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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Romans 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-12

Chapter 10

ABRAHAM AND DAVID

Romans 4:1-12

THE Jewish disputant is present still to the Apostle’s thought. It could not be otherwise in this argument. No question was more pressing on the Jewish mind than that of Acceptance; thus far, truly, the teaching and discipline of the Old Testament had not been in vain. And St. Paul had not only, in his Christian Apostleship, debated that problem countless times with Rabbinic combatants; he had been himself a Rabbi, and knew by experience alike the misgivings of the Rabbinist’s conscience, and the subterfuges of his reasoning.

So now there rises before him the great name of Abraham, as a familiar watchword of the controversy of Acceptance. He has been contending for an absolutely inclusive verdict of "guilty" against man, against every man. He has been shutting with all his might the doors of thought against human "boasting," against the least claim of man to have merited his acceptance. Can he carry this principle into quite impartial issues? Can he, a Jew in presence of Jews, apply it without apology, without reserve, to "the Friend of God" himself? What will he say to that majestic Example of man? His name itself sounds like a claim to almost worship. As he moves across the scene of Genesis, we-even we Gentiles-rise up as it were in reverent homage, honouring this figure at once so real and so near to the ideal; marked by innumerable lines of individuality, totally unlike the composed picture of legend or poem, yet walking with God Himself in a personal intercourse so habitual, so tranquil, so congenial. Is this a name to becloud with the assertion that here, as everywhere, acceptance was hopeless but for the clemency of God "gift-wise, without deeds of law"? Was not at least Abraham accepted because he was morally worthy of acceptance? And if Abraham, then surely, in abstract possibility, others also. There must be a group of men, small or large, there is at least one man, who can "boast" of his peace with God.

On the other hand, if with Abraham it was not thus, then the inference is easy to all other men. Who but he is called "the Friend?" [Isaiah 41:8] Moses himself, the almost deified Lawgiver, is but “the Servant," trusted, intimate, honoured in a sublime degree by his eternal Master. But he is never called "the Friend." That peculiar title seems to preclude altogether the question of a legal acceptance. Who thinks of his friend as one whose relation to him needs to be good in law at all? The friend stands as it were behind law, or above it, in respect of his fellow. He holds a relation implying personal sympathies, identity of interests, contact of thought and will, not an anxious previous settlement of claims, and remission of liabilities. If then the Friend of the Eternal Judge proves, nevertheless, to have needed Justification, and to have received it by the channel not of his personal worth but of the grace of God, there will be little hesitation about other men’s need, and the way by which alone other men shall find it met.

In approaching this great example, for such it will prove to be, St. Paul is about to illustrate all the main points of his inspired argument. By the way, by implication, he gives us the all-important fact that even an Abraham, even "the Friend," did need justification somehow. Such is the Eternal Holy One that no man can walk by His side and live, no, not in the path of inmost "friendship," without an acceptance before His face as He is Judge. Then again, such is He, that even an Abraham found this acceptance, as a matter of fact, not by merit but by faith; not by presenting himself, but by renouncing himself, and taking God for all; by pleading not, "I am worthy," but, "Thou art faithful." It is to be shown that Abraham’s justification was such that it gave him not the least ground for self-applause; it was not in the least degree based on merit. It was "of grace, not of debt." A promise of sovereign kindness. connected with the redemption of himself, and of the world, was made to him. He was not morally worthy of such a promise, if only because he was not morally perfect. And he was, humanly speaking, physically incapable of it. But God offered Himself freely to Abraham, in His promise; and Abraham opened the empty arms of personal reliance to receive the unearned gift. Had he stayed first to earn it he would have shut it out; he would have closed his arms. Rightly renouncing himself, because seeing and trusting his gracious God, the sight of whose holy glory annihilates the idea of man’s claims. he opened his arms, and the God of peace filled the Void. The man received his God’s approval, because he interposed nothing of his own to intercept it.

From one point of view, the all-important viewpoint here, it mattered not what Abraham’s conduct had been. As a fact, he was already devout when the incident of Genesis 15:1-21 occurred. But he was also actually a sinner; that is made quite plain by Genesis 12:1-20, the very chapter of the Call. And potentially, according to Scripture, he was a great sinner; for he was an instance of the human heart. But this, while it constituted Abraham’s urgent need of acceptance, was not in the least a barrier to his acceptance, when he turned from himself, in the great crisis of absolute faith, and accepted God in His promise.

The principle of the acceptance of "the Friend" was identically that which underlies the acceptance of the most flagrant transgressor. As St. Paul will soon remind us, David in the guilt of his murderous adultery, and Abraham in the grave walk of his worshipping obedience, stand upon the same level here. Actually or potentially, each is a great sinner. Each turns from himself, unworthy, to God in His promise. And the promise is his, not because his hand is full of merit, but because it is empty of himself.

It is true that Abraham’s justification, unlike David’s, is not explicitly connected in the narrative with a moral crisis of his soul. He is not depicted, in Genesis 15:1-21, as a conscious penitent, flying from justice to the Judge. But is there not a deep suggestion that something not unlike this did then pass over him, and through him? That short assertion, that "he trusted the Lord, and he counted it to Him for righteousness," is an anomaly in the story, if it has not a spiritual depth hidden in it. Why, just then and there, should we be told this about his acceptance with God? Is it not because the vastness of the promise had made the man see in contrast the absolute failure of a corresponding merit in himself? Job [Job 42:1-6] was brought to self-despairing penitence not by the fires of the Law but by the glories of Creation. Was not Abraham brought to the same consciousness, whatever form it may have taken in his character and period, by the greater glories of the Promise? Surely it was there and then that he learnt that secret of self-rejection in favour of God which is the other side of all true faith, and which came out long years afterwards, in its mighty issues of "work," when he laid Isaac on the altar.

It is true, again, that Abraham’s faith, his justifying reliance, is not connected in the narrative with any articulate expectation of an atoning Sacrifice. But here first we dare to say, even at the risk of that formidable charge, an antique and obsolete theory of the Patriarchal creed, that probably Abraham knew much more about the Coming One than a modern critique will commonly allow. "He rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad". [John 8:56] And further, the faith which justifies, though what it touches in fact is the blessed Propitiation, or rather God in the Propitiation, does not always imply an articulate knowledge of the whole "reason of the hope." It assuredly implies a true submission to all that the believer knows of the revelation of that reason. But he may (by circumstances) know very little of it, and yet be a believer. The saint who prayed [Psalms 143:2] "Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified," cast himself upon a God who, being absolutely holy, yet can somehow, just as He is, justify the sinner. Perhaps he knew much of the reason of Atonement, as it lies in God’s mind, and as it is explained, as it is demonstrated, in the Cross. But perhaps he did not. What he did was to cast himself up to the full light he had, "without one plea," upon his Judge, as a man awfully conscious of his need, and trusting only in a sovereign mercy, which must also be a righteous, a law honouring mercy, because it is the mercy of the Righteous Lord.

Let us not be mistaken, meanwhile, as if such words meant that a definite creed of the Atoning Work is not possible, or is not precious. This Epistle will help us to such a creed, and so will Galatians, and Hebrews, and Isaiah, and Leviticus, and the whole Scripture. "Prophets and kings desired to see the things we see, and did not see them". [Luke 10:24] But that is no reason why we should not adore the mercy that has unveiled to us the Cross and the blessed Lamb.

But it is time to come to the Apostle’s words as they stand.

What then shall we say that Abraham has found-"has found," the perfect tense of abiding and always significant fact-"has found," in his great discovery of divine peace-our forefather according to the flesh? "According to the flesh"; that is to say, (having regard to the prevailing moral use of the word "flesh" in this Epistle,) "in respect of self," "in the region of his own works and merits." For if Abraham was justified as a result of works, he has a boast; he has a right to self-applause. Yes, such is the principle indicated here; if man merits, man is entitled to self-applause. May we not say, in passing, that the common instinctive sense of the moral discord of self-applause, above all in spiritual things, is one among many witnesses to the truth of our justification by faith only? But St. Paul goes on; ah, but not towards God; not when even an Abraham looks Him in the face, and sees himself in that Light. As if to say, "If he earned justification, he might have boasted rightly; but ‘rightful boasting,’ when man sees God, is a thing unthinkable; therefore his justification was given, not earned." For what says the Scripture, the passage, the great text? [Genesis 15:6] "Now Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to the man who works, his reward, his earned requital, is not reckoned grace-wise, as a gift of generosity, but debt-wise; it is to the man who does not work, but believes, confides, in Him who justifies the ungodly one, that "his faith is reckoned as righteousness." "The ungodly one"; as if to bring out by an extreme case the glory of the wonderful paradox. "The ungodly" is undoubtedly a word intense and dark; it means not the sinner only, but the open, defiant sinner. Every human heart is capable of such sinfulness, for "the heart is deceitful above all things." In this respect, as we have seen, in the potential respect, even an Abraham is a great sinner. But there are indeed "sinners and sinners," in the experiences of life; and St. Paul is ready now with a conspicuous example of the justification of one who was truly, at one miserable period, by his own fault, "an ungodly one."

"Thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme". [2 Samuel 12:14] He had done so indeed. The faithful photography of the Scriptures shows us David, the chosen, the faithful, the man of spiritual experiences, acting out his lustful look in adultery, and half covering his adultery with the most base of constructive murders, and then, for long months, refusing to repent. Yet was David justified: "I have sinned against the Lord"; "The Lord also hath put away thy sin." He turned from his awfully ruined self to God, and at once he received remission. Then, and to the last, he was chastised. But then and there he was unreservedly justified, and with a justification which made him sing a loud beatitude.

Just as David too speaks his felicitation of the man (and it was himself) to whom God reckons righteousness irrespective of works, "Happy they whose iniquities have been remitted, and whose sins have been covered; happy the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin". [Psalms 32:1-2] Wonderful words, in the context of the experience out of which they spring! A human soul which has greatly transgressed, and which knows it well, and knows too that to the end it will suffer a sore discipline because of it, for example and humiliation, nevertheless knows its pardon, and knows it as a happiness indescribable. The iniquity has been "lifted"; the sin has been "covered," has been struck out of the book of "reckoning," written by the Judge. The penitent will never forgive himself: in this very Psalm he tears from his sin all the covering woven by his own heart. But his God has given him remission, has reckoned him as one who has not sinned, so far as access to Him and peace with Him are in question. And so his song of shame and penitence begins with a beatitude, and ends with a cry of joy.

We pause to note the exposition implied here of the phrase, "to reckon righteousness." It is to treat the man as one whose account is clear. "Happy the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin." In the phrase itself, "to reckon righteousness" (as in its Latin equivalent, "to impute righteousness"), the question, what clears the account, is not answered. Suppose the impossible case of a record kept absolutely clear by the man’s own sinless goodness; then the "reckoned," the "imputed, righteousness" would mean the Law’s contentment with him on his own merits. But the context of human sin fixes the actual reference to an "imputation" which means that the awfully defective record is treated, for a divinely valid reason, as if it were, what it is not, good. The man is at peace with his Judge, though he has sinned, because the Judge has joined him to Himself, and taken up his liability, and answered for it to His own Law. The man is dealt with as righteous, being a sinner, for his glorious Redeemer’s sake. It is pardon, but more than pardon. It is no mere indulgent dismissal; it is a welcome as of the worthy to the embrace of the Holy One.

Such is the Justification of God. We shall need to remember it through the whole course of the Epistle. To make Justification a mere synonym for Pardon is always inadequate. Justification is the contemplation and treatment of the penitent sinner, found in Christ, as righteous, as satisfactory to the Law, not merely as one whom the Law lets go. Is this a fiction? Not at all. It is vitally linked to two great spiritual facts. One is, that the sinner’s Friend has Himself dealt, in the sinner’s interests, with the Law, honouring its holy claim to the uttermost under the human conditions which He freely undertook. The other is that he has mysteriously, but really, joined the sinner to Himself, in faith, by the Spirit; joined him to Himself as limb, as branch, as bride. Christ and His disciples are really One in the order of spiritual life. And so the community between Him and them ‘is real, the community of their debt on the one side, of His merit on the other.

Now again comes up the question, never far distant in St. Paul’s thought, and in his life, what these facts of Justification have to do with Gentile sinners. Here is David blessing God for his unmerited acceptance, an acceptance by the way wholly unconnected with the ritual of the altar. Here above all is Abraham, "justified in consequence of faith." But David was a child of the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham was the father of that covenant. Do not their justifications speak only to those who stand, with them, inside that charmed circle? Was not Abraham justified by faith plus circumcision? Did not the faith act only because he was already one of the privileged? This felicitation therefore, this cry of "Happy are the freely justified," is it upon the circumcision, or upon the uncircumcision? For we say that to Abraham, with an emphasis on "Abraham," his faith was reckoned as righteousness. The question, he means, is legitimate, "for"’ Abraham is not at first sight a case in point for the justification of the outside world, the non-privileged races of man. But consider: How then was it reckoned? To Abraham in circumcision or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision; fourteen years at least had to pass before the covenant rite came in. And he received the sign of circumcision (with a stress upon "sign," as if to say that the "thing," the reality signed, was his already), as a seal on the righteousness of the faith that was in his uncircumcision, a seal on the acceptance which he received, antecedent to all formal privilege, in that bare hand of faith. And all this was so, and was recorded so, with a purpose of far-reaching significance: that he might be father, exemplar, representative, of all who believe notwithstanding uncircumcision, that to them righteousness should be reckoned; and father of circumcision, exemplar and representative within its circle also, for those who do not merely belong to circumcision, but for those who also step in the track of the uncircumcision-faith of our father Abraham.

So privilege had nothing to do with acceptance, except to countersign the grant of a grace absolutely free. The Seal did nothing whatever to make the Covenant. It only verified the fact, and guaranteed the bona fides of the Giver. As the Christian Sacraments are, so was the Patriarchal Sacrament; it was "a sure testimony and effectual sign of God’s grace and good will." But the grace and the good will come not through the Sacrament as through a medium, but straight from God to the man who took God at His word. "The means whereby he received," the mouth with which he fed upon the celestial food, "was faith." The rite came not between the man and his accepting Lord, but as it were was present at the side to assure him with a physical concurrent fact that all was true. "Nothing between" was the law of the great transaction; nothing, not even a God-given ordinance; nothing but the empty arms receiving the Lord Himself; -and empty arms indeed put "nothing between."

The following is extracted from the Commentary on this Epistle in "The Cambridge Bible" (p. 261): "[What shall we say to] the verbal discrepancy between St. Paul’s explicit teaching that ‘a man is justified by faith without works,’ and St. James’ equally explicit teaching that ‘by works a man is justified, and not by faith only’? With only the New Testament before us, it is hard not to assume that the one Apostle has in view some distortion of the doctrine of the other. But the fact (see Lightfoot’s ‘Galatians,’ detached note to chap. 3) that Abraham’s faith was a staple Rabbinic text alters the case, by making it perfectly possible that St. James (writing to members of the Jewish Dispersion) had not Apostolic but Rabbinic teaching in view. And the line such teaching took is indicated by James 2:19, where an example is given of the faith in question; and that example is concerned wholly with the grand point of strictly Jewish orthodoxy-GOD IS ONE. The persons addressed [were thus those whose] idea of faith was not trustful acceptance, a belief of the heart, but orthodox adherence, a belief of the head. And St. James [took] these persons strictly on their own ground, and assumed, for his argument, their own very faulty account of faith to be correct."

"He would thus be proving the point, equally dear to St. Paul, that mere theoretic orthodoxy, apart from effects on the will, is valueless. He would not, in the remotest degree, be disputing the Pauline doctrine that the guilty soul is put into a position of acceptance with the Father only by vital connection with the Son, and that this connection is effectuated, absolutely and alone, not by personal merit, but by trustful acceptance of the Propitiation and its all-sufficient vicarious merit. From such trustful acceptance ‘works’ (in the profoundest sense) will inevitably follow; not as antecedents but as consequents of justification. And thus ‘it is faith alone which justifies; but the faith which justifies can never be alone."’


Verses 13-25

Chapter 11

ABRAHAM (2)

Romans 4:13-25

AGAIN we approach the name of Abraham, Friend of God, Father of the Faithful. We have seen him justified by faith, personally accepted because turning altogether to the sovereign Promiser. We see him now in some of the glorious issues of that acceptance; "Heir of the world," "Father of many nations." And here too all is of grace, all comes through faith. Not works, not merit, not ancestral and ritual privilege, secured to Abraham the mighty Promise; it was his because he, pleading absolutely nothing of personal worthiness, and supported by no guarantees of ordinance, "believed God."

We see him as he steps out from his tent under that glorious canopy, that Syrian "night of stars." We look up with him to the mighty depths, and receive their impression upon our eyes. Behold the innumerable points and clouds of light! Who can count the half-visible rays which make white the heavens, gleaming behind, beyond, the thousands of more numerable luminaries? The lonely old man who stands gazing there, perhaps side by side with his divine Friend manifested in human form, is told to try to count. And then he hears the promise, "So shall thy seed be."

It was then and there that he received justification by faith. It was then and there also that, by faith, as a man uncovenanted, unworthy, but called upon to take what God gave, he received the promise that he should be "heir of the world."

It was an unequalled paradox-unless indeed we place beside it the scene when, eighteen centuries later, in the same land, a descendant of Abraham’s, a Syrian Craftsman, speaking as a religious Leader to His followers, told them [Matthew 13:37-38] that the "field was the world," and He the Master of the field.

"Heir of the world"! Did this mean, of the universe itself? Perhaps it did, for Christ was to be the Claimant of the promise in due time; and under His feet all things, literally all, are set already in right, and shall be hereafter set in fact. But the more limited, and probably in this place the fitter, reference is vast enough; a reference to "the world" of earth, and of man upon it. In his "seed," that childless senior was to be King of Men, Monarch of the continents and oceans. To him, in his seed, "the utmost parts of the earth" were given "for his possession." Not his little clan only, encamped on the dark fields around him, nor even the direct descendants only of his body, however numerous, but "all nations," "all kindreds of the earth," were "to call him blessed," and to be blessed in him, as their patriarchal Chief, their Head in covenant with God. "We see not yet all things" fulfilled of this astonishing grant and guarantee. We shall not do so, till vast promised developments of the ways of God have come to sight. But we do see already steps taken towards that issue, steps long, majestic, never to be retraced. We see at this hour in literally every region of the human world the messengers-an always more numerous army-of the Name of "the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." They are working everywhere: and everywhere, notwithstanding innumerable difficulties, they are winning the world for the great Heir of the Promise. Through paths they know not these missionaries have gone out; paths hewn by the historical providence of God, and by His eternal life in the Church, and in the soul. When "the world" has seemed shut, by war, by policy, by habit, by geography, it has opened, that they may enter; till we see Japan throwing back its castle doors, and inner Africa not only discovered but become a household word for the sake of its missions, of its martyrdoms, of the resolve of its native chiefs to abolish slavery even in its domestic form.

No secular conscious programme has had to do with this. Causes entirely beyond the reach of human combination have been, as a fact, combined; the world has been opened to the Abrahamic message just as the Church has been inspired anew to enter in, and has been awakened to a deeper understanding of her glorious mission. For here too is the finger of God; not only in the history of the world, but in the life of the Church and of the Christian. For a long century now, in the most living centres of Christendom, there has been waking and rising a mighty revived consciousness of the glory of the Gospel, of the Cross, and of the Spirit; of the grace of Christ, and also of His claim. And at this hour, after many a gloomy forecast of unbelieving and apprehensive thought, there are more men and women ready to go to the ends of the earth with the message of the Son of Abraham, than in all time before.

Contrast these issues, even these-leaving out of sight the mighty future-with the starry night when the wandering Friend of God was asked to believe the incredible, and was justified by faith, and was invested through faith with the world’s crown. Is not God indeed in the fulfilment? Was He not indeed in the promise? We are ourselves a part of the fulfilment; we, one of the "many Nations" of whom the great Solitary was then made "the Father." Let us bear our witness, and set to our seal.

In doing so, we attest and illustrate the work, the ever blessed work, of faith. That man’s reliance, at that great midnight hour, merited nothing, but received everything. He took in the first place acceptance with God, and then with it, as it were folded and embedded in it, he took riches inexhaustible of privilege and blessing; above all, the blessing of being made a blessing. So now, in view of that hour of Promise, and of these ages of fulfilment, we see our own path of peace in its divine simplicity. We read, as if written on the heavens in stars, the words, "Justified by Faith." And we understand already, what the Epistle will soon amply unfold to us, how for us, as for Abraham, blessings untold of other orders lie treasured in the grant of our acceptance "Not for him only, but for us also, believing."

Let us turn again to the text.

For not through law came the promise to Abraham, or to his seed, of his being the world’s heir, but through faith’s righteousness; through the acceptance received by uncovenanted, unprivileged faith. For if those who belong to law inherit Abraham’s promise, faith is ipso facto void, and the promise is ipso facto annulled. For wrath is what the Law works out; it is only where law is not that transgression is not, either. As much as to say, that to suspend eternal blessing, the blessing which in its nature can deal only with ideal conditions, upon man’s obedience to law, is to bar fatally the hope of a fulfilment. Why? Not because the Law is not holy; not because disobedience is not guilty; as if man were ever, for a moment, mechanically compelled to disobey. But because as a fact man is a fallen being, however he became so. and whatever is his guilt as such. He is fallen, and has no true self-restoring power. If then he is to be blessed, the work must begin in spite of himself. It must come from without, it must come unearned, it must be of grace, through faith. Therefore it is on (literally, "out of") faith, in order to be grace-wise, to make secure the promise, to all the seed, not only to that which belongs to the Law, but to that which belongs to the faith of Abraham, to the "seed" whose claim is no less and no more than Abraham’s faith; who is father of all us, as it stands written, [Genesis 17:5] "Father of many Nations have I appointed thee"-in the sight of the God whom he believed, who vivifies the dead, and calls, addresses, deals with, things not-being as being. "In the sight of God"; as if to say, that it matters little what Abraham is for "us all" in the sight of man, in the sight and estimate of the Pharisee. The Eternal Justifier and Promiser dealt with Abraham and in him with the world, before the birth of that Law which the Pharisee has perverted into his rampart of privilege and isolation. He took care that the mighty transaction should take place not actually only, but significantly, in the open field and beneath the boundless cope of stars. It was to affect not one tribe, but all the nations. It was to secure blessings which were not to be demanded by the privileged, but taken by the needy. And so the great representative Believer was called to believe before Law, before legal Sacrament, and under every personal circumstance of humiliation and discouragement. Who, past hope, on hope, believed; stepping from the dead hope of nature to the bare hope of the promise, so that he became father of many Nations; according to what stands spoken, "So shall thy seed be." And, because he failed not in his faith, he did not notice his own body, already turned to death, near a century old as he now was, and the death state of the womb of Sarah. No, on the promise of God-he did not waver by his unbelief, but received strength by his faith, giving glory to God, the "glory" of dealing with Him as being what He is, Almighty and All-true, and fully persuaded that what He has promised He is able actually to do. Wherefore actually it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Not because such a "giving to God the glory" which is only His eternal due was morally meritorious, in the least degree. If it were so, Abraham "would have whereof to glory," The "wherefore" is concerned with the whole record, the whole transaction. Here was a man who took the right way to receive sovereign blessing. He interposed nothing between the Promiser and himself. He treated the Promiser as what He is, all-sufficient and all-faithful. He opened his empty hand in that persuasion, and so, because the hand was empty, the blessing was laid upon its palm.

Now it was not written only on his account, that it was reckoned to him, but also on account of us, to whom it is sure to be reckoned, in the fixed intention of the divine Justifier, as each successive applicant comes to receive; believing as we do on the Raiser-up of Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered up on account of our transgressions, and was raised up on account of our justification.

Here the great argument moves to a pause, to the cadence of a glorious rest. More and more, as we have pursued it, it has disengaged itself from the obstructions of the opponent, and advanced with a larger motion into a positive and rejoicing assertion of the joys and wealth of the believing. We have left far behind the pertinacious cavils which ask, now whether there is any hope for man outside legalism, now whether within legalism there can be any danger even for deliberate unholiness, and again whether the Gospel of gratuitous acceptance does not cancel the law of duty. We have left the Pharisee for Abraham, and have stood beside him to look and listen. He, in the simplicity of a soul which has seen itself and seen the Lord, and so has not one word, one thought, about personal privilege, claim, or even fitness, receives a perfect acceptance in the hand of faith, and finds that the acceptance carries with it a promise of unimaginable power and blessing. And now from Abraham the Apostle turns to "us," "us all," "us also." His thoughts are no longer upon adversaries and objections, but on the company of the faithful, on those who are one with Abraham, and with each other, in their happy willingness to come, without a dream of merit, and, take from God His mighty peace in the name of Christ. He finds himself not in synagogue or in school, disputing, but in the believing assembly, teaching, unfolding in peace the wealth of grace. He speaks to congratulate, to adore.

Let us join him there in spirit, and sit down with Aquila and Priscilla, with Nereus, and Nymphas, and Persis, and in our turn remember that "it was written for us also." Quite surely, and with a fulness of blessing which we can never find out in its perfection, to us also "faith is sure to be reckoned, μελλει λογιζεσθαι. as righteousness, believing as we do, τοις πιστευουσιν, on the Raised-up of Jesus our Lord, ours also, from the dead." To us, as to them, the Father presents Himself as the Raiser-up of the Son. He is known by us in that act. It gives us His own warrant for a boundless trust in His character, His purposes, His unreserved intention to accept the sinner who comes to His feet in the name of His Crucified and Risen Son. He bids us-not forget that He is the Judge, who cannot for a moment connive. But He bids us believe, He bids us see, that He, being the Judge, and also the Law Giver, has dealt with His own Law, in a way that satisfies it, that satisfies Himself. He bids us thus understand that He now "is sure to" justify, to accept, to find not guilty, to find righteous, satisfactory, the sinner who believes. He comes to us, He, this eternal Father of our Lord, to assure us, in the Resurrection, that He has sought, and has "found, a Ransom"; that He has not been prevailed upon to have mercy, a mercy behind which there may therefore lurk a gloomy reserve, but has Himself "set forth" the beloved Propitiation, and then accepted Him (not it, but Him) with the acceptance of not His word only but His deed. He is the God of Peace. How do we know it? We thought He was the God of the tribunal, and the doom. Yes; but He has "brought the great Shepherd from the dead, in the blood of the everlasting Covenant". [Hebrews 13:20] Then, O eternal Father of our Lord, we will believe Thee; we will believe in Thee; we will, we do, in the very letter of the words Thou έπί τόν εγείραντα, as in a deep repose. Truly, in this glorious respect, though Thou art consuming Fire, "there is nothing in Thee to dread."

"Who was delivered up because, of our transgressions." So dealt the Father with the Son, who gave Himself. "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him"; "He spared not His own Son." "Because of our transgressions"; to meet the fact that we had gone astray. What, was that fact thus to be met? Was our self-will, our pride, our falsehood, our impurity, our indifference to God, our resistance to God, to be thus met? Was it to be met at all, and not rather left utterly alone to its own horrible issues?

Was it eternally necessary that, if met, it must be met thus, by nothing less than the delivering up of Jesus our Lord? It was even so. Assuredly if a milder expedient would have met our guilt, the Father would not have "delivered up" the Son. The Cross was nothing if not an absolute sine qua non. There is that sin, and in God, which made it eternally necessary that-if man was to be justified-the Son of God must not only live, but die, and not only die, but die thus, delivered up, given over to be done to death, as those who do great sin are done.

Deep in the heart of the divine doctrine of Atonement lies this element of it, the "because of our transgressions"; the exigency of Golgotha, due to our sins. The remission, the acquittal, the acceptance, was not a matter for the verbal fiat of Divine autocracy. It was a matter not between God and creation, which to Him is "a little thing," but between God and His Law, that is to say, Himself, as He is eternal Judge. And this, to the Eternal, is not a little thing. So the solution called for no little thing, but for the Atoning Death, for the laying by the Father on the Son of the iniquities of us all, that we might open our arms and receive from the Father the merits of the Son.

"And was raised up because of our justification": because our acceptance had been won, by His deliverance up. Such is the simplest explanation of the grammar, and of the import. The Lord’s Resurrection appears as, so to speak, the mighty sequel, and also the demonstration, warrant, proclamation, of His acceptance as the Propitiation, and therefore of our acceptance in Him. For indeed it was our justification, when He paid our penalty. True, the acceptance does not accrue to the individual till he believes, and so receives. The gift is not put into the hand till it is open, and empty. But the gift has been bought ready for the recipient long before he kneels to receive it. It was his, in provision, from the moment of the purchase; and the glorious Purchaser came up from the depths where He had gone down to buy, holding aloft in His sacred hands the golden Gift, ours because His for us.

A little while before he wrote to Rome St. Paul had written to Corinth, and the same truth was in his soul then, though it came out only passingly, while with infinite impressiveness. "If Christ is not risen, idle is your faith; you are yet in your sins". [1 Corinthians 15:17] That is to say, so the context irrefragably shows, you are yet in the guilt of your sins; you are still unjustified. "In your sins" cannot possibly there refer to the moral condition of the converts; for as a matter of fact, which no doctrine could negative, the Corinthians were "changed men." "In your sins" refers therefore to guilt, to law, to acceptance. And it bids them look to the Atonement as the objective sine qua non for that, and to the Resurrection as the one possible, and the only necessary, warrant to faith that the Atonement had secured its end.

"Who was delivered up; who was raised up." When? About twenty-five years before Paul sat dictating this sentence in the house of Gaius. There were at that moment about three hundred known living people, at least, [1 Corinthians 15:6] who had seen the Risen One with open eyes, and heard Him with conscious ears. From one point of view, all was eternal, spiritual, invisible. From another point of view our salvation was as concrete, as historical, as much a thing of place and date, as the battle of Actium, or the death of Socrates. And what was done, remains done.

"Can length of years on God Himself exact, And make that fiction which was once a fact?"

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/romans-4.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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