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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Romans 4

 

 

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Verses 1-25

THE FOURTH CHAPTER is practically a parenthesis. In verse 28 of chapter 4 the conclusion is reached that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. To exactly the same point are we brought back in Romans 5:1, and then—but not till then—does the Apostle carry us on further into the blessings of the Gospel. In chapter 4 he develops at considerable length certain Old Testament scriptures which support his thesis, that before God a man is justified by faith alone.

When, in Romans 3:1-31, the Apostle aimed at convincing the Jew of his sinfulness, that he equally with the Gentile was subject to the judgment of God, he clinched his argument by quoting what the law had said. Now the point is to prove that justification is by faith, with the deeds of the law excluded, and again the Old Testament is appealed to. In days of long ago the faith of the Gospel was anticipated; and this was the case, whether before the law was given, as in the case of Abraham, or after it was given, as in the case of David.

The first question asked is, What about Abraham? He is spoken of as “the father of circumcision,” in verse Romans 4:12, and as such the Jew boasted very greatly in him. He was also “the father of all that believe,” as verse Romans 4:11 states. Had he been justified by works he would have had something in which to glory, but not before God. Note the two words italicized, for they plainly indicate that the point of this passage is, what is valid before God and not what is valid before men. Herein lies an essential difference between this chapter and James 2:1-26, where the word is, “Shew me thy faith” (verse Romans 4:18). We may also point out that whereas Paul shows that the works of the law must be excluded, James insists that the works of faith must be brought in.

We may put the matter in a nutshell thus:—Before God a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law; whereas, to be accepted as justified before men, the faith that is professed must evidence its vitality by producing the works of faith.

The case is very clear as to both Abraham and David. We have but to turn to Genesis 15:1-21 on the one hand, and to Psalms 32:1-11 on the other, in order to see that faith was the way of their justification and that works were excluded. The wonder of the Gospel is that God is presented as, “Him that justifieth the ungodly.” The law contemplated nothing more than this, that the judges, “shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked” (Deuteronomy 25:1). That the ungodly should be justified was not contemplated. But this is what God does in the Gospel, on the basis of the work of Christ, since “Christ died for the ungodly.” This opens the door into blessing for sinners such as ourselves.

We get the expression, “this blessedness,” in verse Romans 4:9. It refers to faith being “counted for righteousness,” or “reckoned for righteousness,” or righteousness being “imputed.” These, and similar expressions, occur a number of times in the chapter. What do they mean? Whether referring to Abraham or David or to ourselves who believe today, they mean that God accounts us as righteous before Him in view of our faith. We must not imagine that all virtue resides in our faith. It does not. But faith establishes contact with the work of Christ, in which all the virtue does reside. In that sense faith justifies. Once that contact is established and we stand before God in all the justifying virtue of the work of Christ, we are of necessity justified. It could not righteously be otherwise. God holds us as righteous in view of our faith.

The question raised in verse Romans 4:9 is this:—Is this blessedness for the Jew only or is it also for the Gentile who believes? The Apostle knew right well the determined way in which the bigoted Jew sought to place all the condemnation upon the Gentile while reserving all the blessing for himself. The answer is that the case of Abraham, in whom they so much boasted, proves that it is for ALL. Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. Had the order been reversed, the Jew might have had some ground for such a contention. As things were, he had none. Circumcision was only a sign, a seal of the faith which justified Abraham.

Abraham then in his justification stood clean outside the law. The law indeed only works wrath, as verse Romans 4:15 says. There was plenty of sin before the law came in, but there was not transgression. To transgress is to offend by stepping over a clearly defined and forbidden boundary. When the law was given the boundary was definitely raised, and sin became transgression. Now “sin is not imputed when there is no law” (v. Romans 4:13). That is, so long as the evil had not been definitely forbidden God did not put the evil down to man’s account, as He does when the prohibition has been issued. This then was the work of the law. But long before the law was given Abraham had been justified by faith. Does not this display how God delights in mercy? Justification was clearly indicated four hundred years before the urgent need of it was manifested by the law being given.

“Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace.” Had it been by works it would have been a matter of debt and not grace, as verse Romans 4:4 told us. On the principle of faith and grace the blessing is made “sure to all the seed;” that is, the true spiritual seed of Abraham or in other words, true believers. For Abraham is, “the father of us all.” “US all” be it noted—ALL true believers.

This fact being established, the last nine verses of chapter 4 apply the principles of Abraham’s justification to the believer of today.

Abraham’s faith had this peculiarity, that it was centred in God as the One who was able to raise the dead. If we turn to Genesis 15:1-21 we discover that he believed God when the promise was made as to the birth of Isaac. He believed that God would raise up a living child from parents who, as regards the process of reproduction, were dead. He believed in hope when it was against all natural hope that such a thing should be.

Had Abraham been weak in faith he would have considered all the circumstances, which were against it. He would have felt that the promise was too great and consequently have staggered at it. He did neither. He took God at His word with the simplicity of a little child. He believed that God would do what He had said He would do. And this, be it noted, is what here is called strong faith. Strong faith then is not so much the faith that performs miracles as that faith which implicitly trusts God to do what He has said, even though all appearances and reason and precedent should be against it.

Now these things have not been written for Abraham’s sake alone but also for us. The same principles apply exactly. There is however one important difference. In Abraham’s case he believed that God would raise up life out of death. We are not asked to believe that God will do it, but that He has done it, by raising up Jesus our Lord from the dead. How much simpler to believe that He has done it, when He has done it, than to believe that He will do it, when as yet He has not done it. Bearing this in mind it is easy to see that as regards the texture or quality of faith we cannot hope to produce as fine an article as Abraham did.

Where however the case of Abraham is far surpassed is in the glorious facts that are presented to our faith, the glorious light in which God had made Himself known. Not now the God who will raise up an Isaac, but the God who has raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. Christ, who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification, is presented as the Object of our faith. And by Him we believe in God.

It is possible of course to believe on Him that raised up the Lord Jesus, without at all realizing what is involved in this wonderful fact. The last verse of the chapter states what is involved in it. Let us pay great attention to it, and so make sure that we take it in. Twice in the verse does the word “our” occur. That word signifies believers, and believers only.

Jesus our Lord has died. But He did not die for Himself, but for us. Our offences were in view. He was the Substitute, and assuming all the liabilities incurred, He was delivered up to judgment and death on their account.

He has been raised again by the act of God. But it is equally true that His resurrection was not simply a personal matter, and on His own account. We still view Him as standing on our behalf, as our Representative. He was raised representatively for us. God raised Him with our justification in view. His resurrection was most certainly His own personal vindication in the face of the hostile verdict of the world. Equally certainly it was our justification in the face of all the offences, which apart from His death were lying to our account.

His death was the complete discharge of all our dread account. His resurrection is the receipt that all is paid, the God-given declaration and proof that we are completely cleared. Now justification is just that—a complete clearance from all that which once lay against us. Being then justified by faith we have peace with God. We must read on from the end of chapter 4 into chapter 5 without any break whatever.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/romans-4.html. 1947.


Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 18th, 2018
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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