesis.
The story takes us back to that starry night when the twinkling lamps of the firmament were Abraham's arithmetical calculator concerning the numerous posterity that should trace their descent to him. His faith triumphed over all the obstacles of sense, over all the arguments of improbability which reason suggested. He was a true servant of God, a holy man, yet does the historian speak of him as justified, not on account of his devoted life, his blameless conduct, but by his unwavering acceptance of the promise of the Almighty. Faith was indeed the root-grace out of which his virtues sprang; it was the secret sustaining power which supported him under the trials of a pilgrim and sojourner. The significant statement in Genesis was fastened on by the apostle and triumphantly wielded as a weapon to slay all Jewish prejudices against the gospel doctrine of justification by faith. What could be more convincing than to find the cardinal principle of Christianity in a place where no suspicion could attach to it—in the very account of Divine honour conferred on the great progenitor of the Hebrew nation? It was like finding in an old book an account of an experiment forestalling a modern discovery.
I. THE SCRIPTURES A RECORD OF REVELATION. The distinction between the revelation and its history is important, many theories of inspiration failing to recognize the human side visible in the record. The Bible contains the account of the way in which God has revealed and gradually achieved his great purpose of redemption, selecting the man, the family, the tribe, the nation, to be the channel of blessing to the world, till in the fulness of time there appeared the representative Man, Christ Jesus, consummating the revelation and its gracious effects. The Old Testament is not to be identified with Mosaism; it includes the Law, and more. The patriarchal dispensation and the prophetical teachings must be equally regarded. Nor was there any discrepancy between the grace of the patriarchal covenant and the rigour of the Law. The Law was a stern process of education, necessary to the continuity of development, as the green fruit is acid prior to its maturity. And when the Jew contemned Christianity as a bastard growth, the apostle pointed to the prediction of the gospel clearly presented in God's dealings with Abraham, justifying Christianity as a legitimate scion of Judaism; the grandchild, as often happens, displaying features of likeness to the grandparent not so marked in the intermediate generation.
II. ADVANTAGES OF A WRITTEN RECORD. A particular instance here of the general statement in Genesis 15:1-21. that "these things were written aforetime for our learning." Writing is the natural complement of articulate utterance, the chief instrument of the progress of the race. It perpetuates the memory of noble thoughts and deeds, enabling each generation to commence where its predecessor left off. Printing is improved writing, facilitating the multiplication of copies. The impression of a speech weakens and fades like the water-ripples caused by a stone, but the written page is powerful to the last, like the inhaling of the fragrance of a rose. Latest readers may compare their ideas with the earliest receivers of a revelation, and misunderstandings are corrected. To peruse the story in Genesis is to note how the bud by its markings afforded promise of the full-grown flower. In the child were seen glimpses of the manhood of religion, when there should be a system freed from burdensome ordinances, and adapted to every clime, race, and age. And since "no man liveth unto himself," the record of Abraham's faith stimulates the faith of every subsequent reader. The patriarchal hero has had posthumous glory from the narrative, beside the comfort of the assurance divinely communicated that his faith was reckoned for righteousness. The unity of the Divine character is attested by the same method of justification being adopted in the olden days. Cf. with the apostle's appreciation of a written record the puerile remarks of Peter Chrysologus, Archbishop of Ravenna: "Let the mind hold and the memory guard this decree of salvation, this symbol of life [the Creed], lest vile paper depreciate the gift of Divinity, lest black ink obscure the mystery of light."
III. MEANS OF PERSONALLY BENEFITING BY THE RECORD. Frequent perusal and the application by analogy of the principle implied in the history wilt show that the Christian, like Abraham, has demands made upon his faith by the wonders of the gospel narrative, and by reliance on God can he likewise remain steadfast in obedient righteousness. We have a promise to lean on as Abraham had. We have the resurrection of Christ to proclaim God's power and intent to save, his satisfaction with the work of Christ and his ability to give life from the dead to every sinful soul that trusts him. Humbly yet thankfully and firmly clasp this declaration to your breast.—S.R.A.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Abraham justified by faith alone.
We have just seen in last chapter the utility of Judaism, the universal depravity of the race, the new channel for Divine righteousness which had consequently to be found, and the confirmation of law which is secured by faith. The apostle in the present chapter illustrates his argument from the history of Abraham. He was reckoned by the Jews as "father of the faithful;" his case is, therefore, a crucial one. Accordingly, Paul begins by asking, "What shall we then say that Abraham, our forefather, hath found, as pertaining to the flesh?" By this is meant virtually this: "What merit before God did Abraham acquire in the use of his natural human faculties, or, in other words, by his own works?" (cf. Shedd, in loc.). Now, to this a negative answer is expected; and, as if it had been supplied, Paul goes on to state the case thus: "For if Abraham were justified by works, he has a subject for glorification; but, vis-a-vis, of God, he has no reason for glorification." This he proceeds to show from the history. Now, there are three things mentioned in this chapter which Abraham got, and in each case it was by exercising faith. These were righteousness (Romans 4:3-12), inheritance (Romans 4:13-17), and a seed (Romans 4:18-25). Let us direct our attention to these in their order.
1. ABRAHAM RECEIVED RIGHTEOUSNESS THROUGH FAITH. (Romans 4:3-12.) The apostle begins here with a scriptural quotation; it is from Genesis 15:6, to the effect that "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." We see from the context in Genesis that what Abraham believed was that God's promise about a Seed who would prove a blessing to all nations would yet be fulfilled. He bettered God's naked promise, and looked forward prophetically to his Seed as the medium of universal blessing. His faith was thus fixed in a Seed of promise—in Christ to come. Now, this act of faith without works was "reckoned unto him" (Revised Version) for righteousness. Because of this act of faith, he was regarded by God as having fulfilled the Law and secured righteousness through a perfect obedience. Such a reckoning of righteousness to Abraham's credit was a great act of grace upon God's part. Assuming for the moment that God could justly reckon faith for righteousness, it must be regarded as a gracious gift on the part of God. But the apostle would leave us in no doubt as to the principle involved. One who trusts in his works for acceptance claims reward as a debt; he who trusts, not in his works, but in his God for justification, receives reward as a matter, not of debt, but of grace. This was Abraham's exact position. And David follows his father Abraham in this respect, celebrating in the Psalms the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works; saying, "Blessed arc they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin" (Revised Version). Abraham and David had by faith entered into that blissful position where God not only was felt to forgive them all their iniquities and to cover all their sin, but also would not reckon sin unto them. It was as if they had been transfigured before God into men innocent of all sin. The past was cancelled, and they stood before God accepted as righteous in his sight. But this is not all. The apostle points out particularly that this pardon and acceptance of Abraham on the ground of his faith happened before his circumcision. As a matter of fact, it happened fourteen years before. So that circumcision could constitute no ground of acceptance. It was simply a divinely appointed sign and seal of the previously imputed righteousness. Accordingly, Abraham was in a position to be the father of uncircumcised believers or of circumcised believers, as the case may be; showing us at once faith as exercised in uncircumcision with its resultant righteousness, and faith also exercised after his circumcision with its continued justification.
II. ABRAHAM RECEIVED AS INHERITANCE THROUGH FAITH. (Verses 13-17.) Now we have to observe that Abraham received net only righteousness through faith, but also an inheritance. As a matter of fact, he became "heir of the world." We must not restrict justification, therefore, to deliverance from deserved penalty, but must attach to it the further idea of inheritance. As one writer has well remarked, "Justification is a term applicable to something more than the discharge of an accused person without condemnation. As in our courts of law there are civil as well as criminal cases; so it was in old time; and a large number of the passages adduced seem to refer to trials of the latter description, in which some question of property, right, or inheritance was under discussion between the two parties. The judge, by justifying one of the parties, decided that the property in question was to be regarded as his. Applying this aspect of the matter to the justification of man in the sight of God, we gather from Scripture that whilst through sin man is to be regarded as having forfeited legal claim to any right or inheritance which God might have to bestow upon his creatures, so through justification he is restored to his high position and regarded as an heir of God.' £ Now, this designation of Abraham to the heirship of the world was at the same time as the reckoning to him of righteousness. The Law afterwards given to his posterity had nothing to do with this inheritance. It came solely through faith. It was the gift of Divine grace signalizing the patriarch's trust in God as faithful Promiser. Hence the patriarch was called the "father of many nations," because he felt assured that God, who raiseth the dead and quickeneth them, could give him through his seed the inheritance of the world. In the universal triumph of righteousness, the believing descendants of Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile, should "inherit the earth"
III. ABRAHAM RECEIVED A SEED THROUGH FAITH, (Verses 18-25.) Now, the inheritance centred itself, as the history shows us, in a "seed of promise," and for years this was unlikely. Abraham is ninety and nine, and Sarah ninety, before the promised seed is given. For a quarter of a century it seemed hopeless; but the patriarch hoped against hope, and eventually the God who can raise the dead granted to Sarah's dead womb a living son of promise. Here was the strength of the patriarch's faith in hoping in spite of all appearances. We have thus set before us in Abraham's case, as received through faith alone, righteousness, inheritance, and a seed of promise. But the apostle at once reminds us that all this is written for us also, to whom the same righteousness and the same inheritance shall be secured if we exercise the same faith. And the analogy he traces out in the closing verses is very striking. Jesus, the Seed of Abraham, lay for a season in Joseph's tomb. He was to all appearances hopelessly dead. But God raised him from the dead, just as he had brought Isaac from the dead womb of Sarah. In the God who can thus "call those things which be not as though they were" we ought to believe. Let us believe in the Father who raised Christ from the dead; and then we can rejoice in the two great facts, that Jesus was delivered because of our offences unto death, and then raised out of death as the sign of our justification. Christ's resurrection is thus seen to be the sign and pledge of our personal justification. May we enter into all these privileges through the exercise of faith!—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Romans 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29