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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Romans 4:4

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.
New American Standard Version
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  1. Adam Clarke Commentary
  2. Abbott's Illustrated New Testament
  3. Bridgeway Bible Commentary
  4. Coffman Commentaries on the Bible
  5. Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
  6. Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans & 1st Corinthians
  7. E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes
  8. Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
  9. Brian Bell Commentary on the Bible
  10. Chuck Smith Bible Commentary
  11. John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
  12. Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
  13. Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
  14. Darby's Synopsis of the New Testament
  15. Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible
  16. Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
  17. Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
  18. Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
  19. The Expositor's Greek Testament
  20. The Expositor's Greek Testament
  21. Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament
  22. F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
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  25. G. Campbell Morgan's Exposition on the Whole Bible
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  32. Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary
  33. Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary
  34. Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews
  35. George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary
  36. Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians
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  39. The Bible Study New Testament
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  42. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
  43. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
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  48. John Trapp Complete Commentary
  49. Kingcomments on the Whole Bible
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  51. Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical
  52. L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
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  54. Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible
  55. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible
  56. Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible
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  58. Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
  59. Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
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  63. People's New Testament
  64. Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
  65. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament
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  67. Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
  68. Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
  69. Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible
  70. Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible
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  72. The Biblical Illustrator
  73. The Biblical Illustrator
  74. Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
  75. Expositor's Bible Commentary
  76. The Pulpit Commentaries
  77. Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
  78. Vincent's Word Studies
  79. Wesley's Explanatory Notes
  80. Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
  81. Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
  82. William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation
  83. William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Abraham;   Bigotry;   Catholicity;   Employee;   Employer;   Faith;   Grace of God;   Justification;   Master;   Salvation;   Servant;   Wages;   Works;   Scofield Reference Index - Grace;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Reward of Saints, the;  
Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Boasting;   Faith;   Justification;   Law;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Baptize, Baptism;   Genesis, Theology of;   Law;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Justification;   Sandemanians;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Impute;   Justification;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Church;   Grace;   Impute, Imputation;   Justification;   Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament;   Patriarchs, the;   Romans, Book of;   Works;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Grace;   Hebrews, Epistle to;   Justification, Justify;   Law;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Atonement (2);   Debt, Debtor;   Grace ;   Guilt (2);   Justification;   Justification (2);   Law;   Reward;   Romans Epistle to the;   Trade and Commerce;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Grace,;   Impute, to,;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Impute;  
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Grace;   Imputation;   Justification;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Saul of Tarsus;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt - Therefore, if Abraham had been justified by works, the blessings he received would have been given to him as a reward for those works, and consequently his believing could have had no part in his justification, and his faith would have been useless.

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These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

Of grace; of favor.--But of debt; that is, as justly due.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". 1878.

Bridgeway Bible Commentary

Some examples (4:1-25)

To illustrate what he has just been teaching, Paul refers to the example of Abraham. Abraham was justified because of his faith, not because of any good deeds that he did (4:1-3). (To understand the illustrations concerning Abraham that follow, read Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 15:1-6; Genesis 16:1-16; Genesis 17:15-22; Genesis 18:1-15; Genesis 21:1-21.)

Righteousness is a gift received by faith, not payment for work that a person does (4-5). David, as well as Abraham, knew that righteousness comes only through God's grace, not through one's good works (6-8). It has nothing to do with circumcision either, because Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. He received circumcision later, as an outward sign of the inward faith that he already had. He might be called the spiritual father of all who are justified by faith, whether Jews or Gentiles (9-12).

Neither has this righteousness anything to do with the law, because Abraham simply accepted God's promise by faith. He did not have to work for it by trying to keep rules. The law does not make people righteous. It only shows up their disobedience and so brings God's wrath upon them (13-15).

The principle underlying God's dealings with humankind, Jews and Gentiles alike, is that he gives his promises by grace, and people receive them by faith (16). God promised childless Abraham that he would be the father of a multitude of people. Although Abraham and Sarah were well past the age when they might normally expect to have children, Abraham still trusted God's promise and believed God could do the impossible (17-21). God accepted Abraham as righteous because Abraham trusted him to do what he had promised. In like manner God will accept as righteous those who trust for their salvation in what Christ has done for them through his death and resurrection (22-25).

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Brideway Bible Commentary". 2005.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt.

This verse is a simple statement of the truth that if one's hope of salvation is based upon his having kept the law of Moses perfectly, then such a person could claim that God owed him salvation; and it would not be by virtue of God's grace at all in such an event. To be sure, no person could possibly achieve such a thing as perfect fulfillment of the law. No objection can be raised to what Paul here stated. It is what people declare that Paul meant which outrages every careful student of God's word. Some of the false deductions that people have thought they derived from this verse are:

That salvation does not depend upon any human effort.

That there is nothing anyone can do to be saved.

That faith and works are opposites.

That obeying the gospel makes man his own Saviour. Etc.SIZE>

We shall note each of these.

That salvation does not depend upon any human effort. If this were true, all people would be saved; and, if human effort as a precondition of salvation is not involved, why did Jesus teach that many people will be lost (Matthew 7:13,14)? It is a fact that no amount of human effort can earn salvation; but no person with even a casual knowledge of the Bible could possibly have the impression that salvation is unconditionally bestowed upon the entire human race. If so bestowed, it would be universal; but Christ spoke of the narrow gate and the broad way leading to the destruction of many.

That there is nothing anyone can do to be saved. If such is true, what did Peter mean by "Save yourselves from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:40). A multitude of people heard Peter preach the first sermon of the gospel age; and at the end of it, having believed all that Peter preached, and thus having believed in Christ, they cried out, "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Wouldn't it have been a wonderful opportunity for Peter to have said, "There is nothing you can do to be saved"? But he said no such thing, but this: "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you" (Acts 2:38).

That faith and works are opposites. On the other hand, they are intimates; and James declared that faith cannot even exist apart from works, except in a barren and dead condition, insufficient to save (James 2:14-26). Faith without works is dead, useless for anything, much less for salvation.

Upon the basis of such considerations, people ought not therefore to impute any teaching to Paul in this place that would make his words say that God will impute righteousness to any person who will not obey him, to the persons who simply do nothing except believe.

That obeying the gospel makes man his own Saviour. This confuses two truths: (1) that when one has done everything that he can, it does not merit salvation, and he is still an unprofitable servant (Luke 17:10); and (2) that obeying the gospel is a condition div4nely imposed and made prerequisite to salvation; all who do not fulfill this condition will be lost (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9); therefore, in a sense, but only in a sense, people will save themselves when they obey the gospel. It is scriptural to speak thus, for Peter did it on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:40). In the more exalted sense of actually procuring the discharge of man's sins, Christ alone saves.

We have already seen that Abraham's justification is in no way parallel to the alien sinner's justification; therefore, to the degree that this verse applies in any way to Christians, the thing in view is their continuing justification as members of Christ's body, all Christians standing in continual need of forgiveness, due to the universal inability to live the perfect life. If there is any application of these words to children of God, it must pertain to their status as Christians in covenant relationship .with God (as Abraham the prototype was), their "faith in Christ" being the basis of their continual justification, and not their success, or, as more likely, their failure in keeping all the holy commandments. In no sense whatever can these words of Paul refer to the alien sinner's becoming a Christian; but, of course, that is precisely the application so often made.

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Now to him that worketh … - This passage is not to be understood as affirming that any actually have worked out their salvation by conformity to the Law so as to be saved by their own merits; but it expresses a general truth in regard to works. On that plan, if a man were justified by his works, it would be a matter due to him. It is a general principle in regard to contracts and obligations, that where a man fulfils them he is entitled to the reward as what is due to him, and which he can claim. This is well understood in all the transactions among people. Where a man has fulfilled the terms of a contract, to pay him is not a matter of favor; he has earned it; and we are bound to pay him. So says the apostle, it would be, if a man were justified by his works. He would have a claim on God. It would be wrong not to justify him. And this is an additional reason why the doctrine cannot be true; compare Romans 11:6.

The reward - The pay, or wages. The word is commonly applied to the pay of soldiers, day-laborers, etc.; Matthew 20:8; Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18; James 5:4. It has a similar meaning here.

Reckoned - Greek, Imputed. The same word which, in Romans 4:3, is rendered “counted,” and in Romans 4:22, imputed. It is used here in its strict and proper sense, to reckon that as belonging to a man which is his own, or which is due to him; see the note at Romans 4:3.

Of grace - Of favor; as a gift.

Of debt - As due; as a claim; as a fair compensation according to the contract.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans & 1st Corinthians

: Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.

Since Paul introduced an Old Testament reference, he proceeded to show the significance of it. This tactic contains another lesson for teachers. Do not read or appeal to a Bible verse and stop. Show the significance of the passages that are read.

The4th verse may be compared to an employee and an employer. When people work, they are paid. A worker is owed money because work is performed. Workers receive pay and not gifts to compensate them for their efforts. In this context, the word "worketh" (ergazomai-a present tense verb which also occurs in verse5 and is again in the present tense) means working for justification. If a man were working for justification (as a man works at a job), God would owe salvation to people. It would not be a gift because it would be earned.

Salvation (or justification) is given to those who believe but do not work (verse5). People do not work for salvation because the word work is associated with meritorious works and a perfect life. Neither of these methods can save us. Salvation can only come by "believing." Since believing is a present tense verb, and Romans 1:5 says faith is obedient, Paul did not have in mind the modern concept of "faith only." Abraham had an obedient faith that was continually displayed because this was and is still the only way to find justification and salvation.

McGuiggan (p149) noted that in we read about how Phinehas killed a rebellious Israelite prince and a woman with whom the prince committed fornication (take the time to read this short account). The writer of this Psalm also said this act was reckoned to him for righteousness. The verbal expression used in Psalm 106:1-48 is identical to Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3. Hence, there is no point in trying to deny that acts (deeds) can be reckoned for righteousness. These deeds cannot be meritorious ( Titus 3:5), but they may be acts of obedience ( Romans 1:5).

Many denominational groups frequently appeal to this chapter to substantiate religious error. This chapter is usually used to affirm that Abraham was justified when he was an alien sinner. Since he was an alien sinner who was justified by faith (and this is interpreted as faith alone), modern day sinners are saved by faith alone. This is the common and popular assertion that appeals to scores of people, but it is false.

Abraham, contrary to what many assert, was not a condemned and unforgiven sinner at the time described in (the Scripture to which Romans 4:1-25 refers). A study of Abraham's life reveals that he was already in a right relationship with God during the time described by Paul.

A study of Abraham's life must begin with (this time period is also described in Acts 7:2-3 and Hebrews 11:8). Take a few moments to read Genesis 12:1-3. If, during the time described in Genesis 15:1-21, Abraham was an alien and ungodly sinner, how are we to understand the information in Genesis 12:1-20? The12th chapter of Genesis (especially verses6-8) shows that Abraham had a relationship with God long before the events in Genesis 15:1-21 (see also Genesis 13:3-4). Can any one believe that an unforgiven sinner was worshipping Jehovah, calling on His name, and receiving the kinds of responses from God described in Genesis 12:1-20; Genesis 13:1-18!?

Before dealing with Paul's quotation from , those studying this matter should read Genesis 15:1. The promise made in Genesis 15:1 has never been made to an alien sinner. It certainly was not made to an unrighteous and unsaved man named Abraham. Abraham was justified before Genesis 15:6, the passage cited by Paul in Romans 4:3. Also, these passages show that justification is an ongoing process (this material is adopted from Whiteside, pp89-90).

Another of Paul's points related to the object of justification. That Isaiah, God has not limited justification to good men like Abraham. The "ungodly" (asebes) have also been the object of God's justification (verse5). This term is found only a few times in the New Testament, and here is its first use. It next occurs in Romans 5:6 (be sure to see this reference). Its other locations are 1 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 4:18; 2 Peter 2:5-6; 2 Peter 3:7; Jude 1:4; Jude 1:15. These references all "indicate a lack of reverential awe, an impious attitude, and contempt towards God" (CBL, GED, 1:462). Even the ungodly can be justified by an obedient faith.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Price, Brad "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans & 1st Corinthians".

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

reckoned. Same as "counted", Romans 4:3.

grace. App-184.

debt. Greek. opheilema. Only here and Matthew 6:12.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

4.To him indeed who works, etc. It is not he, whom he calls a worker, who is given to good works, to which all the children of God ought to attend, but the person who seeks to merit something by his works: and in a similar way he calls him no worker who depends not on the merit of what he does. He would not, indeed, have the faithful to be idle; but he only forbids them to be mercenaries, so as to demand any thing from God, as though it were justly their due.

We have before reminded you, that the question is not here how we are to regulate our life, but how we are to be saved: and he argues from what is contrary, — that God confers not righteousness on us because it is due, but bestows it as a gift. And indeed I agree with Bucer, who proves that the argument is not made to depend on one expression, but on the whole passage, and formed in this manner, “If one merits any thing by his work, what is merited is not freely imputed to him, but rendered to him as his due. Faith is counted for righteousness, not that it procures any merit for us, but because it lays hold on the goodness of God: hence righteousness is not due to us, but freely bestowed.” For as Christ of his own good-will justifies us through faith, Paul always regards this as an evidence of our emptiness; for what do we believe, except that Christ is an expiation to reconcile us to God? The same truth is found in other words in Galatians 3:11, where it is said, “That no man is justified by the law, it is evident, for the just shall by faith live: but the law is not by faith; but he who doeth these things shall live in them.” Inasmuch, then, as the law promises reward to works, he hence concludes, that the righteousness of faith, which is free, accords not with that which is operative: this could not be were faith to justify by means of works. — We ought carefully to observe these comparisons, by which every merit is entirely done away.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

Brian Bell Commentary on the Bible

  1. Intro:
    1. We use the idiom Nails in the coffin as, An action or event that leads to the end of something.
      1. Paul now adds 3 more nails to the coffin of Salvation by Faith + anything!
        1. The 3 Nails are: Works, Ritual, Law.
    2. Here Paul will masterfully lay out what the Reformers called Sola Fide! (Faith Alone)
      1. “Any church which puts in the place of justification by faith in Christ another method of salvation, is a harlot church”. (Spurgeon)
    3. Let’s go over justification one more time!
      1. It is a process by which an individual is brought into an unmerited, right relationship w/God.
      2. It does not encompass the whole salvation process.
      3. It does mark that instantaneous point of entry that makes a person right w/God.
    4. Paul in ch.4 gives a “PS” to ch.3 as if to say, “By the way, this isn’t some new doctrine…look it up yourself back in Moses’ books!”
    5. Outline: Wiping Out Works; Ripping Ritual; Leveling The Law.
  2. WIPING OUT WORKS! (1-8)
    1. Paul seems to say…“hmmm, who could I pick that would best prove that God’s righteousness comes from faith not works?”
      1. Interesting, Abraham is one of the few individuals that Judaism, Islam, & Christianity esteem as their father!
    2. Rom.4:2-5 Message So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.” If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.
    3. (3) He believed God – He trusted in God’s goodness. He believed God would keep His word!
    4. (4) No, he didn’t work for his right standing w/God, nor try to earn it as his rightful wage.
      1. No, he took his place w/the rest of the ungodly people. (remember his father Terah “served other gods”. Joshua 24:2)
    5. (5) God justifies the ungodly not the righteous!
      1. Mt.9:11-13 Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.
    6. (6-8) To strengthen his argument Paul calls David to the stand.
      1. Paul uses Ps.32:1,2 to show forgiveness, covering, & the promise not to credit the sin any longer to his account.
      2. Corrie Ten Boom, “When we confess our sins, God casts then into the deepest ocean, gone forever. And even though I cannot find a scripture for it, I believe God then places a sign out there that says, NO FISHING ALLOWED!”
    7. Impute (Lo-GEEZ-oh-my) “accounted, credited, reckoned.”
      1. An accounting term, “to enter into the account book”.
        1. Paul uses 10 times in ch.4.
      2. When Paul wrote to Philemon regarding Onesimus he said, But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account.
    8. Justification requires a double accounting then:
      1. Negatively – God will never count of our sins against us.
      2. Positively – God credits our account w/righteousness, as a free gift, by faith, altogether apart from our works. (John Stott, Romans, Pg.127)
    9. So, Paul Wipes Out Works, from our check & balance list.
  3. RIPPING RITUAL! (9-12)
    1. Here’s his exceptional argument:
      1. When was Abraham Justified by Faith(saved)? Gen.15:6!
      2. When was Abraham circumcised? Gen.17:22-27!
        1. So, it was several years later [Ishmael was 13]
        2. Kent Hughes Sola Fide was a Gentile Principle long before it was a Jewish reality!
    2. So what was the importance of circumcision then?
      1. It was not the work that attained him a right relationship w/God.
        1. “It was a sign of faith, not a substitute for it.” (Shepherd’s Notes, Romans, pg.31.)
        2. Just like what baptism is to us today!
    3. So, before the seal of circumcision, was God’s covenant of faith.
    4. So, Paul Rip’s the Robe of Ritual...from top to bottom!
  4. LEVELING THE LAW! (13-25)
    1. ​​​​​​​God’s promises to Abraham & his descendants were not tied to their keeping a law. The promise was of grace.
      1. It all starts w/faith. And, it always has. And, it always will!
    2. (16) Grace - “You're worried about permissiveness--about the way the preaching of grace seems to say it's okay to do all kinds of terrible things as long as you just walk in afterward and take the free gift of God's forgiveness. ...While you and I may be worried about seeming to give permission, Jesus apparently wasn't. He wasn't afraid of giving the prodigal son a kiss instead of a lecture, a party instead of probation; and he proved that by bringing in the elder brother at the end of the story and having him raise pretty much the same objections you do. He's angry about the party. He complains that his father is lowering standards and ignoring virtue--that music, dancing, and a fattened calf are, in effect, just so many permissions to break the law. And to that, Jesus has the father say only one thing: "Cut that out! We're not playing good boys and bad boys any more. Your brother was dead and he's alive again. The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping." (Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon & Three. Christianity Today, Vol.30, no.7.)
    3. (18) Contrary to hope in hope believed!
      1. This is chiseled faith not rose-colored glasses faith; not positive outlook that denies pain & struggle faith.
        1. We’re talking “wrestle, cling, persist, endure, & hold on for dear life...kind of faith!”
      2. Faith didn’t come easy for Abraham!
        1. This one called exalted father(Abram)…was childless, in a culture in which it was a disgrace to the whole family.
        2. At 75 he was called to leave home & given the promise of an heir of his own, “surely now the child will come” – He didn’t.
        3. 10 years past he’s 85, he receives a re-promise.
        4. Confident God would do it, but still unclear how; he takes Hagar as his surrogate solution! Slide#17 At age 86 Ishmael is born (but this wasn’t the child of God’s covenant)
        5. 13 more years & he’s 99 now. He hears from God again. He gets a name change “father of a multitude” [ok, that helps!] Promise is reconfirmed.
        6. Finally, at age 100 Isaac was born...25 YEARS AFTER GOD’S PROMISE!
      3. Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have, and frees us to move away from the safe place, and enter unknown and fearful territory.” (Henry J. Nouwen in The Wounded Healer. Christianity Today, Vol.40, no.13.)
    4. (20) He glorified God by letting Him be God! (John Stott)
      1. Slide#21,22 True Faith would never put its own name in lights, but instead it always tips a searchlight to point up to God & His Grace!
    5. (21) (Moody) “God never made a promise that was too good to be true.” (D.L.Moody, Christian History, no.25.)
    6. (23) Paul says this has application to you this morning also, listen up!
      1. This wasn’t just a blast from the past! (Swindoll)
      2. In whom is your faith placed?
        1. [1] In yourself? [2] In your good works? [3] In your faith’s faith? [4] In your ability to lead a “good enough” life?
        2. Or, is it placed in His provision of Jesus Christ?
        3. Only He can wipe your slate clean & give you His own righteousness!
      3. We had read in the Message Bible, “But the story we are given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.”
        1. How does you story of faith read? Is it a “God-story” or a “you-story”?
    7. (24) So how is a person saved today?
      1. A: Simply by believing God’s promises as Abraham did.
      2. Faith & promise go together just as law & works go together.” (Warren Wiersbe, pg.773.)
      3. Imputed/credited/accounted – At Calvary, our sins were put on Christ’s account; When you trusted Christ, God put Christ’s righteousness on your account. 2 Cor.5:21
    8. (25) Was raised - He gets up again!!! – I’ve watched the faces of people seeing the Jesus Film for their 1st time in different countries, where they aren’t as desensitized to graphic Film media as we are.
      1. I heard of a church in Chittagong, Bangladesh, where the Jesus Film was being shown. Weeping and gasps of unbelief could be heard in the shocked hush as Jesus was crucified. As the Bengalis watched, they were feeling the agony of Jesus' pain and the disappointment of the disciples. In that emotional moment, one young boy in the crowded church suddenly cried out, "Don’t be afraid. He gets up again! I saw it before."
        1. A small boy's encouraging cry gave new hope to the viewers of the film. He is risen is the cry that gives new hope to all.
    9. So, before the Law of Moses, was God’s covenant of faith.
    10. Paul Leveled the Law, from those who would hold to the Faith + Law theory.
      1. ​​​​​​​Works, Ritual, & Law, 3 nails closing for good, the coffin of self-confidence!
    11. Communion:
      1. ​​​​​​​Bread - Confess:
        1. Works: self confidence; good works but for the wrong reason; good works w/the wrong heart.
        2. Rituals: holding to rituals; putting you in our own personal ecclesiastical box; for being caught up in traditions; for running after the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law; for making fun off the way other churches worship You or do things that are different than ours;
        3. Law: embracing the law instead of Grace; thinking that life was going to be easy since meeting you; thinking that having a positive outlook is actually faith; for trusting in “our faith” rather than in YOU;
      2. Cup - Thanks: Lord, we tip our searchlight upward now. TY for Your pardoning Grace; for helping us to wrestle, cling, persist, & endure; for helping us to hold on for dear life; TY for our God-story you’ve done & are doing in our lives. TY Your Son Jesus got up again!
Copyright Statement
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Brian Bell Commentary". 2017.

Chuck Smith Bible Commentary


Now what shall we say concerning Abraham the father, as pertaining to the flesh, what did he find? For if Abraham were justified by his works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God ( Romans 4:1-2 ).

If it was Abraham"s works that brought him justification, then Abraham could boast in his works. He could say, "I left my home, I left my family on the other side of the Euphrates River, and I journeyed not even knowing where I was going, just waiting for God to show me. And I was willing to offer my son." He could have boasted if he was justified by his works, but he could not have boasted in God; he would have had to have boasted in himself.

But what does the scripture say about Abraham? [It says,] Abraham believed God and it was [imputed or] counted unto him for righteousness ( Romans 4:3 ).

Why? He just believed in God, that is what God accounted for righteousness.

Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt ( Romans 4:4 ).

But God will never be a debtor to you; God will never owe you a thing. I am always a debtor to God, but God will never be a debtor to me. Now, if righteousness could come by works, then once I did those works God would owe me salvation. If it were of works, then it would be a debt. God owing me the rewards for my special effort and my work and my sacrifice and my commitment and all.

But it is by faith. It is through grace, God"s grace that He gives to me.

But to him that worketh not, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness ( Romans 4:5 ).

I love it because, you see, it opens the door for me. It keeps the door open for me. I can come to God at any time and expect God to bless me, though I may be a total failure as far as my spiritual walk is concerned. Because God blessed on the basis of His grace, not on the basis of my faithfulness to my devotions. "Chuck, you have been good this week, you have been faithful. You didn"t yell at anyone on the freeway, special reward this week." No, not so. Do you know that some . . . I hesitate to say this, but some of the times of God"s greatest blessings upon my life have been right after my greatest failures. Because I knew that I just had to cast myself on the grace of God. I knew I couldn"t come in my own merit. I knew that I was just bankrupt and I experienced many times the greatest blessings of God upon my life after my greatest failures. We need to rid ourselves of the Santa Claus concept of God. Who brings good little boys all kinds of nice toys out of his big bag, but if you are a bad little boy you will get sticks. He is making out a list and he is checking it twice. He is going to find out who is naughty and nice. The nice ones are going to be rewarded the naughty ones nothing. And I carried that concept of God, and I think God is going to reward me for my good efforts for my faithfulness for my diligence, for whatever my, my, my . . . No, God"s blessings are given to me on the basis of His grace, that way it"s always available.

The door is never shut. I can always come to God through faith on the basis of God"s grace towards me. To him that works not, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. God looks at me tonight as righteous, because I am believing and do believe completely in the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for me in taking my sin and dying in my place. I believe that completely. God accounts that belief for righteousness. God looks at me and says, "Righteous, a righteous man." I accept that, I know me, I know my weaknesses, I know my failings, and that is why I have to cling to Jesus Christ. That is why I dare not stand in myself.

David described this blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputes righteousness without works ( Romans 4:6 ),

In Psalm 32:1-11, David said,

Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered ( Romans 4:7 ).

The word blessed is literally, "Oh how happy are they" whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

Now if you go back to that you find it very interesting. David talked about that period of time when he sought to hide his own sin. Now, the hand of God was so heavy on him and he became so dried up inside that it was like a drought in summer. His bones were weary, for day and night the hand of God was heavy upon his life, until he finally said, "I am going to confess my sins to the Lord." And God immediately forgave him all of his iniquity. "Oh how happy is the man whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered."

Then he went on even more daring to say,

Oh how happy is the man to whom God does not impute iniquity ( Romans 4:8 ).

That is, the man to whom God has no list. God doesn"t impute iniquity unto that man who is believing and trusting in Jesus Christ. What a beautiful position that is where God is not imputing iniquity to me, because of my faith. Now, I would not dare to say this unless it was said in the scriptures. I mean, this seems to be so presumptuous I wouldn"t dare to utter it, but the scripture declares it, so I am only declaring what the scripture declares. Oh how happy I am that God accounts me righteous and does not account my iniquities against me because of my faith in Jesus Christ.

God accounts me righteous. Now comes this happiness,

this blessedness then upon only those who are circumcised, or upon those who are uncircumcised also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. But when was this reckoned? when he was circumcised, or when he was uncircumcised? ( Romans 4:9-10 )

When you go back into the record you find that God said of Abraham, "His faith is accounted for righteousness," before he was circumcised. Therefore, this blessedness of having your sins forgiven, of not having God impute iniquity against you because of your faith in God and trust in God comes not from a physical rite of circumcision, but it came to Abraham before he was ever circumcised.

He received the sign of circumcision, which was the seal of that righteousness of the faith which he had even before he was circumcised: that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they be not circumcised; that there righteousness might be imputed unto them also ( Romans 4:11 ):

God"s righteousness imputed to all men who believe and the father of circumcision. He is the father of those who are not circumcised who believed and also,

The father of those who are circumcised who believed who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not made to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith ( Romans 4:12-13 ).

God promised this to Abraham400 years before He ever gave the law. It doesn"t come by the law; it doesn"t come by the rite of circumcision, which the Jew was trusting in these two things. But God gave it to Abraham before He ever gave the law, before He ever told Abraham to circumcise his sons, in order that it might be applicable to all men, regardless of race.

For they which are of the law be heirs ( Romans 4:14 ),

If they only which are of the law are the heirs, then,

faith is made void, and the promise is nullified. Because the law works wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression ( Romans 4:14-15 ).

Now you can only transgress the law if there is a law, if there is no law then how can you transgress it? So,

It is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end that the promise might be sure ( Romans 4:16 )

Or be certain. It can never be certain if it was predicated upon me, or upon my works, or my efforts, or my faithfulness, or whatever. If it were predicated upon that, you would never be certain from day to day. I would never really know if I was saved. I may be saved today, but tomorrow I may blow it bad. If it was predicated upon my works in order that it might be certain, in order that it might be sure, God has established it then through grace and faith.

not to that only which is of the law, but to those who are of the faith of Abraham; who was the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) ( Romans 4:16-17 )

Not just one the Jews.

before him whom he believed, even God, who makes alive the dead, and calls those things which be not as though they were ( Romans 4:17 ).

Now, this is an interesting aspect of God, and I like this. God said to Abraham before Isaac was ever conceived, "Through Sarah shall thy seed be called," and He spoke of Isaac existing before he was ever born. He spoke of him as already existing before he was ever born. Now, God can do that because God lives in the eternal and in the eternal everything is now. God living in the eternal can speak of things as already existing that don"t yet exist in the timeframe that we live in, because God living in the eternal sees them as though they already exist, because He knows they are going to exist, though we have not yet caught up to that timeframe. And so God can speak of things that are not as though they are because of living in the eternal.

Now, this is one of the difficulties that we, living in the timeframe, have in understanding God. There is tremendous difficulty in understanding the resurrection of the dead. When does it happen and so forth? The minute my soul and spirit leaves this body, I also then enter into the eternal timeless zone where everything is now. To help confuse the issue, Son3:15 said, "And that which has been is now, and that which shall be has already been." We are talking about the eternal, no time zone. So that which has been is now, that which shall be has already been; today is tomorrow, and yesterday is today.

All right, let"s go up to Pasadena. It"s New Years Day. And standing at the corner there on Colorado Boulevard and the Long Beach float is coming down the street now in sight, and we see the band coming in front of it marching. And we see the float go by and we are oohing. Isn"t that beautiful? And the float moves down the street, and here comes the Sierra Madre float. And we are now entranced by the beauty of the Sierra Madre float, which a few minutes ago the people on up the street were entranced by its beauty. But now it is past them and it has come to us. But it also passes by and now four blocks down they"re oohing over the Sierra Madre float, and we are watching another float come into view. And I, standing at this point, watch the parade go by. Where I am standing, the Sierra Madre float went by four minutes ago. It has now moved on down in the procession down Colorado Boulevard. I am now watching a new float come by. Where this float now is, in four minutes will be where the Sierra Madre float now is. Let"s make it the Long Beach. It"s easier. Where this float will be the Long Beach float now is. Where the Long Beach float was, this float now is.

Because I am standing at one timeframe of reference and watching it all go by in a procession, it is constantly moving in a procession as does time constantly move in a procession, and I stand and look at it as it passes by. If I could get into the Goodyear Blimp and fly above Pasadena and look down from that observation cabin, I could see the entire parade from the beginning to end all at one time. Thus, I could see the Long Beach float, and I could see Sierra Madre float, and I could see the Mexico float, and all at the same time, because now I am looking down and I see the entire procession at once. I am no longer limited to this one corner and watching it in time frames passing by.

God, looking down on the procession of history, can see the entire scene at once in one view. He can see Adam sitting in the garden, and where Adam was6000 years ago, I am tonight. I am tonight as I am moving in the procession, but God can still see the whole procession at once. He can see the glorious coming again of Jesus Christ, and He can see the Millennium reign, and He can see the whole thing because He is outside of time looking down and is not limited to the time frames.

Thus, God says, "Oh, that Long Beach float, what a beauty." I haven"t seen it yet; it hasn"t come by here yet. "Oh, it is a beauty." I have to wait for it to pass by. But God has already seen it and He speaks of it as existing, though in my time reference it hasn"t existed yet. It hasn"t come by me yet. Time hasn"t come this far to me yet, but God living in the eternal, outside of time, sees the entire picture with one view. Thus, God speaks of things as existing, though in my timeframe they have not yet existed. For God sees them; He knows they are going to exist, because He is outside of the timeframe, and thus He speaks, and that is where prophecy comes in. God just speaking of what He is looking at what He can see. He is not bound by time.

Now our puny little finite minds cannot grasp this. I cannot think apart from time. I am bound in my thinking processes in time, and I cannot think apart from time. God can. God sees the whole; I see only the part. We see in part. We know in part. We prophesy in part, but when that which is perfect or complete has come, then these things which are in part will be done away. For we will know them even as we are known.

This interesting aspect about God is given to us here by Paul: God, who makes alive the dead. When God said to Abraham, "Take now your son your only son Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice," Abraham by faith took his son and journeyed to the mountain. Abraham didn"t know how God was going to do it, but Abraham knew that he was going to return to his servants with his son. "I and the lad will go and worship and will come again. We are going to go up and worship God and we are going to come again." Wait a minute, Abraham. You are going to offer him as a sacrifice. I know that, but God said, "Through Isaac shall thy seed by called." Isaac doesn"t have any children yet so God has got a problem. Isaac has got to come back with me, because through Isaac the seed is going to be called. Isaac has no children. God is going to have to raise him from the dead if necessary, because God has got to keep His word. Now that is God"s problem, how He is going to keep His word. He told me to offer him as a sacrifice and I am going to do that. But, He has got to keep His word to me so He has got to raise Isaac from the dead if necessary. So you see, he was believing in the resurrection.

For three days Isaac was dead in the mind of Abraham as they were journeying, yet he believed there would be a resurrection. I am going to offer him as a sacrifice and God is going to raise him from the dead. Through faith, Hebrews 11:1-40, Abraham offered Isaac, believing that God would, if necessary, raise him from the dead, because God said, "Through Isaac shall thy seed by called." That was where Abraham took this step of faith. A lot of people don"t understand this. They say, "Oh, how could a man?" They get all shook over the story of Abraham because they don"t know the entire scriptures. They don"t realize the faith of Abraham. He knew that Isaac had to be alive to bear children. So, God, You"ve got a problem. It seems like it is an unsolvable problem, but that is not my problem, Lord, it is Your problem.

Isaac has got to come back with me. He has got to have children, because You told me, "Through Isaac shall the seed be called." God spoke of Isaac"s seed before he ever had any children, because he knew he would have children. Abraham knew the word of God had to come to pass, and so he was willing to go ahead and sacrifice his son, because God has got to keep His word and Isaac has got to come back to life.

Belief in the resurrection.

So against hope he believed in hope ( Romans 4:18 ),

Or against any understanding of how God could do it, yet he believed in God.

that he might become the father of many nations, according as it was spoken, So shall thy seed be. Not being weak in the faith, he didn"t consider his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah"s womb ( Romans 4:18-19 ):

The first key to Abraham"s faith is not considering the human difficulties. And that is our first stumbling stone to faith is we are always considering the human difficulties. It is so interesting how that we are measuring our problems into categories of simple, difficult, impossible. But Abraham did not consider the human difficulty here that he was going to have a son when he was one hundred years old. The deadness of his own body or his own he didn"t consider his own body now dead. He was probably impotent by this time. Nor yet the deadness of Sarah"s womb. She had probably gone through the menopause. No problem, God said she is going to have a son. God"s problem, not mine. He didn"t consider these human aspects or difficulties. Secondly, he staggered not at the promise of God. "Well, I don"t see how God can do that. Now I know God said He would, but I don"t know if He means me."

He staggered not at the promises of God; but being strong in the faith, he gave glory to God ( Romans 4:20 );

"Thank you, Lord, for that son. Oh, Lord, I appreciate so much You doing this for Sarah. She"s wanted a kid all her life, Lord. Oh, You"re going to give her a boy. That"s just really neat, Father. Lord, I thank You and I praise You." For you see,

he was fully persuaded, that what God had promised, he was able also to perform ( Romans 4:21 ).

And I can"t perform. I can"t do it. I"ve tried for many years; I failed. But God is able to do it. God has promised that through Sarah I am going to have a son, so I know that God is able to perform His promise to me.

Four keys to faith: considering not the human difficulty, staggering not at the promise, but just taking the promise and praising the Lord and thanking God for the promise, knowing and being fully persuaded that God is able to do whatever He has promised.

Therefore his faith was imputed unto him for righteousness ( Romans 4:22 ).

God said, "That is a righteous man. He believes my word. He trusts my word."

But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification ( Romans 4:24-25 ).

So even if Abraham"s faith was accounted for righteousness, so our faith in God who raised Jesus from the dead, who was crucified for our offenses but was raised again for our justification, our faith in Jesus, God accounts to us for righteous, and God looks upon that faith and declares that we are righteous.

Does that mean I can go out and do whatever I want? Live after my flesh, indulge in just any kind of thing I desire, because, after all, it"s my faith that God counts for righteousness. In chapter five Paul gets into some of these foolish speculations that people often make and the tragic mistake that they make when they take grace and try to run with it. Into lasciviousness and use it as a cloak for their evil deeds. As we move into chapter5, Paul will deal with the subject, "Shall we sin freely that grace might abound? Shall we just go ahead and can we just go ahead and live however we want after our flesh because of God"s grace? Does that mean that it doesn"t matter how I live?" If you quit the study tonight you can be in left field and left out. You better come back next Sunday and get the other side of the coin or you could be in deep, deep trouble. Don"t take this and run with it yet. You have got to realize that he is talking to a special category of people who have been crucified with Christ. Who are reckoning the old man to be dead and are living now after the Spirit, the new life in the Spirit in the resurrected Christ.

So you"ve got to get the rest of the story to get the balance, so see you next Sunday night as we balance things off.

I am amazed at God"s love for me. I am amazed that Jesus Christ loves me so much that He was willing to take the penalty of my sin, He was willing to die in my place, He was willing to suffer the consequences for my guilt. I love Him, and I appreciate His love for me. Because of my love for Him, I want to live for Him, I want to serve Him. Because of my love for Him, I want to do only those things that are pleasing to Him. I don"t want to do those things that will displease Him. I want to walk as He walked. I want to forgive as He forgave. I want to love as He loves. You see, the love of Christ constrains me, and thus, I live by a higher standard than any law could dictate, for I am bound by the law of love. Love for God and love for Jesus Christ that causes me to only desire to do those things that will bring glory to Him.

May you walk this week in such a way as to bring glory unto the Father that He may look upon you and be pleased as you express to Him your love through the life that you live. God bless you and give you a beautiful week walking with Jesus, filled with His Spirit. "

Copyright Statement
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". 2014.

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Acceptance by Faith foreshadowed in the old Dispensation

In Romans 3:21.; St. Paul set forth the great truth of acceptance by faith. A Jew might object that it was new, and therefore not true. In Romans 3:31; St. Paul answered that in the Law and in faith there is the same moral and religious ideal, which is more completely developed and more perfectly fulfilled by faith. Now he turns to the past, to show that acceptance by faith is not a new idea. It was faith for which Abraham was accepted, not works (Romans 4:1-8), nor circumcision (Romans 4:9-12), nor on account of obedience to the Law (Romans 4:13-17). The history shows the nature of the faith which God accepts (Romans 4:18-22), in our case as well as in Abraham's0.

1-8. It was faith, not works, for which Abraham was accepted.

Paraphrase. '(1) Take, e.g., the case of Abraham. His descendants should readily admit the force of his case, which shows that acceptance by faith is no new principle. (2) If he had been accepted on account of his deeds, he would have had something to be proud of in man's sight. And we men do honour him, and rightly. Yet even then he could not claim merit before God. (3) For the Scripture says that it was on account of his faith that he was reckoned as righteous. (4) Now reward for work would not be so spoken of. There is no favour in paying wages that are due. (5) Such an expression as “his faith is reckoned for righteousness” is only properly used of one who makes no claim for work done, but simply puts faith in God. (6-8) Notice, too, how David pronounced a man happy, although he had sinned deeply, simply because God forgave him and reckoned him as righteous.'

1. What.. then] refers to Romans 3:27. That] RM 'of.' As pertaining to the flesh] i.e. by natural descent. The question is put in the mouth of a Jew. Therefore it does not follow that the Roman Christians were chiefly Jews. Cp. also 1 Corinthians 10:1, 'our fathers,' though the Corinthian Christians were mostly Gentile. Hath found] RM omits.

2. Abraham] St. James also refers to Genesis 15:6, but concludes 'that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only,' James 2:23. St. James wrote of mere intellectual belief: cp. James 2:19. St. Paul meant by 'faith' a complete change of relation towards God, which would affect the believer's actions: cp. Romans 6. Genesis 15:6 was a common text for discussion among the Jews. Possibly St. James was thinking of perversions of St. Paul's teaching. Glory] cp. Romans 3:27.

3, 5. Counted] RV 'reckoned.'

4. Worketh] i.e. a workman in daily life.

5. Worketh not] i.e. as ground of acceptance. Ungodly] not meant of Abraham; the extreme case is put: cp. Romans 5:6.

6. Describeth, etc.] RV 'pronounceth blessing upon.' Imputeth] RV 'reckoneth.' Without] RV 'apart from.'

7. Blessed] i.e. happy; from Psalms 32:1.

9-12. The blessing was not dependent upon circumcision, to which as signifying admission to covenant with God, the Jews attach such importance.

Paraphrase. '(9) Again. The blessing was irrespective of circumcision. (10) For at the time that Abraham's faith was reckoned for righteousness, he was uncircumcised. (11) His circumcision was but a token, by which God sealed that acceptance which was his as a believing man. Hence, all Gentiles who believe are his spiritual children, and have righteousness reckoned to them. (12) And those Jews are his children who are not merely circumcised, but believe as he believed.'

9. Cometh] RV 'Is this blessing then pronounced.'

10. Abraham's faith preceded circumcision by many years: cp. Genesis 15:6; Genesis 17:10, Genesis 17:24.

11. sign] cp. Genesis 17:11, 'a token of the covenant.' Seal] ratifying his acceptance. Imputed] RV 'reckoned.'

13-17. The promise was independent of any system of law.

Paraphrase. '(13) Again. The promise to Abraham of world-wide inheritance was not to take effect by obedience to law. (14) For if the inheritance be for those who keep a law, then faith has lost its value, and the promise has been nullified. (15) For the effect of law, which reveals the requirements of a righteous God, is to bring about, not blessing, but consciousness of sin and expectation of God's wrath; transgression cannot exist without some law to be broken. (16) Therefore acceptance was made to depend upon faith, that it might proceed from God's bounty not our merit, and that all Abraham's descendants might be certain of obtaining the promise. And by his descendants I mean, not Jews only, but all those who have the faith which he had. (17) For in spite of his old age, he fully believed God who promised him seed, and God has made him the father of all who believe in Jesus Christ.'

13. Heir of the world] i.e. by the universality of the reign of Christ: cp. Genesis 12:2.; Genesis 22:17.

14. Void] because an opposite condition would have been brought in: cp. Galatians 3:18.

15. Cp. Romans 3:20. For where] RV 'but where.'

16. By grace] RV 'according to grace,' i e. on the principle of free gift. Sure] because, (1) not depending on the fulfilment of a law which would certainly be broken, and (2) admitting Jew and Gentile by the same gate of faith. Of the law] i.e. believing Jews.

Abraham] who was not under the Law.

Us all] i.e. Christians, from 'many nations.'

17. Father] cp. Genesis 17:5. Before.. God] i.e. God regards Abraham as father of all believers.

Quickeneth] i.e. makes alive. When God promised Isaac, Abraham, and Sarah were as though dead: cp. Romans 4:19. Calleth] i.e. summons. Which be not] i.e. the promised seed.

18-22. It was because Abraham's faith was so unwavering, that it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.

Paraphrase. '(18) His confident faith, when it was against human probability that God's promise of a son should be realised, led to the fulfilment of the promise. (19) His faith did not fail at the apparent impossibility. (20) Fixing his eye on God's promise, he received fresh youth, acknowledging God's power and truth (21) with complete certainty. (22) And because his faith was unwavering, God accepted it as though it were righteousness.'

18. Believed in hope] i.e. had confident faith. That he might] RV 'to the end that he might.' So] i.e. as the stars: cp. Genesis 15:5.

19. Being not weak] RV 'without being weakened.' Considered not] RV 'considered,' i.e. he realised his weakness, but still believed.

Dead] RV 'as good as dead.'

20. RV 'yea, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith.'

21. Persuaded] RV 'assured.'

22. Imputed] RV 'reckoned.'

23-25. Abraham's faith is the pattern of ours.

Paraphrase. '(23) Thus the history of Abraham's justification teaches us the principle on which God proceeds. (24) As Abraham trusted in God to bring Isaac as it were from death to fulfil His promise, so, if we believe on Him who raised up Jesus to fulfil His purpose, our faith will be accepted. (25) For Christ, who died because we had offended, was raised to bring about our acceptance.'

23, 24. Imputed] RV 'reckoned.'

24. Us] RV 'our sake': cp. Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 9:10. If we believe] RV 'who believe.'

25. Delivered] RV 'delivered up,' i.e. by the Father: cp. Romans 8:32 equally by Himself: cp. Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2. Our justification] The Resurrection brings about our justification, because (1) it shows the divinity of Christ, and therefore the value of His death: cp. 1 Corinthians 15:17; (2) through the Resurrection, faith in the Atonement became possible, for it showed that the Atonement was complete: cp. Romans 3:25.; Romans 6:10; (3) Christ risen becomes the source of new life to us by our union with Him: cp. Romans 6:11.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

1. Abraham"s justification by faith4:1-5

Paul began this chapter by showing that God declared Abraham righteous because of the patriarch"s faith.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Romans 4:4-5 contrast faith and works. Work yields wages that the person working deserves. Faith receives a gift ( Romans 4:4; lit. grace, Gr. charin) that the person believing does not deserve. Incredibly, God justifies those who not only fail to deserve justification but deserve condemnation because they are "ungodly" (NASB) or "wicked" (NIV Romans 4:5; cf. Romans 3:24). This is how far God"s grace goes (cf. Deuteronomy 25:1)!

"Here in a nutshell is the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith." [Note: Mickelsen, p1193.]

In our day there are many subtle as well as obvious perversions of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Advocates of lordship salvation effectively add works to faith when they make commitment to Jesus Christ necessary for salvation. One astute writer has observed that this "front loading" of the gospel with works is "paving the road back to Rome." [Note: Earl Radmacher, "First Response to "Faith According to the Apostle James" by John F. MacArthur Jeremiah," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society33:1 (March1990):40.] Some lordship salvation advocates believe that an unbeliever only has to be willing to submit to Christ"s lordship. However this is only changing the human work from submitting to being willing to submit. One lordship salvation advocate wrote that to exclude submission to Christ"s lordship from the gospel message amounts to antinomianism. [Note: John MacArthur, Faith Works, p94.] Later he defined antinomianism as follows.

"antinomianism: the idea that behavior is unrelated to faith, or that Christians are not bound by any moral law. Antinomianism radically separates justification and sanctification, making practical holiness elective." [Note: Ibid, p259. Cf. pp94-98.]

Clearly this is not the position of most Christians who believe that faith alone is what God requires instead of faith plus commitment. [Note: For a response to the Reformed claim that dispensationalists are antinomian (i.e, against law as a standard for Christian living), see Robert A. Pyne, "Antinomianism and Dispensationalism," Bibliotheca Sacra153:610 (April-June1996):141-54.]

Another subtle modern form of works salvation often accompanies an incorrect interpretation of the biblical doctrine of perseverance. This view says that if a professing Christian does not continue in the faith and in holiness all his or her life, allowing for occasional lapses, he or she was not a true believer. This view "back loads" the gospel with works. Faithfulness to the Lord thus becomes a condition for salvation. This incorrect interpretation of perseverance often goes hand in hand with lordship salvation.

Some who hold these views try to get away from their connection with works by saying that it is God who produces submission and or sanctification in the believer, not the believer himself. [Note: E.g, MacArthur, pp100-101.] Nonetheless it is the professing Christian whom God holds responsible for his or her choices, not Himself.

"Indeed, every command to the believer implies the necessity of his involvement as part of the process [of sanctification]." [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation, p152.]

Another answer that some who hold these views give is that what the Bible affirms is that man cannot merit eternal life. [Note: MacArthur, pp69, 105-21.] This is not the same, they say, as doing something necessary to obtain it, such as submitting or remaining faithful. Yet the Bible uses the word "works," not just merit ( Romans 4:2; Romans 4:4-5; Ephesians 2:8-9). [Note: Three excellent books on salvation by faith alone, all of which respond to lordship salvation, are Ryrie, So Great Salvation; Joseph Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings; and Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free!]

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Darby's Synopsis of the New Testament

Romans Chapter 4

In dealing with the Jew, and even in dealing with the question of righteousness, there was, besides the law, another consideration of great weight both with the Jews themselves and in the dealings of God. What of Abraham, called of God to be the parent-stock, the father of the faithful? The apostle, therefore, after having set forth the relation in which faith stood towards the law by the introduction of the righteousness of God, takes up the question of the ground on which Abraham was placed as well-pleasing to God in righteousness. For the Jew might have admitted his personal failure under the law, and pleaded the enjoyment of privilege under Abraham. If we consider him then thus according to the flesh (that is, in connection with the privileges that descended from him as inheritance for his children) and take our place under him in the line of succession to enjoy those privileges, on what principle does this set us? On the same principle of faith. He would have had something to boast of if he was justified by works; but before God it was not so. For the scriptures say, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not counted of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” For thereby, in fact, he glorifies God in the way that God desires to be glorified, and according to the revelation He has made of Himself in Christ.

Thus the testimony borne by Abraham’s case is to justification by faith. David also supports this testimony and speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom righteousness is imputed without works. He whose iniquities are pardoned, whose sins are covered, to whom the Lord does not impute sin-he is the man whom David calls blessed. But this supposed man to be a sinner and not righteous in himself. It was a question of what God was in grace to such a one, and not of what he was to God, or rather when he was a sinner. His blessedness was that God did not impute to him the sins he had committed, not that he was righteous in himself before God. Righteousness for man was found in the grace of God. Here it is identified with non-imputation of sins to man, guilty through committing them. No sin is imputed.

Was then this righteousness for the circumcision only? Now our thesis is, that God counted Abraham to be righteous by faith. But was he circumcised when this took place? Not so; he was uncircumcised. Righteousness then is by faith, and for the uncircumcised through faith-a testimony that was overwhelming to a Jew, because Abraham was the beau ideal to which all his ideas of excellence and of privilege referred. Circumcision was only a seal to the righteousness by faith which Abraham possessed in uncircumcision, that he might be the father of all believers who were in the same state of uncircumcision, that righteousness might be imputed to them also; and the father of circumcision-that is, the first model of a people truly set apart for God-not only with regard to the circumcised, but to all those who should walk in the steps of his faith when uncircumcised. For, after all, the promise that he should be heir of the world was not made to Abraham nor to his seed in connection with the law, but with righteousness by faith. For if they who are on the principle of law are heirs, the faith by which Abraham received it is vain, and the promise made of none effect; (17) for, on the contrary, the law produces wrath-and that is a very different thing from bringing into the enjoyment of a promise-for where there is no law there is no transgression. Observe, he does not say there is no sin; but where there is no commandment, there is none to violate. Now, the law being given to a sinner, wrath is necessarily the consequence of its imposition.

This is the negative side of the subject. The apostle shews that with regard to the Jews themselves, the inheritance could not be on the principle of law without setting Abraham aside, for to him the inheritance had been given by promise, and this implied that it was by faith: for we believe in a promise, we do not ourselves fulfil a promise that has been made to us. Accordingly the righteousness of Abraham was-according to scripture-through this same faith. It was imputed to him for righteousness.

This principle admitted the Gentiles; but here it is established with regard to the Jews themselves or rather with regard to the ways of God, in such a manner as to exclude the law as a means of obtaining the inheritance of God. The consequence with regard to Gentiles believing the gospel is stated inRomans 4:16, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed” of Abraham to whom the promise was made; not to that only which was under the law, but to all that had the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all before God, as it is written, “I have made thee a father of many nations.”

Thus we have the great principle established. It is by faith, before and without law (18); and the promise is made to man in uncircumcision, and he is justified by believing it.

Another element is now introduced. Humanly speaking, the fulfilment of the promise was impossible, for in that respect both Abraham and Sarah were as dead, and the promise must be believed in against all hope, resting on the almighty power of Him who raises the dead, and calls things that are not as though they were. This was Abraham’s faith. He believed the promise that he should be the father of many nations, because God had spoken, counting on the power of God, thus glorifying Him, without calling in question anything that He had said by looking at circumstances; therefore this also was counted to him for righteousness. He glorified God according to what God was. Now, this was not written for his sake alone the same faith shall be imputed to us also for righteousness-faith in God as having raised up Jesus from the dead. It is not here faith in Jesus, but in Him who came in power into the domain of death, where Jesus lay because of our sins, and brought Him forth by His power, the mighty activity of the love of God who brought Him-who had already borne all the punishment of our sins-out from under all their consequences; so that, by believing God who has done this, we embrace the whole extent of His work, the grace and the power displayed in it; and we thus know God. Our God is the God who has done this. He has Himself raised up Jesus from among the dead, who was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification. Our sins were already upon Him. The active intervention of God delivered Him who lay in death because He had borne them. It is not only a resurrection of the dead, but from among the dead-the intervention of God to bring forth in righteousness the One who had glorified Him. By believing in such a God we understand that it is Himself who, in raising Christ from among the dead, has delivered us Himself from all that our sins had subjected us to; because He has brought back in delivering power Him who underwent it for our sakes.

Footnotes for Romans Chapter 4

17: The careful reader of Paul’s epistles must attend to the use of this word “for.” In very many cases it does not express an inference, but turns to some collateral subject which, in the apostle’s mind, would lead to the same conclusion, or some deeper general principle, which lay at the groundwork of the argument, enlarging the sphere of vision in things connected with it.

18: (‘chooris nomou’, Lit: “apart from law,” which had nothing to do with it.

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Darby, John. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "John Darby's Synopsis of the New Testament". 1857-67.

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

Romans 4:4 Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt.

"Worketh"-in these verses (4-8), the "worker" is put in contrast to the "one who..believes" (5), "the forgiven man" (7-8). ***NOTE: The worker is not JUST an obedient man but the SINLESSLY obedient man. To what other man does God "owe" acquittal? In such a case, a man that had flawlessly kept God"s law, there is no need of grace, God simply "owes" this man his reward.

"the reward is not reckoned as of grace"-"his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due" (NASV)

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Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". 1999-2014.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers


(1-25) The subject of the chapter is an application of the foregoing to the special (and crucial) case of Abraham, with particular reference to two ideas that are continually recurring throughout the last chapter: (1) the supposed superiority of Jew to Gentile (and, à fortiori, of the great progenitor of the Jews); (2) the idea of boasting or glorying based upon this superiority. Following out this the Apostle shows how even Abraham’s case tells, not against, but for the doctrine of justification by faith. Indeed, Abraham himself came under it. And not only so, but those who act upon this doctrine are spiritually descendants of Abraham. It is entirely a mistake to suppose that they of the circumcision only are Abraham’s seed. The true seed of Abraham are those who follow his example of faith. He put faith in the promise, they must put their faith in the fulfilment of the promise.

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Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(4) This, then (the righteousness attributed to Abraham), was an act of grace on the part of God, and not of merit on the part of man. It therefore carries with it no ground of boasting.

The proposition is put in a general form. Those who base their claim on works have a right to their reward. It is not conceded to them by any sort of imputation, but is their desert. On the other hand (Romans 4:5), those who rely only upon faith, even though ungodly themselves, have righteousness imputed to them. This latter was Abraham’s case, and not the former. (The specific application to Abraham is not expressed, but implied.)

The reward.—Literally, his wages. The relation between what he receives and what he does is that of wages for work done. He can claim it, if need be, in a court of law. There is in it no element of grace, or favour, or concession.

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Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Romans 4:3

In this word faith, as used by St. Paul, we reach a point round which the ceaseless stream of religious exposition and discussion has for ages circled.... It will at once appear that while it can properly be said of Abraham, for instance, that he was justified by faith, if we take faith in its plain sense of holding fast to an unseen power of goodness, yet it cannot without difficulty and recourse to a strained figure, be said of him, if we take faith in Paul"s specific sense of identification with Christ through the emotion of attachment to him. Paul, however, undoubtedly, having conveyed his new specific sense into the word faith, still uses the word both in the specific sense of identification with Christ and also in all cases where, without this specific sense, it was before applicable and usual, and in this way he often creates ambiguity. Why, it may be asked, does Paul, instead of employing another term to denote his special meaning, still thus employ the general term faith? We are inclined to think it was from that desire to get for his words and thoughts not only the real but also the apparent sanction and consecration of the Hebrew Scriptures, which we have called his tendency to Judaise.

—Matthew Arnold, St. Paul and Protestantism.

Compare the interesting discussion of this passage in Miss Wedgwood"s Message of Israel, pp142-144.

Friends of God

Romans 4:3

The life of Abraham in the Bible begins with God speaking to him, and with Abraham believing and acting upon what God said. How God spoke to Abraham, or how he speaks to anyone, we may never be able to explain. The world has never been without men who are quite sure that they have heard God"s voice. If there is a God at all, He is surely able to communicate with His creatures, to assure them of His presence, His interest in them, and His will on their behalf. He can impress them with such a sense of obligation as can only be understood as the will of God; He can inspire them with such sublime and solemn hopes as can only be understood as promises of God. What the text tells us is that when God has spoken and we have heard His word, there is only one thing for us to do, namely, to believe Him. That is the only right thing to do, and when we do it, we are made right with Him. It is not right to dispute God"s command or to criticise His promise, or to try to make any kind of bargain with Him about either. It is not right to put anything into the scale against God"s word, as if it might perhaps outweigh it. The only right thing to do, the only right attitude for the soul to take, is to recognise that in the word which God has spoken, whatever it may be, we are in contact with the final reality in the universe, and we invest our whole being in that. When we do Song of Solomon, God counts that to us for righteousness. And so it is. There is nothing in God"s word artificial or unreal; the man is truly right with God for whom the word that God has spoken is the last reality in life.

I. The word that God spoke to Abraham was characteristically a word of promise. It is put in various forms at different periods of his life. "I will make of thee a great nation;" "Unto thy seed will I give this land"; "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them; so shall thy seed be". If we put these in general terms, we may say Abraham had a Divine future held out to him in the word of God. When we are told he believed God, it means that that Divine future had a reality for him in comparison with which everything else was unreal. He left his country and his kindred for it; he renounced for it tempting openings which he saw around him, and the future which he might have carved out for himself. We must not forget that the life of Abraham was rich in natural possibilities. Abraham would have had a future in Ur of the Chaldees had he chosen to remain there, and to disbelieve the voice which said, "Get thee out to the land that I will show thee". No doubt a man of his power and enterprise would have had a future if he had chosen to settle in Sodom or in Egypt and to renounce a visionary prospect of inheriting Canaan. It is Abraham living out his long life still believing, still counting God"s promises the final reality, which made and kept him right with God. He stood before God justified by his faith, a man with whom God was well pleased, a man who is called in Scripture the friend of God.

II. Every one must have noticed how much there is in the New Testament about Abraham and his faith. The reason is that for those who wrote the New Testament, Abraham is the type of true piety, he is the ideal of religion. Every one who wishes to prove anything about the true religion says, Look at Abraham. Paul does it here in Romans and again in Galatians. James does it in the second chapter of his Epistle—where he seems as if he were controverting Paul—and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who is so unlike both, does it in the passage we read a few minutes ago. The reason why everybody who wants to prove anything about true religion says, Look at Abraham, is that in true religion there is one thing that never changes from Genesis to Revelation—the attitude of the soul to God. And the true attitude of the soul to God is perfectly illustrated in Abraham. God may make Himself known more fully in one generation than another, His word may be more articulate, more explicit in its commands, more spiritual and far-reaching in its promises, but the one thing which it requires under the surface is that which it finds in Abraham, to be treated as the last and absolute reality in life; so to treat it is to believe in God in the sense which makes and keeps us right with Him, so to treat it is to take our place among the children of Abraham.

III. The one condition on which this text has any interest for us is that God should have spoken to us, and in doing Song of Solomon, made an appeal for faith. It is the assumption of true religion always that God has so spoken. In the old Scots" Confession of Faith, drawn out at the Reformation, one of the most interesting chapters is headed "of the Revelation of the Promise" The original form of the promise, the reformers tell us, is preserved in the third chapter of Genesis—the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent"s head. This is the elementary form of faith, to be assured that good will eventually triumph over evil; nay, that man himself with the help of God will one day destroy the works of the devil. The promise, the Confession goes on to say, is repeated and made more clear from time to time, till at last it has been made perfectly clear to us in what Knox and his friends call "the joyful day of Christ Jesus". And that is what we have to understand. We may not know how God spoke to Abraham, nor how Abraham was sure that it was God who had spoken, but we know that God speaks to us in Christ. What we have to say to ourselves Isaiah, There is God"s will, purpose, and promise for me. There is the Divine future which God holds out as my inheritance. There is the final truth about God, the final reality in the world, presenting itself to us, the sin-bearing redeeming love which calls us to itself, and which is able to save to the uttermost. The Apostles were not afraid to believe a word so wonderful as this, or if they were, faith triumphed over their fears. John looked at Jesus and said, "We shall be like Him". Paul said, "We have worn the image of the earthly, and we shall wear the image of the heavenly". That is the true utterance of the Christian faith. That is the height to which the heart can rise in men who have heard the voice of God in Jesus, and believe it without reserve. And do we not know in our hearts that these are the men who are right with God, the men who believe His word in Christ?

—James Denney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxix. p296.

References.—IV:3.—C. S. Horne, The Soul"s Awakening, p215. S. Cox, Expositions, p211. IV:3-8, 9, 11, 13, 16-24.—W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p113. IV:4.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p120. IV:5.—F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi. p17. IV:6, 7.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p83. IV:6-25.—Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p206. IV:7.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p172ibid. vol. xii. p55. IV:10.—Ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p461. IV:11.—Ibid, vol. viii. p294. IV:12.—Ibid. vol. i. p144. IV:15.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p143. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p286. IV:16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii. No1347. IV:16, 17.—Ibid. vol. xxxvi. No2159. IV:17.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p131. IV:19.—Ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p167. IV:19-21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No733. IV:20.—Ibid. vol. xxiii. No1367. IV:24.—Ibid. vol. xlviii. No2806. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p432. IV:24, 25.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xl. No2357. IV:25.—R. Flint, Sermons and Addresses, p204. R. M. Benson, Redemption, p183. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. ii. p40. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p467; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p407. IV:28-30.—Ibid. vol. i. p291.

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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Romans 4:1-8. The justification of Abraham, considered in relation to the doctrine just expounded in Romans 3:21-31. The point to be made out is that the justification of Abraham does not traverse but illustrates the Pauline doctrine.



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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Romans 4:4 f. The faith of Abraham, in whatever way it may be more precisely determined by relation to its object, agrees with Christian faith in the essential characteristic, that it is not a work. To him who works—der mit Werken umgehet: Luther—the reward is reckoned, not by way of grace (as in Abraham’s case), but by way of debt. But to him who does not work, i.e., who does not make works his ground of hope toward God—but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. Romans 4:5 describes the category under which Abraham falls, but is not a generalisation from his case. The (Genesis 18:23, Proverbs 11:31, chap. Romans 5:6) is a person who has no claim to justification: if he is justified, it must be not on the ground of works, but freely, by God’s grace, on which he relies through faith. Of course to believe in this grace of God is to do something; in that sense it is a work; but it is to do something which involves a complete renunciation of hope in anything we can do without God. It excludes merit, boasting, justification . Cf. Philo, i., 486 (quoted in Mayor on James 1:21): . The whole Pauline gospel could be summed up in this one word—God who justifies the ungodly. Under that device, what room is there for any pretensions or claims of man? It is sometimes argued (on the ground that all God’s actions must be “ethical”) that God can only pronounce just, or treat as just, those who actually are just; but if this were so, what Gospel would there be for sinful men? This “ethical” gospel is identical with the Pharisaism in which Paul lived before he knew what Christ and faith were, and it led him to despair. It leads all men either to despair or to a temper which is that of the Pharisee rather than the publican of Luke 18. What it can never beget is the temper of the Gospel. The paradoxical phrase, Him that justifieth the ungodly, does not suggest that justification is a fiction, whether legal or of any other sort, but that it is a miracle. It is a thing that only God can achieve, and that calls into act and manifestation all the resources of the Divine nature. It is achieved through an unparalleled revelation of the judgment and the mercy of God. The miracle of the Gospel is that God comes to the ungodly, with a mercy which is righteous altogether, and enables them through faith, in spite of what they are, to enter into a new relation to Himself, in which goodness becomes possible for them. There can be no spiritual life at all for a sinful man unless he can get an initial assurance of an unchanging love of God deeper than sin, and he gets this at the Cross. He gets it by believing in Jesus, and it is justification by faith. The whole secret of New Testament Christianity, and of every revival of religion and reformation of the Church is in that laetum et ingens paradoxon, .



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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

That worketh; so as to be saved on the ground of his own merit.

The reward; his salvation.

Not of grace, but of debt; if, in obedience to law, a person is justified, his salvation is merited, not bestowed as a gratuitous favor.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Family Bible New Testament". American Tract Society. 1851.

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

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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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

F.B. Meyer's 'Through the Bible' Commentary


Romans 4:1-8

In this chapter the doctrine of justification by faith is illustrated from the life of Abraham. It is evident that he was not justified because of his good works. Nothing is said of them, though he had crossed the desert in obedience to the divine command. No; he believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness, Romans 4:3. The life of God in the soul of man is one and the same in every age. The measure of light may vary from the twilight in Ur to the meridian glory of Patmos, but the attitude of the soul toward God must always be the same.

From the earliest times men have been justified by faith, Hebrews 11:4. Faith has two invariable elements: attitude and receptiveness; that is, the right position toward God, and the power of receiving the full inflow of the divine nature. We are made “partakers of the divine nature,” 2 Peter 1:4. This was the case with the great Hebrew pilgrim-first of the pilgrim race. Rising above the rest of his contemporaries, he saw the advance gleam of the day of Christ and was glad, John 8:56. David also sings of the same grace which justifies the sinner and counts him as righteous, notwithstanding his iniquities and sins, Psalms 32:1-2.

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Meyer, Frederick Brotherton. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "F. B. Meyer's 'Through the Bible' Commentary". 1914.

Arno Gaebelein's Annotated Bible


1. The Witness of Abraham to Justification. (Romans 4:1-5.)

2. As Confirmed also by David. (Romans 4:6-8.)

3. Circumcision the Sign of the Covenant. (Romans 4:9-12.)

4. Faith in Him Who Raiseth the Dead. (Romans 4:13-25.)

Romans 4:1-5

Two witnesses are summoned next in whose lives the truth of justification by faith is illustrated. The Jews boasted of Abraham as the father of their nation. “Abraham our father” is still the common phrase used by all orthodox Jews as it was in the days of John the Baptist, as he declared, “Say not within yourselves, We have Abraham to our Father.” How then was Abraham counted righteous before God? Was he justified by keeping the law? That was impossible, for the law was 430 years after Abraham. He was not justified by works. He was a sinner like every other human being. He had no works to justify him. But what saith the Scripture? “Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Abraham simply believed God when He gave him a promise (Genesis 15:5-6) and God said, you have no righteousness, but I take your faith instead of righteousness. Faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. There is then a difference between the righteousness of God in the previous chapter and the righteousness imputed in this chapter. And a blessed statement it is “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.” Abraham did not work. To him that worketh not, God reckons a reward. And what a reward. What God puts on the side of him, who believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, will only be fully known when redeemed sinners are in His presence. “The glory which Thou has given me I have given Them” (John 17:22). This wonderful utterance of our Lord tells us of the great reward in store for him that worketh not, who, as ungodly, believes on Christ, who died for the ungodly. Thus faith is reckoned for righteousness and has its reward of glory through grace. The statement in Galatians 3:6-9 must be studied in connection with these verses. “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” (In Galatians analyzed and annotated this statement is more fully explained.)

Romans 4:6-8

And David is the second witness. David and Abraham are mentioned in the first verse of the New Testament. The covenant God made with Abraham and with David make these two men the leading men of the nation. Now Abraham had no law, but David was under the law. David describeth the blessedness of the man (whosoever he may be) to whom God imputes the righteousness without works. The beautiful 32nd Psalm is quoted. The blessedness of the believer is there described. Iniquities forgiven; sins covered; sin no longer imputed. He does not impute sin, but imputes righteousness. Forgiveness takes the place of sin, and everlasting righteousness has covered the believer’s iniquity, hiding it alike from the eyes of Divine glory, and from the conscience of the justified vessel of His grace; and significantly it is stated in that Psalm “for this cause shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in the time when Thou mayest be found.” This is the way to be godly, confessing ourself a sinner, confessing sin and believing on Him, who justifieth the ungodly.

Romans 4:9-12

The question of circumcision is raised again. The Jew boasted in circumcision as placing him into a position of favor and blessing before God. Is this blessedness, justification by faith, sins put away, righteousness imputed, for the circumcision, the Jews, only, or does it come also upon the uncircumcision, the Gentiles? When Abraham was declared righteous he was still in uncircumcision. The historical account in Genesis shows that circumcision followed the declaration “he believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness;” circumcision did not precede his faith which was reckoned to him for righteousness. He was in uncircumcision, practically a Gentile, and circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith. All this manifests the wisdom of God. It was divinely arranged so that Abraham “might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised (Gentiles) that righteousness might be imputed unto them also; and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham, which he had being uncircumcised.” Here we have the best possible argument that ordinances, or sacraments so called by man, have no part in bestowing salvation upon man. Baptism is called “a sacrament” and ritualistic Christians hold that it is necessary to receive the blessing of forgiveness. Others who do not hold to corrupt ritualism, also teach that Baptism as an ordinance is necessary for salvation. This portion of the Epistle answers completely these unscriptural claims. “For by Grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Romans 4:13-25

This section is of deep interest and must be carefully studied. While we had the atoning death of Christ so far before us, resurrection is now brought to the foreground as another important fact of the Gospel. The faith of Abraham is defined. How did he believe? When the promise was given that he should have a son and numerous offspring (Genesis 15:4-5), he believed God, who quickeneth the dead (resurrection) and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Abraham was an old man and Sarah was far beyond the time of childbirth; their case was humanly impossible. But Abraham believed that God could bring life from the dead, that He had the power to touch a grave and bring life out of it. “Against hope he believed in hope--and being not weak in faith he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb; he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was able to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.” From Genesis we know that he was also weak in faith and that he acted in unbelief. But this is graciously passed by. God, so to speak, had forgotten his unbelief and remembered it no more.

The application of all this is found in Romans 4:23-25. The promised seed was more than Isaac, it was Christ; so that Abraham believed the God who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. And we believe on Him also. Our Lord was delivered for our offences and has been raised for our justification. His resurrection is the blessed and positive proof that our sins are completely put away. For this reason the resurrection of Jesus, our Lord, is the justification of the believer. We have then a threefold justification of the believer. We are justified by His blood; He bore our guilt and penalty. We are justified by His resurrection, because this assures us that the work is done and we are accepted, and we are justified by faith, which is reckoned for righteousness.

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Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". 1913-1922.

G. Campbell Morgan's Exposition on the Whole Bible

The apostle now dealt with another difficulty that might arise in the mind of the Jew, showing that the method of grace, namely, imputing righteousness in response to faith, is in harmony with the whole history of Israel. As an illustration of this the apostle took the case of Abraham, father and founder of the nation, and showed how he was accepted and rewarded through faith, and not through works, both by his personal acceptance by God, and by his position as recipient of the promise of a coming deliverance. In this connection was made the declaration which must have been astonishing indeed in the ears of a Jew-that Abraham was the father, not merely of circumcised men according to the flesh, but of all who believe, even though they be in uncircumcision.

The Messianic hope came to Abraham, not through law, for it burned in his heart, and was the center of the nation of which he was the founder at least 400 years before the law was given. The apostle shows the value of this history. It bears testimony which strengthens the faith and confidence of those who look to, and believe in, Jesus. Resurrection life which follows the settlement of the question of sin by our justification is the bestowment of God on those who believe in Jesus.

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Morgan, G. Campbell. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "G. Campbell Morgan Exposition on the Bible". 1857-84.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Now to him that worketh,.... The apostle illustrates the former case by two sorts of persons in this and the next verse, who have different things accounted to them, and in a different manner. The one is represented as working, the other not. By the worker is meant, not one that works from, and upon principles of grace. The regenerate man is disposed to work for God; the man that has the Spirit of God is capable of working; he that has the grace of Christ, and strength from him, can work well; he that believes in Christ, works in a right way; he that loves Christ, works freely, and from a right principle; and he that has Christ's glory in view, works to a right end: but the worker here, is one that works upon nature's principles, and with selfish views; one that works in the strength of nature, trusting to, and glorying in what he does; seeking righteousness by his work, and working for eternal life and salvation. Now let it be supposed, that such a worker not only thinks he does, but if it could be, really does all the works of the law, yields a perfect obedience to it; what

is the reward that is, and will be

reckoned to him? There is no reward due to the creature's work, though ever so perfect, arising front any desert or dignity in itself: there may be a reward by promise and compact; God may promise a reward to encourage to obedience, as he does in the law, which is not eternal life; for that is the free gift of God, and is only brought to light in the Gospel; and though heaven is called a reward, yet not of man's obedience, but Christ's; but admitting heaven itself to be the reward promised to the worker, in what manner must that be reckoned to him?

not of grace: for grace and works can never agree together; for if the reward is reckoned for the man's works, then it is not of grace, "otherwise work is no more work", Romans 11:6; and if it is of grace, then not for his works, "otherwise grace is no more grace", Romans 11:6; it remains therefore, that if it is reckoned for his works, it must be

of debt: it must be his due, as wages are to an hireling. Now this was not Abraham's case, which must have been, had he been justified by works; he had a reward reckoned to him, and accounted his, which was God himself, "I am thy shield, and exceeding, great reward", Genesis 15:1; which must be reckoned to him, not of debt, but of grace; wherefore it follows, that he was justified, not by works, but by the grace of God imputed to him; that which his faith believed in for righteousness. The distinction of a reward of grace, and of debt, was known to the Jews; a the one they called פרס, the other שכר: the formerF4Maimon. Bartenora & Yom Tob in Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 3. they say is הגמול, "a benefit", which is freely of grace bestowed on an undeserving person, or one he is not obliged to; the other is what is given, בדין, "of debt", in strict justice.

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Gill, John. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

4. “But to him that worketh the reward is not reckoned according to grace, but according to indebtedness;

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Geneva Study Bible

4 Now to him that b worketh is the reward not c reckoned of grace, but of debt.

(4) The first proof of the confirmation, taken from opposites: to him who deserves anything by his labour, the wages are not counted as favour, but as debt: but to him that has done nothing but believe in him who freely promises, faith is imputed.

(b) To him that has deserved anything from his work.

(c) Is not reckoned or given to him.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

1. Romans 4:1-12.

Abraham was justified by faith, Romans 4:1-8, and by faith alone, Romans 4:9-12.

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Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

Tenth Passage (4:1-25). Faith the Principle of Abraham"s Justification.

Abraham being for the Jews the embodiment of salvation, his case was of capital moment in the solution of the question here treated. This was a conviction which Paul shared with his adversaries. Was the patriarch justified, by faith and by faith alone, his thesis was proved. Was he justified by some work of his own added to his faith, there was an end of Paul"s doctrine.

In the first part of this chapter, Romans 4:1-12, he proves that Abraham owed his righteousness to his faith, and to his faith alone. In the second Romans 4:13-16, he supports his argument by the fact that the inheritance of the world, promised to the patriarch and his posterity, was conferred on him independently of his observance of the law. The third part, Romans 4:17-22, proves that that very posterity to whom this heritage was to belong was a fruit of faith. In the fourth and last part, Romans 4:23-25, this case is applied to believers of the present. Thus righteousness, inheritance, posterity, everything, Abraham received by faith; and it will be even so with us, if we believe like him.

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Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

Vv. 3-5. "For what saith the Scripture? Now Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh his reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness;"

By the words of Romans 4:2 : "But it is not so in relation to God," the apostle gave it to be understood that he knew the judgment of God Himself on Abraham"s works. Romans 4:3 explains how he can pronounce regarding a fact which seems to lie beyond the reach of human knowledge. Scripture contains a declaration in which there is revealed the judgment of God respecting the way in which Abraham was justified. This saying is to be found in Genesis 15:6. Called by God out of his tent by night, he is invited to contemplate the heavens, and to count, if he can, the myriads of stars; then he hears the promise: "so numerous shall thy seed be." He is a centenarian, and has never had children. But it is God who speaks; that is enough for him: he believed God. Faith consists in holding the divine promise for the reality itself; and then it happens that what the believer has done in regard to the promise of God, God in turn does in regard to his faith: He holds it for righteousness itself.

The particle δέ, now, takes the place of the καί, and, which is found in the LXX., though their reading is not quite certain, as the Sinaït. and the Vatic. have a blank here. It is possible, therefore, that, as Tischendorf thinks, the generally received reading in Paul"s time was δέ, now, and not καί. For it is evident that if the apostle preserves this particle, which is not demanded by the meaning of his own text, it is to establish the literal character of the quotation. It is not said: he believed the promise of God, but: God. The object of his faith, when he embraced the promise, was God Himself

His truth, His faithfulness, His holiness, His goodness, His wisdom, His power, His eternity. For God was wholly in the promise proceeding from Him. It little matters, indeed, what the particular object is to which the divine revelation refers at a given moment. All the parts of this revelation form but one whole. In laying hold of one promise, Abraham laid hold of all by anticipation; for he laid hold of the God of the promises, and henceforth he was in possession even of those which could only be revealed and realized in the most distant future.

The Hebrew says: "and God counted it to him for righteousness." The LXX. have translated by the passive: and it was counted to him; Paul follows them in quoting. The verb λογίζειν, λογίζεσθαι, signifies: to put to account; comp. 2 Samuel 19:19; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 2 Timothy 4:16; and Philemon 1:18 (where Paul uses the analogous term ἐλλογεῖν, because he is speaking of an account properly so called: "If he has done thee any wrong, put it to my account"). It is possible to put to one"s account what he possesses or what he does not possess. In the first case it is a simple act of justice; in the second, it is a matter of grace. The latter is Abraham"s case, since God reckons his faith to him for what it is not: for righteousness. This word righteousness here denotes perfect obedience to the will of God, in virtue of which Abraham would necessarily have been declared righteous by God as being so, if he had possessed it. As he did not possess it, God put his faith to his account as an equivalent. Why so? On what did this incomparable value which God attached to his faith rest? We need not answer: on the moral power of this faith itself. For faith is a simple receptivity, and it would be strange to fall back on the sphere of meritorious work when explaining the very word which ought to exclude all merit. The infinite worth of faith lies in its object, God and His manifestation. This object is moral perfection itself. To believe is therefore to lay hold of perfection at a stroke. It is not surprising that laying hold of perfection, it should be reckoned by God as righteousness. It has been happily said: Faith is at once the most moral and the most fortunate of strokes (coups de main). In Romans 4:4-5, the apostle analyzes the saying quoted. This analysis proves that Abraham was justified not in the way of a man who had done works (Romans 4:4), but in the way of a man who has not done them (Romans 4:5); which demonstrates the truth of the affirmation of Romans 4:2 : "but it is not so in relation to God."

The two expressions: ὁ ἐργαζόμενος, he that worketh, and ὁ μὴ ἐργαζόμενος, he that worketh not, are general and abstract, with this difference, that the first refers to any workman whatever in the domain of ordinary life, while the second applies only to a workman in the moral sense. To the hired workman who performs his task, his reward is reckoned not as a favor, but as a debt. Now, according to the declaration of Moses, Abraham was not treated on this footing; therefore he is not one of those who have fulfilled their task. On the other hand, to the workman (in the moral sense) who does not labor satisfactorily, and who nevertheless places his confidence in God who pardons, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. Now, according to Moses, it is on this footing that Abraham was treated; therefore he belongs to those who have not fulfilled their task. These two harmonious conclusions—the one understood after Romans 4:4, the other after Romans 4:5—set forth the contents of the declaration of Moses: Abraham was treated on the footing not of a good, but of a bad workman.

The subjective negation μή before ἐργαζόμενος is the expression of the logical relation: because, between the participle and the principal verb: "because he does not do his work, his faith is reckoned to him as work."

Paul says: He who justifieth the ungodly. He might have said the sinner; but he chooses the more forcible term to designate the evil of sin, that no category of sinners, even the most criminal, may think itself excluded from the privilege of being justified by their faith. It has sometimes been supposed that by the word ungodly Paul meant to characterize Abraham himself, in the sense in which it is said (Joshua 24:2) that "Terah, the father of Abraham, while he dwelt beyond the flood, had served other gods." But idolatry is not exactly equivalent to ungodliness (impiety), and Paul would certainly never have called Abraham ungodly (impious).

To impute to the believer righteousness which he does not possess, is at the same time not to impute to him sins of which he is guilty. Paul feels the need of completing on this negative side his exposition of the subject of justification. And hence, no doubt, the reason why, to the saying of Moses regarding Abraham, he adds one of David"s, in which justification is specially celebrated in the form of the non-imputation of sin.

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Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

1–5.] Abraham himself was justified by faith. The reading and punctuation of this verse present some difficulties. As to the first (see var. read.), the variation in the order of the words, and the reading προπάτορα seemed to me formerly, however strongly supported, to have sprung out of an idea that κατὰ σάρκα belonged to πατέρα. This being supposed, εὑρηκέναι appeared to have been transposed to throw πατέρα ἡμ. κατὰ σάρκα together,—and then, because Abraham is distinctly proved (Romans 4:11) to have been in another sense the father of the faithful, πατέρα to have been altered to the less ambiguous προπάτορα, ancestor, a word not found in the N. T., but frequent in the Fathers. I therefore in the 3rd edition of this vol., with De Wette, Tholuck, and Tischendorf (in his last [7th, not 8th] edn.), retained the rec. text. Being now however convinced that we are bound to follow the testimony of our best MSS., and to distrust such subjective considerations as unsafe, and generally able to be turned both ways, I have adopted the reading of (20)((21))(22) (23) (24) (25) &c., bracketing εὑρηκέναι as of doubtful authority, omitted as it is by B.

Grot., Le Clerc, and Wetst. punctuate, τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; εὑρηκ.… σάρκα:—and Matthaï, τί οὖν; ἐροῦμ.… σάρκα; supplying δικαιοσύνην (or more rightly an indefinite τι) after εὑρηκέναι. But as Thol. well remarks, both these methods of punctuating would presuppose that Paul had given some reason in the preceding verses for imagining that Abraham had gained some advantage according to the flesh: which is not the case.

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

4. τῷ ἐργαζομ.] (q. d. τῷ ἐργάτῃ, but the part. is used because of the negative τῷ μὴ ἐργαζ. following)—to the workman (him that works for hire, that earns wages, compare προσηργάσατο, Luke 19:16) his wages are not reckoned according to (as a matter of) grace (favour), but according to (as a matter of) debt. The stress is on κατὰ χάριν, not on λογίζεται, which in this first member of the sentence, is used hardly in the strict sense, of imputing or reckoning, but of allotting or apportioning:—its use being occasioned by the stricter λογίζεται below. And the sentence is a general one, not with any peculiar reference to Abraham,—except that after κατὰ χάριν we may supply ὡς τῷ ἀβραάμ, if we will; for this is evidently assumed.

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Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews

Now to him that worketh in the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

Some understand this as implying working perfectly — doing all that a man is bound to do. But this is contrary to the meaning: it applies to work of any kind, and excludes all working of every kind or degree. No reward can be said to be of grace that is given for work of any description. Abraham did not obtain righteousness by faith as a good disposition, or by counting that disposition above its value. Had Abraham been justified by faith as an act or disposition worthy of approbation, or by anything whatsoever that he had done, he would have been justified by works, and might have boasted.

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Haldane, Robert. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews". 1835.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Now to him that worketh, &c. a reward may be looked upon as due for his works, and not bestowed upon him as a free gift; but when it is said he believed and was justified, (this belief or faith was always a liberal gift of God) and when no mention is made of his works, it appears that such a justification and sanctification are not from the works of the written law, nor from any works he could do of himself, but that they are according to the purpose, or decree of grace. (Witham) --- Such a man, says the apostle, challenges his reward as a debt, due to his own performance; whereas he who worketh not, that is, who presumeth not upon any works done by his own strength; but seeketh justice through faith and grace, is freely justified by God's grace. (Challoner)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians

Now to him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt; but to him that worketh not, etc. These verses are designed, in the first place, to vindicate the pertinency of the quotation from Scripture, made in Romans 4:3, by showing that the declaration ‘faith was imputed for righteousness,' is a denial that works were the ground of Abraham's acceptance; and, secondly, that to justify by faith, is to justify gratuitously, and therefore all passages which speak of gratuitous acceptance are in favor of the doctrine of justification by faith.

Now to him that worketh, that is, either emphatically ‘to him who does all that is required of him;' or ‘to him who seeks to be accepted on account of his works.' The former explanation is the better. The words then state a general proposition, ‘To him that is obedient, or who performs a stipulated work, the recompense is not regarded as a gratuity, but as a debt.' The reward, ὁ μισθός the appropriate and merited compensation. Is not imputed, κατὰ χάριν, ἀλλὰ ὁφείλημα, not grace, but debt, which implies that a claim founded in justice is the ground and measure of remuneration. Paul's argument is founded on the principle, which is so often denied, as by Olshausen, (p. 172,) that man may have merit before God; or that God may stand in the relation of debtor to man. The apostle says expressly, that τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ, to him that works, the reward is a matter of debt. If Adam had remained faithful and rendered perfect obedience, the promised reward would have been due to him as a matter of justice; the withholding it would have been an act of injustice. When, therefore, the apostle speaks of Abraham as having a ground of boasting, if his works made him righteous, it is not to be understood simply of boasting before men. He would have had a ground of boasting in that case before God. The reward would have been to him a matter of debt.

But to him that worketh not, τῷ δὲ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ. That is, to him who has no works to plead as the ground of reward; πιστεύοντι δὲ ἐπὶ κ. τ. λ., but believeth upon, i.e. putting his trust upon. The faith which justifies is not mere assent, it is an act of trust. The believer confides upon God for justification. He believes that God will justify him, although ungodly; for the object of the faith or confidence here expressed is ὁ δικαιῶν τὸν ἀσεβῆ, he who justifies the ungodly. Faith therefore is appropriating; it is an act of confidence in reference to our own acceptance with God. To him who thus believes, faith is counted for righteousness, i.e. it is imputed in order to his becoming righteous. It lies in the nature of the faith of which Paul speaks, that he who exercises it should feel and acknowledge that he is ungodly, and consequently undeserving of the favor of God. He, of course, in relying on the mercy of God, must acknowledge that his acceptance is a matter of grace, and not of debt. The meaning of the apostle is plainly this: ‘To him that worketh, the reward is a matter of debt, but to him who worketh not, but believeth simply, the reward is a matter of grace.' Instead, however, of saying ‘it is a matter of grace,' he uses, as an equivalent expression, "to him faith is counted for righteousness." That is, he is justified by faith. To be justified by faith, therefore, is to be justified gratuitously, and not by works. It is thus he proves that the passage cited in Romans 4:3, respecting Abraham, is pertinent to his purpose as an argument against justification by works. It at the same time shows that all passages which speak of gratuitous acceptance, may be cited in proof of his doctrine of justification by faith. The way is thus opened for his second argument, which is derived from the testimony of David.

It is to be remarked, that Paul speaks of God as justifying the ungodly. The word is in the singular, τὸν ἀσεβῆ, the ungodly man, not with any special reference to Abraham, as though he was the ungodly person whom God justified, but because the singular, ἐργαζομένῳ, (to him that worketh,) pisteu&onti, (to him that believeth,) is used in the context, and because every man must believe for himself. God does not justify communities. If every man and all men are ungodly, it follows that they are regarded and treated as righteous, not on the ground of their personal character; and it is further apparent that justification does not consist in making one inherently just or holy; for it is as ungodly that those who believe are freely justified for Christ's sake. It never was, as shown above, the doctrine of the Reformation, or of the Lutheran and Reformed divines, that the imputation of righteousness affects the moral character of those concerned. It is true, whom God justifies he also sanctifies; but justification is not sanctification, and the imputation of righteousness is not the infusion of righteousness. These are the first principles of the doctrine of the Reformers. "The fourth grand error of the Papists in the article of justification," says an old divine, "is concerning that which we call the form thereof. For they, denying and deriding the imputation of Christ's righteousness, (without which, notwithstanding, no man can be saved,) do hold that men are justified by infusion, and not by imputation of righteousness; we, on the contrary, do hold, according to the Scriptures, that we are justified before God, only by the imputation of Christ's righteousness, and not by infusion. And our meaning, when we say that God imputeth Christ's righteousness unto us, is nothing else but this: that he graciously accepteth for us, and in our behalf, the righteousness of Christ, that is, both as to his obedience, which, in the days of his flesh, he performed for us; and passive, that is, his sufferings, which he sustained for us, as if we had in our own persons both performed and suffered the same ourselves. Howbeit, we confess that the Lord doth infuse righteousness into the faithful; yet not as he justifieth, but as he sanctifieth them," etc. Bishop Downame on Justification, p. 261. Tuckney, one of the leading members of the Westminster Assembly, and principal author of the Shorter Catechism, in his Praelectiones, p. 213, says, "Although God justifies the ungodly,, Romans 4:5, i.e., him who was antecedently ungodly, and who in a measure remains, as to his inherent character, unjust after justification, yet it has its proper ground in the satisfaction of Christ," etc. On page 220, he says, "The Papists understand by justification, the infusion of inherent righteousness, and thus confound justification with sanctification; which, if it was the true nature and definition of justification, they might well deny that the imputation of Christ's righteousness is the cause or formal reason of this justification, i.e., of sanctification. For we are not so foolish or blasphemous as to say, or even think, that the righteousness of Christ imputed to us renders us formally or inherently righteous, so that we should be formally or inherently righteous with the righteousness of Christ. Since the righteousness of Christ is proper to himself, and is as inseparable from him, and as incommunicable to others, as any other attribute of a thing, or its essence itself."

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Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

Romans 4:4-5. These verses now supply an illustration of Romans 4:3 in two general contrasted relations, from the application of which—left to the reader—to the case of Abraham the non-co-operation of works (the χωρὶς ἔργων, Romans 4:6) in the case of the latter’s justification could not but be clear.

δέ] is the simple μεταβατικόν.

τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ] to the worker, here, as the contrast shows, with the pregnant sense: to him who is active in works, of whom the ἔργα are characteristic. Luther aptly says: “who deals in works.”

μισθός] i.e. the corresponding wages (comp Romans 2:29), justa merces. The opposite: δίκη, merita poena; see Kühner, a(980) Xen. Anab. i. 3, 20.

οὐ λογίζ. κατὰ χάριν ἀλλὰ κατὰ ὀφείλημα] Comp Thuc. ii. 40, 4 : οὐκ ἐς χάριν ἀλλʼ ἐς ὀφείλημα τὴν ἀρετὴν ἀποδώσων. The stress of the contrast lies on κ. χάρ. and κ. ὀφείλ., not in the first part on λογίζεται (Hofmann), which is merely the verb of the Scripture quotation in Romans 4:3, repeated for the purpose of annexing to it the contrast that serves for its illustration. Not grace but debt is the regulative standard, according to which his wages are awarded to such an one; the latter are not merces gratiae, but merces debiti. As in Abraham’s case an imputation κατὰ χάριν took place (which Paul assumes as self-evident from Romans 4:3) he could not be on ἐργαζόμενος; the case of imputation which occurred in relation to him is, on the contrary, to be referred to the opposite category which follows: but to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. Looking to the exact parallel of Romans 4:4-5, the unity of the category of both propositions must be maintained; and Romans 4:5 is not to be regarded as an application of Romans 4:4 to the case of Abraham (Reiche), but as likewise a locus communis, under which it is left to the reader to classify the case of Abraham in accordance with the above testimony of Scripture. Hence we cannot say with Reiche: “the μὴ ἐργαζόμενος and ἀσεβής is Abraham.”(982) On the contrary both are to be kept perfectly general, and ἀσεβής is not even to be weakened as equivalent to ἄδικος, but has been purposely selected (comp Romans 5:6), in order to set forth the saving power of faith(984) by as strong a contrast as possible to δικαιοῦντα.

On πιστεύειν ἐπὶ τινα, expressing faith in its direction towards some one, comp Romans 4:24; Acts 9:42; Acts 11:17; Wisdom of Solomon 12:2.

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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 1832.

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Imputed righteousness

Romans 4:1-8

There are three prominent lessons set forth in Chapter Three:

1. There is absolutely no justification for Jew or Gentile before God by the works of the law (Romans 3:20).

2. There is the righteousness of Christ by which believers are completely justified and sanctified in the sight of God without our obedience to the law. This is free, full, and forever in Christ (Romans 3:21-22).

3. This perfect righteousness not only justifies the sinner but also honors the law and God's justice, thus enabling God to be just and justifier! (Romans 3:26).

Paul proceeds in Chapter Four to illustrate these truths, using two men held in the highest esteem by the Jews–David and Abraham.

Romans 4:1. In this chapter Abraham is referred to (in a spiritual sense) as the father of all believers, but this verse speaks of his relationship to the Jews (according to the natural descent) being the first of the circumcision. What did he find as pertaining to the flesh? Circumcision and the law? Did he find the way of life, righteousness, and salvation by his services and performances? There is no answer given; but by what follows the answer is, ‘no!’

Romans 4:2. If Abraham were justified by his works, either moral or ceremonial, then, contrary to what Paul had taught, he had something in which to boast, but certainly not before God, who saw the sins of his heart and who was aware of all his failings (Luke 16:15).

Romans 4:3. Having denied that Abraham (or any man) is justified by works, Paul appeals to the Scriptures. This is our foundation of faith, the rule of faith and practice, and the source of all information about God, sin, salvation, and eternal life–the scriptures! (Genesis 15:6; Galatians 3:6; Romans 4:20-22.)

But does not James say that Abraham was justified by works? (James 2:21.) Paul and James are not speaking of the same thing. Paul speaks of the justification of the person before God. James speaks of the justification of the person's faith (or claim of it) before men. Paul condemns our works as a cause of justification before God. James praises works as the evidence of our Justification before God. Paul was writing to those who trusted in their works to save. James was writing to those who neglected or denied the necessity of obedience.

Romans 4:4. To the laborer, what he merits or earns can never be called a gift, a favor, or mercy; but rather it is an obligation owed to him. If work is involved at all (regardless of the degree of work), it is a debt and not grace at all! (Romans 11:5-6.)

Romans 4:5. It is not that the believer does no good works, but that he does not work in order to obtain life and salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10; James 1:20). We work because we love Christ, not in order to be justified (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). The elect believe God, who justifies the ungodly (Romans 5:6-8), even Abraham, who in his unregenerate state was ungodly. His faith (not the act of faith but the object of faith, who was Christ) is imputed to him for righteousness. Works mean nothing regarding justification, for even our best works are full of sin (Isaiah 64:6). But true faith will produce works of faith and labors of love.

Romans 4:6-8. David, the chosen king, the man after God's own heart, is quoted on the subject of the blessedness of the man who believes God and seeks acceptance and righteousness in Christ, not in his works! (Psalms 32:1-2.)

1. ‘Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven.’ They are removed from us as far as the east is from the west; they are cast behind God's back; they are cast into the depths of the sea; they are remembered no more.

2. ‘Whose sins are covered.’ They are covered from divine justice and shall never be seen again or brought into judgment (Romans 8:33-34).

3. ‘Happy is the man to whom God will not reckon or charge sin.’ We shall appear before him without fault or blame and shall be unreprovable. We are justified and acquitted (Colossians 1:22; Jude 1:24).

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Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 2013.

The Bible Study New Testament

4. A man who works is paid. Lipscomb says: “If one relies on his own works to merit salvation, the reward is reckoned not as a favor [grace] from God, but as payment of debt for works. This is contrary to the whole principle of justification by grace. Man is a lost and helpless sinner, saved by the grace of God; but he must accept [seize it and make himself part of it] that favor by complying with the conditions God has enjoined [decreed] for his enjoying [receiving] it.”




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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "The Bible Study New Testament". College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

In chapter four the apostle proceeds to show, by means of Abraham and David, how all this is witnessed by the law and the prophets. Abraham is taken from the Pentateuch, the books of the law; David from the Psalms, which are linked with the Prophets.

What then do we see in Abraham? Was he justified before God by his works? If so, he had this to boast in, that he had righteously deserved the divine approval. But what does the Scripture say? In Genesis 15:6 we are told that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” This is the very principle the apostle has been pressing and explaining so clearly.

To earn salvation by works would be to put God in man’s debt. He would owe it to the successful worker to save him. This is the very opposite of grace, which is mercy shown “to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly.” It is his faith that is counted for righteousness. To this then Abraham bears testimony. And David too is heard singing the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness without works, when he cries in Psalms 32:1-2 - “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” In the psalm the Hebrew word for “covered” means “atoned for.” This is the gospel. Atonement has been made. Therefore God does not impute sin to the believer in His Son, but imputes righteousness instead.

Luther called the 32nd Psalm “a Pauline Psalm.” It teaches in no uncertain way the same glorious doctrine of justification apart from human merit. The non-imputation of sin is equivalent to the imputation of righteousness. Augustine of Hippo had these words painted on a placard, and placed at the foot of his bed where his dying eyes could rest upon them. To myriads more they have brought, peace and gladness in the knowledge of transgression forgiven and sin atoned for, as the Hebrew word in the Old Testament translated “covered” really means.

This blessedness was not-is not-for a chosen few only, but is freely offered to all. Faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness when he was on Gentile ground before the covenant sign of circumcision was placed upon his flesh. It was really a seal of what was already true, as in the case of Christian baptism; because he was justified he was commanded to be circumcised. In the centuries since the Jews had come to regard the sign as of more importance than the faith. People ever exalt the visible at the expense of the invisible.

Abraham is called “the father of circumcision,” for through him the ordinance began. But he is father not only to them who are of the circumcision literally, but to all who have no confidence in the flesh, who have judged it as weak and unprofitable, and who, like him, trust in the living God.

The promise that he should be heir of the world was not given to him “through the law,” that is, it was not a reward of merit, something he had earned by obedience. It was on the ground of sovereign grace. Hence his righteousness, like ours if we believe, was a “by-faith righteousness.” The heirs of the promise are those who accept it in the same faith, otherwise it would be utterly invalidated. It was an unconditional promise.

The law promised blessing upon obedience and denounced judgment on disobedience. None have kept it. Therefore, “The law worketh wrath.” It cursed. It could not bless. It intensified sin by giving it the specific character of transgression, making it the wilful violation of known law. It could not be the means of earning what was freely given.

The promise of blessing through the Seed- which is Christ-is of faith that it might be by grace. And so it is “sure” to all the seed, that is, to all who have faith. All such are “of the faith of Abraham.” He is thus the father of us all, who believe in Jesus. And so the word is fulfilled which said, “I have made thee a father of many nations.” This comes in parenthetically. The words, “Before Him whom he believed,” properly follow the words, “The father of us all.” That is to say, Abraham, though not literally our father by natural generation, is the father of all who believe, in the sight of God. The same faith characterizes them all.

God is the God of resurrection. He works when nature is powerless. He so wrought in the case of Abraham and Sarah, both beyond the time when they could naturally be the parents of a child. He so wrought when He raised up Christ, the true Seed, first by bringing Him into the world contrary to nature, of a virgin mother; and second by bringing Him up from the dead. Abraham believed in the God of resurrection, and staggered not at the divine promise though fulfilment seemed impossible. God delights to do impossibilities! What He promises He performs. Fully persuaded of this, Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him for righteousness. In the same way we are called upon to believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead-He who was, in infinite grace, delivered up to death to make atonement for our offences, and who, upon the completion of His work to God’s satisfaction, was raised again for our justification. His resurrection is the proof that God is satisfied. The divine justice has been appeased. The holiness of God has been vindicated. The law has been established. And so the believing sinner is declared justified from all things. Such is the testimony of chapter 4.




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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. 1914.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

Romans 4:4. δὲ) but [now]. Paul takes what is contrary [the case of him that worketh] out of the way, so as to enable him, in the following verse, to draw his conclusion regarding the man who does not trust to works, and to evince that Abraham was not such a one as he describes, by the words him that worketh.— ἐργαζομένῳ, to him that worketh) if there were, indeed, any such [which there is not]. We must take both expressions, him that worketh and him that worketh not, in a reduplicative sense: to work, and wages, are conjugates in the Heb. פעל. [The man that worketh, in this passage, applies to him who, by his works, performs (makes good) all that the law requires.—V. g.].— μισθὸς, reward), the antithesis to faith.— ὀφείλημα, a debt, by virtue of a contract between the parties. Merit in its strictest sense so called, and debt, are correlatives.

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. 1897.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Now to him that worketh — as a servant for wages.

is the reward not reckoned of grace — as a matter of favor.

but of debt — as a matter of right.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

Now to him that worketh (as a servant for wages) is the reward not reckoned of grace - as a matter of favour,

But of debt - as a thing of right.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Mitchell's Commentary on Selected New Testament Books

The righteousness of God is by faith alone
( )

Romans 4:1. What then shall we say that Abraham, our father according to the flesh, has found?

Romans 4:2. For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.

In Galatians 3:7, we read that "it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham." Our Lord said in Luke 19:9 concerning Zaccheus, "Today salvation has come to this house, because Hebrews, too, is a son of Abraham." In John 8:39, the Jewish leaders said, "Abraham is our father." And the Lord answered, "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham."

We have Abraham as an illustration of how one is justified. He found that all that the flesh stood for could not stand before the presence of God. If it were by works, he would be able to glory in what he had done.

Can you imagine what heaven would be like if men got there by their good works? Why, they would be boasting all through eternity about what they had done. They wouldn't glorify God at all. It's not me-plus-Jesus. It's not Jesus-plus-me. He did the whole thing. He satisfied God. We are the recipients of His wonderful grace. Justification before God can never be on the ground of works.

Abraham had "something to boast about; but not before God."


Now, quite often someone says to me, "But, Mr. Mitchell, there must be a conflict here. In the Book of Romans, Abraham is justified by faith without works. In the Book of James, chapter2, Abraham is justified by his works. Now which one is right?" Some of the old timers, the old worthies who wrote many years ago, used to call the Book of James, "An Epistle of Straw."

No, in Romans we have the root of the matter; in James we have the fruit. In Romans we stand before God, hence we need faith. In James, we stand before men, hence we need works. In Genesis 15:6, we see the ungodly Abraham saved. In James 2:1-26, we see the godly Abraham tested. In one, you have faith alone; and, in the other, you have the works of faith.

For example, Romans is dealing with where God said to Abraham, "‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.' And he believed in the LORD and He reckoned it to him as righteousness."

But James 2:24 says, "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" when he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar.

And, by the way, lest someone misunderstand me, let me say this, that even in the Book of James the writer is not talking about works of the law or works of the flesh. He is talking about the works of faith. I can't see your faith. God sees your faith and whether it is real or not. All I can go by is your works—and by that I don't mean that you are going to go out and perform miracles. The life of faith is a life of walking in fellowship with God.

If I do not see any manifestation of a godly life in you and someone asks me if you are a Christian, I say, "I don't know. He may be. He says he Isaiah, but I don't know because I do not see the works of faith evidenced in his life." But when I see one who is walking before God, seeking to please Him, and you ask me if that fellow is saved, I say, "Why, certainly. I see his faith manifested by his works."

In the Book of Romans we have what God sees. In the Book of James we have what man sees. James says, for example in, "You see." "You see"—not God, but "you." You see how Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac. And what did Abraham have in the flesh? Nothing at all.

I repeat it again. No works of man can stand before God. Abraham was justified by faith, and he had nothing in which to glory before God.

"For what does the Scripture say? ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. '"

You see, the key to this passage is that he stood before God. Here you have works and grace contrasted. Abraham did one thing. He believed God. When was he justified? When he believed God. It was not when he worked, but when he believed God.

Romans 4:4. Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due.

Romans 4:5. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Now he is going to narrow it down a wee bit. When was Abraham justified?

Before he was circumcised.

What kind of a man was Abraham when God called him?

Joshua told the people of Israel in Joshua 24:2; Joshua 24:14 (as they entered the land of Canaan) that their forefathers were idolators in Ur of the Chaldees. In Isaiah 51:2 and Acts 7:3-4, we read that the God of glory appeared unto Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, and said, "Depart;" and "he departed."

In the first few chapters of Abraham's life, nothing is said about justification until Abraham believed God when He told him his seed would be as the stars of the heavens for multitude.

Paul narrows it down in Galatians 3:16 where we read, He said, "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘AND TO SEEDS,' as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘AND TO YOUR SEED,' that Isaiah, Christ." And when his faith was coupled with the heavenly seed, with Christ, he was counted righteous.

You say, "Well, Mr. Mitchell, I've always believed in God. I believe in the Creator. I'm not a pagan. I'm not a heathen. I'm not an atheist. I really believe there is a God. Did God not create all things? I believe in God."

My friend, you cannot stand before God acceptably on that ground. You are not justified before God until you believe in His Song of Solomon, Jesus Christ. If you go down to , you read of Cornelius, the Roman officer of the army. He was a good man. He was told, "Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God;" but he wasn't a Christian.

The Apostle Paul in was a real Jew. He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. As touching the law, he was a Pharisee. He was not a liberal. He was conservative in theology. And concerning zeal for God, he was persecuting the church. Touching the righteousness which was in the law, he was blameless.

And yet he was not saved.

A person can be a moralist and a religionist and not be saved, not be fitted for God's presence. There must be relationship to God's precious Son. It was Jesus Christ who satisfied the character of God for you and for me. It was Jesus Christ who removed the barrier between God and you, God and me. He removed the barrier of sin. That's why He died. And His resurrection was the guarantee that He not only put away your sin, but He absolutely satisfied the character of God.

God comes to us and brings us the good news that Christ died for us and made the provision whereby you and I by faith in Jesus Christ can stand in the presence of God in all the righteousness and beauty of Christ.

You see, you have here in verses4,5 the principle of works and the principle of grace.

One is an obligation, a debt; the other is of grace and the kindness of unmerited favor. You have the working method versus the believing method.

No, my friend, there must be a definite pay for a definite work; or you have to accept the grace of God to the undeserving. And we find that here in verses4,5:

"To the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as favor but as what is due."

You work for a Prayer of Manasseh, and he pays you your wages. It's not a gift; it's a debt.

"But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness." Not his works, but his faith. It was the faith of the ungodly Abraham that was counted for righteousness.

God's very righteousness reaches right down to men in whatever state they are as they accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour.

It's not changing an ungodly man into a godly man who will believe. It's the ungodly man who believes and becomes a godly man.

People say, "If I were only better."

No, God doesn't say, "When you get better and believe, I'll take you."

You've got to be saved first; then you become better. Let's put it straight. It's by faith A-L-O-N-E, not faith plus anything else. It is just faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Forgive me for repeating all this, but I so desperately want to impress these precious things upon your heart so you can impress them upon the hearts of others.

Bibliographical Information
Mitchell, John G. D.D. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Mitchell's Commentary on Selected New Testament Books".

Mitchell's Commentary on Selected New Testament Books


Bibliographical Information
Mitchell, John G. D.D. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Mitchell's Commentary on Selected New Testament Books".

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

The Promise to Abraham

Romans 4

Was there ever a heart like the heart of the Apostle Paul? When he argues he argues with his heart. There is no more superficial criticism passed upon the Apostle Paul than that he was a dry reasoner. His logic is bedewed with tears; he wants to show how vast, how measureless is the love of God. Yet there have been minds under such hallucination as to wish to make the Apostle Paul the prince of sectarians, the very sovereign of bigots and exclusionists. If there was one thing more than another the Apostle wanted to do, it was to include everybody in this infinite gospel of reconciliation. He had his difficulty with the Jews, because the Jews did not want anybody but themselves to be blessed by any Messiah that might be introduced into the human race. In fact, to the Jew there was no human race; there was a race of Jews, and what other creatures there might be aping the stature and the dignity of men, such aping was on their part an act of unpardonable impertinence, unless indeed they were willing to be the slaves, the bondmen, the errand-runners of the favoured race. Paul had his difficulty with the Gentiles, for they said, We are excluded, you have nothing to say to us; we are the offscouring of all things: there can be no Gospel for people such as we are. Paul"s task therefore divided itself into rebuke and into welcome: Paul had to rebuke the narrowness of some, and he had to encourage others to believe that even they were human enough to be saved. To the Jews he had to say, Be still; be no longer vain, conceited, and impiously pious. To the Gentiles he had to say, Be comforted; a light has arisen in your darkness, there is a hand thundering on the prison-door of them that are bound: Messiah has come to claim the uttermost parts of the earth. See then how he handles his argument, as dealing first with the Jew, and then with the Gentile; and see how through it all he is a man full of the Holy Ghost and of force. There is no weakness in all this argument; if the man"s eyes are moist it is not through conscious feebleness, but because he has had a view of the love of God that has surcharged his heart with kindred affection.

Something was given to Abraham, but when was it given? Was it given before he received circumcision, or after he received circumcision? The Apostle says, not after he received circumcision, but before he received circumcision. Whatever was given to Abraham was given to Abraham the Prayer of Manasseh, and not to Abraham the Jew: in fact, there was no Jew at that time, the Jew is a later curiosity, the Jew is a subsequent phenomenon. So here when Abraham stands up justified you see the birth of the Son of Man. The transaction was not individual, personal; it was typical, prophetical, symbolical. This is the key of the Apostle"s argument: if something of a Divine nature had been done to Abraham after he had been personalised, circumcised, made into a mere individual, the case would have been wholly different; but when it was done to him as human, as Prayer of Manasseh, it was done to him typically and representatively, and there began to be the dawn of the glory of the Son of Man upon the earth:—Abraham rejoiced to see my day; Abraham saw my day, and was glad: Abraham underwent the agony that makes a man more than an individual, giving him a representative, federal, priestly relation to countless multitudes so long as time endures.

Faith is older than law. Love is the oldest of all the forces that rule the spiritual and moral nature of man:—God is love. Those who care for law and invoke law are the smallest of all the animals called to find a lodging-place in the ark of the Divine protection: they are well-behaved people, they are persons who keep a clean slate, and who walk off with conscious pride to show it to the law. Faith indicates another kind of life altogether, quite as cleanly, quite as pure, quite as attentive to all detailed excellence, and yet taking no note of it: because when the bird has sat on the tree and taken food from the branches it turns all the food into the poetry of flying, it turns its earth-given energy into endeavours to reach the sun. Faith is broader than Jaw. Law gives wages; faith will never take any wages, because the term is a term of measurement and is a symbol of hire, and means a quid pro quo, a this for that. Faith never stands at the other side of the counter to take some hireling pence; faith needs no reward that man can give, and no wages that God ever descends to give, or ever could degrade himself to offer: faith lives on God, and in God, and with God, and in a sense faith is God. Faith is more largely rewarded than law. You can pay law, you cannot pay faith; you can pay a servant, you cannot pay a friend; you can pay for legal advice, you never can pay for fellow-suffering, deep, tender, night-and-day sympathy; you can even pay the doctor, but you cannot pay the mother. You can pay what law indicates, you cannot pay what faith does. Faith leaves all; faith says to the law, If there be a law of gravitation I am independent of it: whatever may be pressing me down to the centre of any system, I will by thy grace rise above it, encounter the pressure, throw it off, conquer it, stand above it and make an altar of it. Faith asks no questions, it calls up the ghost. What does faith take with it? Nothing but a staff, and a staff it need not take; yet so long as man has a body he must at least have a shadow to look at; a line, though it be an imaginary line, must be drawn round the globe he is set to live in and to cultivate. You never can make law universal, that is to say, law of the kind now discoursed of by the Apostle Paul. What is law to one man is not law to another: what is morality to one man is not morality to another: that which is right and proper and conventional in one nation is laughed at in another nation as prudish, foolish, narrow, self-idolatrous, vainglorious, and worthless. You cannot therefore make a mechanical writing to suit all the world. The world, taken in its entirety, its multitudinousness, and representativeness, must have more scope than could be given to it by pen and ink. Moses can write enough upon two mountain slates to keep Israel under restraint and in good order, if Israel will obey: but no firmament the Lord ever made is vast enough to bear upon it all the revelation of his love, and all the possibilities of intelligent and consecrated faith. The Apostle Paul says, Gentiles, you may claim Abraham, because Abraham never received anything as a mere Jew; a mere Jew Abraham never was, Abraham met God as a man; as a man he received into trusteeship certain covenants, signs, and promises, and as a trustee he held these, not for his own use, but for the good of the world. The Lord himself must begin somewhere: he began with Abraham that he might found in him a household of faith, but though beginning in Abraham it was distinctly with the assurance that the blessing should not be Abrahamic, only in some little personal degree, but human, representative, universal, everlasting: so there is not a pagan anywhere that God is not in search of, that he may by the mystery of the Cross turn into a loving and consecrated child.

Adam is not mentioned. Where is Adam? Who was Adam? What does "Adam" mean? Is it a term of more utility than can be found in its mere etymology? When did Adam live? when did he become aught to the human race? when did he lose his standing? and who took his place? Who came into that place, not by the lot-casting of Prayer of Manasseh, but by the election and appointment of God? Here is Adam"s successor, here is the head of the new race up to date, here is the head of the household of faith. Who shall depose Abraham? Only one Prayer of Manasseh, and the deposition shall not be a degradation but a completion, the kind of abrogation which is wrought by the miracle of autumn on the processes of summer. Abraham is the father of all who believe, but Jesus Christ has come to be the second Adam, the real and true Adam, Prayer of Manasseh, Son of Prayer of Manasseh, and in him is concentred the whole purpose of God; in him, through him, for him, are all things, great, small, more radiant than noonday, and smaller than the meanest pulses that throb in the sanctuary of eternity. Thus all things are working, moving, together in harmonic line; a great process is being conducted, not to-day and tomorrow, but through millenniums. When God moves he carries the ages before him. We have our little-calendars, and all we ever did happened the day before yesterday; we have dates, proofs, writings to the effect that such and such a transaction took place in the presence of such and such witnesses. Before God the archangels are young, before eternity aught else than itself is impalpable, invisible. Let the Lord alone: he sitteth on the circuit of eternity: he will vindicate eternal providence and justify his ways to men at his own time. Abraham had two fatherhoods:—"our father, as pertaining to the flesh," but in the eleventh verse, "that he might be the father of all them that believe." So then Christians are the children of Abraham; the last man that said to Jesus, "My Lord, and my God," was spoken of by the angels in the words of Jesus, "he also is a son of Abraham." We understand the word "Abraham" not in its etymological meaning, not in its local relation, not with regard to time and space of a measurable kind, but symbolically, parabolically, typically, the great poetry and prophecy comprehending the whole counsel of God in relation to the redemption of the world. Some things are given to us in the flesh, some are given to us in faith or in the spirit. We ourselves are as dual as Abraham was: by no one inlet does God bring his revelations into our nature. There are many entrances to the temple of our immortality. This is the mischief, that some men have only one door by which they can receive anything, so that everything they do is done in public, and is done with a commonness which is destructive of sacredness. Some things come to us by the way of reason: we understand them, we ask no questions about them, we can admit them by day or by night, and whether they be admitted or not admitted makes very little difference to our treasure and our wealth. Some things are admitted to us by way of the imagination, that upper door that only God can touch. The schoolmaster builds himself a little hut by the door of our reason, and charges for all the goods he sends in by that entrance; but at the door of imagination who sits but an angel, white clad, with eyes that put out the sun? Some things we can only catch along that higher line of vision and prophecy and thought, that marvellous faculty that takes hold of that which to the reason is nothing, but finds it to be the very line that binds the universe. Some men have no imagination, they therefore will never be tried as defaulters: they have only two eyes, the eyes of the body that can only see things like themselves; they have not those mysterious eyes that see the invisible, and that see the largeness of things, and that can follow the palpitation of spiritual shadows, and give assurance to the world that its madmen are its prophets. Some things we learn at school: they can all be marked down and we can commit them to memory, and recite them, and repeat them so frequently as at last not to know we are repeating them, so that we can go through strings of unconnected words as if they fell into rhyme. Other things we can only learn in life. No schoolmaster can teach them; he knows them, but he says to the child, Dear one, thou must learn this in battle, and this thou must learn in sorrow: thy face will not be sculptured into all its meaning but by an invisible hand driving an invisible chisel: go, and the Lord fulfil all thy predictions when the enemy threatens to be too strong for thee: thy pedagogue can teach thee no more; we have had our day of giving and taking, I have helped thee all I can; now there is life, go into it, and find what a mystery, what an agony, what a tragedy it Isaiah, and if we should be old men together we will talk the story over, and tell what we have learned in that wider school. Some things are just arithmetically, and other things are just sympathetically: the justice of arithmetic is one, the justice of sympathy is another. Whatever you have, you have for the benefit of other people: if you have wisdom you hold it for others, not for yourself; you are not at liberty to draw down your blinds and light the lamp of your genius and say, How brilliant a flame it makes! you are rather to go out and say, God has given me all this faculty, all this brilliance, and because he gave it I hold it with a trembling hand, and because I measure it against his glory it is as nothing to me; but if it can be made of any use to you, poor tear-blinded traveller, here it Isaiah, use it, and if you have not strength to hold the lamp, I will go with you and hold it till I see you over your own threshold and safely seated within the security of your own home. Thus the Apostle would tell the Jew that Abraham was more than a mere unit in one particular line or genealogy: thus the Apostle would tell the Gentile that, though he may know nothing of Abraham after the flesh, he may know Abraham after the spirit; he may set his feet in the footsteps of Abraham, and walk where the grand old prophet walked, and go with him into the same infinite heaven. And all this is to be done by faith, giving the whole self away to the infinite, living the larger life, not peddling over our own affairs, and taking care of them, as if we could do anything with these poor frail fingers. When shall we learn that we can do nothing but by giving ourselves into God"s hands, saying, Lord, what a fool I have been! managing my own affairs all this time, when I might have handed them one and all to thy care: thy will be done. There must be no mental reserve, no saying, I have said the words, but I have kept just so much in my own hand. No: let go the string; now you have nothing to live on but your faith, and faith never fails. God keeps back nothing from faith:—"Believest thou that I am able to do this?"

The Apostle brings all history into grand harmonic line. He discourses on Abraham, the head of the house; he discourses on law, a temporary convenience, a kind of nurse that took the child to school. The law being a schoolmaster hardly fits the Apostolic meaning: the law was one that went for the child and said, Come with me, and I will take you to school. So the law takes all the little scholars referred to to Christ, and leaves them there: the nurse does not go into the school, it is enough that the nurse should go to the school door, see it open, and the little scholar go in; then the nurse can return home. The law brings us up to the tuition and sovereignty of Christ. The Apostle also brings David in, and makes David sing a sweet little song in the newer house:—"Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute (reckon) sin." We cannot sing these words as David sang them. He came up out of so deep a pit, and through such a tunnel of darkness, that when he got his breath again he sang like an angel. And now Paul is not content to have Abraham and the law and David; if Paul had been a mere Jew he would have said, This is enough: but Paul could not rest there; he says, I want the Gentiles now; I have Abraham and the law, I have David and I have imputed or reckoned righteousness, but I want the heathen for Christ"s possession; yea, in the uttermost parts of the earth his face must shine like a blessing. What is the Apostle leading up to? what will be his climax? what his peroration? This inquiry is answered in :—"If we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." The Apostle never cuts down his argument until he lands it right in the Cross. When he gets there he drops the argument and begins to sing.


Blessed Saviour, we worship thee as our heart"s one God. Without thee we are incomplete; nay, we are less than nothing; we are shadows without a centre, we are voices of self-contradiction, without wisdom or truth; but with thee, and as interpreted by thy love, we are sons of God, walking in heavenly light, and having resounding in our hearts most blessed promises. We humbly pray thee to abide with us constantly as the giver of our life, and the supporter of our being; show thyself unto us by day, flame forth upon us from every wayside bush, and make thyself known unto us in the breaking of our daily bread. Make all common things symbols of high realities, and grant that in every event of life we may so plainly see thine hand as to be led daily to profounder homage and tenderer love. May we in our life show by the wisdom of the serpent, and the harmlessness of the dove, that our instructor is God, and may God be glorified in us by reason of our holiness. We are not content with ourselves, we are sinners before thee; God be merciful unto us sinners. O thou who dost cleanse man"s sin by the precious blood of the Lamb of God, do thou take away every stain of our guilt, and make us without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; and grant that by our growth in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, we may live a life that is hidden from the world, we may have meat to eat that the world knows not of, and in our broken heart do thou set up thy blessed temple. Walk with us, abide with us, speak much to us by night and by day; come to us in the time of our sorrow, and do thou attemper and chasten our joy. Give unto us life more and more abundantly; thou hast no pleasure in death, thy joy is to give eternal life; we have tasted of that life and would now eat and drink abundantly. Holy Father, blessed Son of God, and coequal Spirit, dwell with us in ever increasing manifestation, show us the purity and love of God, and bless us with the promise of eternal life. Amen.

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Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. 1885-95.

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Romans 4:1. What shall we say then that Abraham, our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? How was he a sinner, an idolater, justified? Was it by the flesh, as indicated by the word father? Was it by works in submitting to circumcision, on which ye jews lay the major emphasis? If so, he has the glory of boasting over the disobedient, but not before God, in whose eyes the brightest acts of human obedience are but defective duties. When God has promised, even believing can never be the meritorious cause of a sinner’s justification. It follows then, oh jews, that you must cease to lay the strong emphasis on circumcision, you must believe your own scriptures, and accede to the christian doctrine, that Abraham our father was justified by faith.

Romans 4:3. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. This history is laid down at large in Genesis 15. The Hebrew חשׁבchashav, or as the LXX, ηγεομαι, or δοκεω, to reckon or impute, implies first that he had not this righteousness before; though Abraham might be a righteous man, before he received these promises, high in the favour of God. Here was a cloud of new promises, or righteousness promised of God.

Abraham’s faith rested on the perfections of Him that had promised, and his faith was divine; for his own age, and that of his wife, forbade all hope. Yet Abraham believed in Him who is able and faithful to perform. He hoped against all probability of hope, that he should have a son, and be the father of nations, numerous as the stars of heaven; yea, that he should be the progenitor of kings and prophets, and eventually of the Messiah.

Romans 4:6-8. David describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness. David is here with propriety introduced after Abraham, for he, equally with Abraham, had received the promise of the Messiah to be born in his line. 2 Samuel 7. Psalms 132. On the subject of justification, to use a word of Indian eloquence, “we stumble at noon, and are afraid of the thorns.” We have to avoid unitarianism on the one hand, and antinomianism on the other. Steering therefore between the rocks of Scylla on the Italian shore, and the subterranean river of Charybdis, on the opposite coast, we must take the bible, and the bible only for our pilot. In the above verses, two grand ideas are associated, ideas which can never be divided; the imputation of righteousness, and the remission of sins, otherwise called the nonimputation of sin.

Now, if it be really true, that pardon is all the justification of which the sinner is capable, why should David, in Psalms 32., here quoted, add four things.

(1) that he is blessed.

(2) that he is just.

(3) that this happiness follows great heaviness, and full confessions of iniquity, as in Romans 4:4-5.

(4) that his sorrows are succeeded by gladness and rejoicing in the Lord: as in Romans 4:11.

The antinomian gives joy from another source, and in language unknown to the primitive church. Que tous ceux qui sont entez au Seigneur Jesus Christ par l’ Esprit d’ iceluy, sont hors des dangers d’ etre condamnez, combien qu’ils soyent encore chargez de pechez. — CALVIN, Geneva, 1562. “That all those who enter, or believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, are out of all danger of being condemned, how much soever they may yet be loaded with their past sins.” I would recommend all persons so burdened to take David’s course of humble confession, as in the above psalm.

Romans 4:10. Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. Faith was reckoned to him for righteousness, before he was circumcised. Therefore faith shall be reckoned to us for righteousness, if we believe in him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. Abraham’s faith rested solely on the promises.

Romans 4:11. He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith. The wound indeed by this rite designated death, but the seal designated life by the promised Seed, as is farther indicated by the Holy Spirit’s sealing us unto the day of redemption. This is the gift of righteousness by faith, or as in chap. 10., the righteousness of faith speaketh on this wise; including the gift of Christ, and all the blessings of his salvation.

Romans 4:16. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; not to that race of men only which are of the law, but to those gentiles also who are of the faith of Abraham. If salvation be then by grace, there is no merit in believing: on the contrary, it had been in Abraham the greatest demerit not to have believed the promise of God, who called him to leave his country.

Romans 4:17. Before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and gave him Isaac in hoary age. Then, oh remember, that how depraved soever thy heart may be, however hard and stubborn its habits, this God can give thee a new, a circumcised heart, to love the Lord with all thy powers.

Romans 4:18. Who [that is Abraham] against hope believed in hope, against every appearance of hope in the powers of nature.

Romans 4:23-24. Now it was not written for his sake alone, but for us also, that we may believe as Abraham believed, and obtain all the righteousness of God by faith. Oh for a heart to follow this father of the faithful, that we may inherit with him all the promises of righteousness, and obtain an eternal inheritance.

Romans 4:25. And was raised again for our justification. The resurrection of Christ demonstrated the completion and acceptance of his satisfaction for sin, and gave a triumph to his work upon the cross. As death is the punishment of sin, the glory of his resurrection was essential to the full assurance of the saints, that they also should rise, and reign with him in glory.


The apostle having stated his astonishing and most consoling doctrine of justification by faith, takes the lead of the pharisees in giving their objections in the fullest force. What say we then, did our father Abraham, according to the flesh, find this justification? No, most assuredly he did not. His piety, his probity, his obedience in leaving his country, were but preparatives. When he received the promise of a son, naturally impossible, because of Sarah’s age, he believed God, and it was reputed, as Calvin reads, or reckoned to him for righteousness. This is a very close and happy argument. Justification by faith was prior to the law, and Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

Abraham was justified while in uncircumcision: it was fourteen years after the promise, before the ordinance of circumcision was instituted as a seal of righteousness by faith. This argument, however revolting to the jews, was unspeakably acceptable to the gentiles; for they being in Abraham’s situation in regard of circumcision, might unquestionably find the same favour. A justified state is pronounced doubly happy. Blessed is the man whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity. Who can describe the felicity of the soul when its fears of punishment are all removed by an assurance arising from the love of God shed abroad in the heart, and when it exults in all the privileges of adoption and grace.

A justified state is happy also in embracing all the promises, and in the anticipation of future glory. Abraham when he had no son, by virtue of faith in the promise, saw the Messiah as already born, and himself, though then childless, surrounded with nations of children. True faith staggers not at difficulties, but anticipates all the glories of sanctifying grace, and of the world to come.

But in what sense was faith accounted to Abraham for righteousness, and promised to be reckoned to us for righteousness, on condition of believing in the resurrection of Christ. Because it embraces Christ, all his merits and atoning blood, and is the sole ground of our justification. Hence, whether we are said to be justified by faith, by the knowledge of Christ, or by his blood, or by the grace of God through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, the several expressions have in substance the same import.

But what is meant by a justifying righteousness, so much debated in our theological writings. On this subject, after carefully reading the best writers on both sides, I must say that I know of no justifying righteousness but the blood of Christ, in which the gentile church washed their robes and made them white. Revelation 7:14. I verily believe that St. Paul by the imputation of righteousness, and nonimputation of sin, means negatively the same thing. The controversy on justification began by Zuinglius. Anxious to oppose the popish doctrine of justification which confounds the merits of Christ with penances and good works, he framed the notion of justification by the imputation of a double righteousness. This writer maintained that Christ fulfilled the whole law for us, having magnified and made it honourable; consequently, that our obedience is perfect and complete in him. This he called the imputation of Christ’s active righteousness, which gives a full title to eternal life. He further maintained, as the church of God has always done, that Christ was obedient unto death, and was made a curse for us. This he called the passive righteousness of Christ, imputed to us to take away our guilt and condemnation.

To the first part of this doctrine, which places to our account the satisfaction, merits, or passive obedience of Christ, no objection was ever made by men deemed orthodox. To it alone they ascribe the glory of their redemption, their justification, and eternal felicity. But to the second, which asserts that Christ’s active righteousness, including all his personal virtues, or human righteousness, serious and unanswerable objections have been made by Vorsius, Parcus, Piscator, Limborch, Wotton, J. Goodwin, Baxter, Bradshaw, Barrow, Bull, and many others.

(1) This statement supposes either the whole or a part of mankind to have actually obeyed and suffered in Christ, while they were in sin or yet unborn. It is true, the saints were elect according to the foreknowledge of God, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, there being no futurity with God, who calls things that are not as though they were. But to suppose that a man is so in Christ as to be justified from eternity, and to possess sinless purity and perfection, is language very assuming, and difficult to defend.

(2) It supposes God to have fixed and determined the nature and number of our crimes, and Christ to have supplied in every instance the defects of our obedience by his obedience, and to have atoned precisely in kind, by suffering for each of our crimes. Here indeed the whole mistake is couched. The fact is, he neither obeyed in kind, nor suffered in kind for us, as all the elaborate writers on the atonement have allowed. He paid what was an adequate ransom for man, or in other words, made plenary satisfaction for sin. The truth of this will further appear, if we consider, that punishment is but partially remitted. What are those groans and tears, those cries and lamentations which pierce the heart? What are all those displays of vengeance and wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men? What is the reign of death even over infants, and over men, none of whom have sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression. They are so many salutary visitations of God to diminish crime, and to aid the operations of grace; but at the same time so many proofs, that if Christ had both obeyed in kind, and suffered in kind for us, the righteous God would not have inflicted such tremendous punishments on all generations of men.

(3) This supposition of a double righteousness imputed, exclusively of the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, makes the righteous God speak in double language. To Adam he said, DO or DIE: to Christ, our second Adam, he said, DO and DIE. This is in effect the same error as that for which E. Irving was excluded from the church of Scotland, and others since from the church of England. Acting under the new covenant, the meritorious righteousness of his person, which obtained eternal life, must have corresponded with that economy. At the same time it is equitable to allow, that the removal of death by the oblation of the cross, of itself implies the gift of righteousness and life. But if that gift proceed from the equal imputation of Christ’s active merits, we must of necessity be all equally glorious in the life to come! All this redundancy and all these inconsistencies are avoided by saying, that the Father accepts the sufferings of his Son, as the satisfaction or meritorious righteousness, for the violation of the law; that he absolves and adopts offenders, when with a broken and contrite heart they believe in Jesus Christ. The propriety of this definition will farther appear, on considering in what views a sinner does not need the imputation of a double, or more properly a triple righteousness. By a participation in the satisfaction which Christ has made on the cross, connected with all the sufferings of his life, pardon is accompanied with adoption, and with the renewal of the soul in righteousness and true holiness. The scheme destroys itself: a sinner does not need an active and a passive righteousness imputed, and a righteousness wrought within by the Holy Spirit.

(4) If opinion had been all the difference, it would not have been great. But the chief point on which those great and good men took the alarm was, the licentious liberty of which they saw certain characters avail themselves. They saw men warmly attached to what they called the doctrines of grace, and ostentatiously zealous in ascribing to Christ the whole glory of their salvation, yet with passions unrestrained, and corruptions unsubdued. They lived in conformity to the world, and defended their liberty, affirming that they were not under the law, but under grace. They gloried to acknowledge their sinfulness, but maintained that they had in Christ a spotless robe of righteousness; his oblation having satisfied for their sin, and this personal righteousness being imputed to them for personal justification.

(5) Against these errors those ministers raised a high voice. They apprized the people, that no such imputation of double righteousness was to be found in the sacred writings, and warned them against reliance on any notions, or on any creeds which did not lead to sanctifying fear, and the imitation of the Lord Jesus. They regarded the doctrine of making void the law through faith with horror, how holy soever some might be who embraced the opinion, and called on heaven to forbid the thought. They affirmed that the law being an image of the immutable rectitude of God, was immutable in its obligation, and ready to be enforced against all apostates in full penalty for past and present sins. Hence they still required converted publicans and sinners to glorify God by the fruits of righteousness. “For wisdom is justified of all her children. And, as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

(6) They affirmed farther, that the faith by which we are justified was not a mere instrument, but the grand condition of conformity to the new covenant. An instrument, whether considered as a writing, or an implement of labour, is incapable of vice or virtue, all praise or blame being attached to him who made the writing, or to him who employed the implement. Whereas faith elevates the soul to God, and ennobles all the affections. The sinner viewing the glory and grace of Christ, penetrated with contrition for his past offences, says concerning every promise which God has made to man, “Let it be unto me according to thy word.”

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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

Ver. 4. Now to him that worketh] Yet it is an act of mercy in God to render to a man according to his works, Psalms 62:12; Exodus 20:6. God’s kingdom is not partum, but paratum, Matthew 25:34, not acquired, but prepared.

But of debt] Not so indeed, Romans 11:31, but according to the opinion of the merit monger, who saith as Vega, Caelum gratis non accipiam. I may not receive heaven by grace.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

A Happy Man

Rom 4:1. Paul now highlights two important people from Israel's history in the Old Testament to clarify that God's righteousness can only be obtained by faith. You also saw this in the previous section with respect to the law. God takes special care to demonstrate that man has no part in obtaining God's righteousness. Everything comes from Him. The more you understand this, the more you will honor Him for it in your life.

Rom 4:2. Abraham is mentioned first. He was the patriarch (father) of the Jews. God traced the origin of the people of Israel to Abraham's descendants. The Jews boasted in this fact. They even used it in their arguments with the Lord Jesus. They said: "We are Abraham's descendants" (Jn 8:33). They thought that being Abraham's posterity, they were rather privileged. After all, the promises had been given to him. In addition the law had been too difficult for them to keep, but God would at least bless them (they thought) because they were Abraham's posterity.

Rom 4:2-3. But this is not how it works. You and I are not blessed because our ancestors were blessed. If our ancestors were blessed, it is because they believed God, not because they deserved it. We too receive the blessing only through personal faith with God as its object. This was the case with Abraham and so it is with his posterity. Scripture says: "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."

The object of faith is not a man, but the clear word of God. In Genesis 15 God promised Abraham an heir and numerous posterity. Abraham believed this even when, humanly speaking, it was no longer possible to have children. He and Sarah were too old for that, but he still trusted God to fulfill His promise. This faith was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6).

Rom 4:4-5. When God was going to fulfill His promises, he was not expecting Abraham to help Him. If Abraham had been able to help in this, he would have deserved some kind of payment because he had worked for it. Just as with Abraham, so with you; you are justified by faith. You are then not honored, but God is glorified.

Rom 4:6-8. Your happiness is to be found in receiving God's righteousness without having to work for it. In Psalm 32 David speaks about righteousness without works. Read in how he says: "I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord."" And what does God do? "And You forgave the iniquity of my sin" (Psa 32:5).

If we acknowledge our sins instead of covering them up, then God does exactly the reverse with them. He forgives them. He puts them where they can no longer be seen. How happy you are once you know this! God no longer imputes our confessed sins because Christ shed His blood for them. How marvelous and what grace!

Words fail to express the wonder of what God has done to make us righteous. People whose sins have been forgiven are happy people. At times, we can be in difficult circumstances, but our sins are no longer a source of unease. All of this has been dealt with perfectly. God Himself is the guarantee for it because He did it Himself.

Now read Romans 4:1-8 again.

Reflection: Realize that God no longer thinks of your sins.

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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Romans 4:4". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

The Righteousness of God Demonstrated from History.

The justification of Abraham:

v. 1. What shall we say, then, that Abraham, our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

v. 2. For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.

v. 3. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

v. 4. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

v. 5. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Paul had taught that we are justified by faith. to demonstrate and confirm this doctrine, as well as to anticipate a probable objection on the part of the Jews, he now refers to the case of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. What, then, shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, has found according to the flesh? How must his case be judged? What did he gain according to the flesh, by his obedience to the Law and to all the commands of God, especially the rite of circumcision? If he obtained the unusual blessings he enjoyed, particularly his justification, on the strength of his outward observance of the Old Testament sacrament, then the Jews would certainly be entitled to consideration for the same reason. The answer is implied: We must say that Abraham was not justified by works. This conclusion the apostle defends. For if Abraham was justified by works, he has reasons for expecting glory and praise, he might indeed assert his claim to the confidence and favor of his fellow-men; but he would have no reason for boasting before God. The argument, which is contracted, would read in full: If Abraham was justified by works, he could boast of his merits: but now he has nothing which he could adduce as being worthy of praise; therefore he was not justified by works. That Abraham had no ground for boasting in relation to God, Paul proves from Scriptures. For what does the Scripture say, Gen_15:6? Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness. According to this infallible authority, Abraham was declared to be righteous and just; justification was credited to his account, since he accepted it by faith. In this way the faith of Abraham, in itself anything but righteousness, in itself without merit, was counted to him for righteousness. Although he had neither inherent nor habitual righteousness, he was looked upon and treated by God as righteous. The value of Abraham's faith, therefore, did not lie or 'consist in any subjective quality, but in its object and content; because the faith was directed to God, and, in God, to Christ, the Redeemer, therefore the righteousness of Christ was imputed to Abraham as his own, and he was declared to be acceptable in the sight of God.

This the apostle explains more fully in verses 4 and 5. Now to him that works, that keeps the Law with the idea of obtaining an equivalent reward, adequate wages for his labor, the reward is reckoned not of grace, but of debt. But to him who does not work, does not make his works a basis of hope toward God, but believes in Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. There are only two possibilities that we can consider at all, to be justified and saved by works and by faith; there is an absolute contrast between righteousness of works and righteousness of faith. In the case of Abraham, therefore, who was justified by faith, the other possibility, righteousness by works, was excluded. The apostle here does not argue the matter that a complete and adequate righteousness of works is impossible for all men, as a simple matter of fact. If a workman has done his work according to specifications, he receives the promised and stipulated wages, as his due reward, which he can justly claim. So also in the spiritual field: If one that is active in works of the Law intends to satisfy the demands of God and keeps all the commandments, then God will give to him the promised reward, righteousness, as a matter of justice, provided, of course, that he has rendered a perfect obedience. The very opposite of such a man is the person that puts his faith, not as a mere assent, but as an act of trust, in Him that justifies the ungodly, that is, he that has violated the divine right, that has refused God the proper obedience, that has lacked all reverence toward Him. When a godless person of this kind stands before the judgment-seat of God, he can, by human computation, expect nothing but the sentence of everlasting condemnation. But instead of pronouncing this expected sentence, God declares the sinner to be just and righteous, Isa_1:18. It is not the purpose of Paul to show here just how this sentence is possible, that the sinner must feel and acknowledge his guilt, that he must rely on the mercy of God in Jesus, his Savior: St. Paul deliberately makes the contrast as great as possible in order to bring out the unequaled consolation of the doctrine of justification. Truly, He is a wonderful God, as He has revealed Himself in Christ, in the Gospel, the God that justifies the ungodly, that imputes the sinner's faith for righteousness. "It is a miracle. It is a thing that only God can achieve, and that calls into act and manifestation all the resources of the divine nature. It is achieved through an unparalleled revelation of the judgment and the mercy of God. The miracle of the Gospel is that God comes to the ungodly with a mercy which is righteous altogether, and enables them through faith, in spite of what they are, to enter into a new relation to Himself, in which goodness becomes possible for them. There can be no spiritual life at all for a sinful man unless he can get an initial assurance of an unchanging love of God deeper than sin, and he gets this at the Cross. He gets it by believing in Jesus, and it is justification by faith. " Note: The act of justification, the imputation of righteousness, in itself has nothing to do with the moral character of those concerned. To declare that justification is the infusion of moral righteousness, as the Papists do, is to confuse justification and sanctification, Law and Gospel.

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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". 1921-23.

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

             Eighth Section.—Second proof of the righteousness of faith: from the Scriptures, and particularly from the history of the faith of Abraham, the ancestor of the Jews. Abraham is the father of faith to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, because he was justified in uncircumcision as a Gentile, and because he received circumcision as the seal of the righteousness of faith. David is also a witness of the righteousness of faith. (He is particularly Song of Solomon, since his justification was that of a great sinner.) Abraham, by his faith in the word of the personal God of Revelation, and particularly in the promise of Isaac, is a type of believers in the saving miracle of the resurrection.

Romans 4:1-25

1What [, then,] shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found [found according to the flesh]?[FN1] 2For if Abraham were [was] justified by works [as is assumed by the Jews], he hath whereof to glory [he hath ground of boasting];[FN2] but not before God 3 For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted [reckoned] unto [to] him for righteousness4[ Genesis 15:6]. Now to him that worketh [to the workman][FN3] is the reward not reckoned of [according to, or, as a matter of] grace, but of5[according to, as a] debt. But to him that worketh not,[FN4] but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted [reckoned] for righteousness 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness [happiness][FN5] of the Prayer of Manasseh, unto whom God 7 imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed [Happy] are they whose 8 iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered [atoned for]. Blessed [Happy] is the man to whom the Lord will not impute [reckon] sin [ Psalm 32:1-2].[FN6]

9Cometh this blessedness [happiness] then upon the circumcision only, or [also] upon the uncircumcision also? For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness 10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision 11 And he received [ Genesis 17:2] the [a] sign of circumcision,[FN7] [as?] a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised [of the faith in the uncircumcision, τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐν τῇ ἀχροβυστίᾳ, or, of the faith which he had while in uncircumcision]: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised [while yet in uncircumcision]; that righteousness might be imputed [reckoned also] unto them also:[FN8] 12And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised [which he had while in uncircumcision].[FN9]

13For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law [For not through (the) law is the promise to Abraham, or to his seed, that he should be heir of the world], but through the righteousness of faith 14 For if they which [who] are of the law [οἱ ἐχ νόμου] be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none [no] effect [rendered powerless]: 15Because the law worketh wrath: for where[FN10] no law Isaiah, there 16is no transgression [but where there is no law, neither is there transgression of the law]. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end [in order that] 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; who is the father of us all, 17(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations [A father of many nations have I set thee; Genesis 17:5],) before him whom he believed,[FN11] even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be [are] not as though they were:

18Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the [omit the] father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be19[ Genesis 15:5]. And being not weak in faith, he considered not[FN12] his own body now [already][FN13] dead, when he was [being] about a hundred years old, neither 20 yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief [But with regard to the promise of God he wavered, or, doubted not in unbelief]; but was [made] strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21And[FN14] being fully persuaded, that what he had [hath] promised, he was [is] 22able also to perform. And therefore [Wherefore also][FN15] it was imputed [reckoned] to him for righteousness.

23Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed [reckoned] to him; 24But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed [reckoned], if we believe on him that [who] raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25Who was delivered [up] for our offences, and was raised again [omit again] for our justification.[FN16]


General Remarks.—The theocratical Scripture proof for the righteousness of faith promised to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Enlargement of the Mosaic economy of particularism by the development of the germ-like universality of the Abrahamic religion. Survey: 1. Abraham’s justification was a justification by faith, and excluded justification by works. It was therefore only a justification of the sinner, as is shown by the beatitude prononuced by David ( Romans 4:1-8). The opposite is the Jewish righteousness of works2. It was independent of circumcision and the law. Abraham did not obtain the blessedness of justifying faith in circumcision, but in uncircumcision; circumcision was then added to it as a seal of justification. Abraham was thereby set forth to be the father of the faithful, as well of the uncircumcised as of the circumcised ( Romans 4:9-12). The opposite is Jewish particularism3. Justification is as universal as the promise, which constitutes even an antithesis to the law. Abraham’s justification is to him and to his seed a promise of the inheritance of the world. This promise is not limited by the law. Such a limitation would make the promise void; for the law produces that wrath (ὀργή), which looks rather to the destruction than the inheritance of the world. The promise is both conditioned and established by faith and grace ( Romans 4:13-17). The opposite is Jewish legalism4. Abraham and Christians have in reality the same righteousness of faith. The analogy between Abraham’s faith and that of his believing children,—Christians: a. In relation to the same wonder-working God ( Romans 4:17). b. In relation to the same conduct of faith: looking away from the contradiction of the natural life; strong confidence in the Divine word of revelation and promise ( Romans 4:18-21). c. In reference to the same operation ( Romans 4:22-25). The opposite is the external and superficial contemplation of the worldly sense.—Or also: a. The faith of Abraham ( Romans 4:17-22); b. Application to the faith of Christians ( Romans 4:23-25). The opposite, in general, is the hierarchical formalism and ceremonialism.

First Paragraph, Romans 4:1-8

[Paul exhibits Abraham as a truly evangelical character, as a man of faith, in order to confirm the doctrine that the ground of our salvation lies not in us, but outside of us in the free grace of God, and that this must be apprehended first by faith, before we can do any good works. James, on the other hand ( Romans 2:21 ff.), in opposition to a barren orthodoxy and mere notional belief, represents Abraham as a man of holy obedience, who proved his faith by works. In the one case he appears as the champion of the righteousness of faith, in the other as the champion of the righteousness of life. Both views are right. Paul goes to the root of the matter, the vital principle, which animated Abraham; James looks at the fruit produced thereby. Faith and works, righteousness and holiness, are as inseperable as light and heat, as the tree and the fruit, as cause and effect. Paul himself, after laying the only true foundation, as strongly insists upon a holy life as James. There Isaiah, in the Old Testament, an evangelical as well as a legal element; and the gospel, or promise, precedes the law which came in between the promise and the fulfilment ( Romans 4:20). Abraham represents the evangelical element, as Moses does the legal. Abraham’s faith differs from the Christian faith, as the promise differs from the fulfilment of the gospel salvation, and as hope differs from fruition; but the essential element, the ethical keynote, in both is unconditional confidence and trust in God’s truth and God’s mercy.—P. S.]

Romans 4:1. What, then, shall we say. The οὖν announces an inference from the previous statement ( Romans 3:29), that God is the God of the Jews as well as of the Gentiles, considered in relation to Abraham’s history and its significance. But our inference is not a corroboration (Meyer), or confirmatio ab exemplo (Calvin). We have here rather a new proof, as deduced from the foregoing, namely, the explanation of Abraham’s history and of David’s words of faith. Likewise Tholuck observes, the οὖν cannot be explained if, in accordance with the view of recent expositors, this verse be connected immediately with Romans 3:31 of the previous chapter.—The construction: It may be asked, first, whether the question should be read as one question, or two? Grotius and others have placed an interrogation mark after ἐροῦμεν, and thus made two questions out of the sentence. Then διχαιοσύνην is supplied to εὑρηχέναι.—If the εὑρηχέναι be taken absolutely in the sense of the Grecian philosophy, this division could be made more easily. Yet the chief question here is not, what should be said, but what is Abraham’s advantage?—It may further be asked, whether χατὰ σάρχα relates to προπάτορα (πατέρα) or to εὑρ η̣ χέναι. Lachmann’s reading: τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν εὑρηχέναι ̓ Αβρ, &c, [see Textual Note1], is the one most favored by the Codd. (A. C. D, &c, and also the Sin.). “The suspicion that the transposition of the χατὰ σάρχα [of εὑρηχέναι rather.—P. S.] is to be laid to the charge of the copyist, is strengthened when we see that such expositors as Chrysostom, Theophylact, Gennadius in Œcumenius, who read εὑρηχέναι χατὰ σάρχα, nevertheless connect the latter with πατὴρἡμῶν” (Tholuck, p167). De Wette, Meyer [Tholuck, Alford, Wordsworth, Hodge], and most commentators, with the Peshito, connect χατὰ σάρχα, with εὑρηχέναι, and not (according to Origen, Ambrose, Calvin,[FN17] &c.) with πατέρα ἡμῶν. But in Romans 4:9 ff, the subject is circumcision; while in Romans 4:1-8, it is only the contrast between righteousness by works and righteousness by faith. Therefore, according to Meyer’s construction, χατὰ σάρχα should correspond to the ἐξ ἔργων, yet not so that the two ideas should be identical, but that works should be embraced in the more general idea of χατὰ σάρχα. The σάρξ, in antithesis to the divine πνεῦμα, should then denote humanity given up to itself. Pelagius, Ambrose, and others, refer χατὰ σάρχα to circumcision. Rückert understands the word as embracing both circumcision and ἔργα. While Tholuck consents to the now customary connection of the χατὰ σάρχα with εὑρηχέναι, he does not grant that the works of faithful Abraham were ἔργα χατὰ σάρχα; although Flacius would include likewise the opera renati, as performed by men and not imputed by God, in the opera carnis; and Bullinger and others would make σάρξ equal to ἔργα. Tholuck therefore arrives at the conclusion, that Paul did not design to apply Christian justification in all its consequences to the patriarch. But how could he represent him here as the father of the faithful, if he would belittle or limit his justification? We go upon the supposition that, in accordance with the best Codd,” ̓́ Αβράμ προπάτωρ ἡμῶν χατὰ σάρχα ( Romans 4:1) is an antithesis to αὐτός πατὴρ πάντων τῶν πιστεύοντων, &c. ( Romans 4:11), and to ὅς ἐστιν πατὴρ πάντων ἡμῶν ( Romans 4:16). The principal subject Isaiah, therefore, Abraham, the natural ancestor of the Jews; and if it be asked, What hath he found? the emphasis rests on τί, and this refers to the διχαιοῦσθαι πίστει χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου ( Romans 3:28), and especially to Romans 3:29 also. As God is a God of the Jews and Gentiles, Abraham, the προπάτωρ of the Jews, has become a πατήρ of Jews and Gentiles.

Romans 4:2. For if Abraham was justified [ἐδιχαιώθη] by works [in the opinion of the Jews]. The answer assumes that the view that Abraham was justified by the works of the law, was already denied in the question. Yet this very thing was believed by the legalistic Jew. “In the Talmud it was even deduced from Genesis 26:5, that Abraham observed the whole Mosaic law” (Meyer).[FN18] The answer does not therefore assume an οὐδέν [omitted before εἰ γάρ] or an οὐδοτιοῦν (Tholuck), because χατὰ σάρχα [ Romans 4:1] does not stand in connection with εὑρηχἑναι, [? comp. Textual Note1.—P. S.] To the question, Which of the two kinds of righteousness? it assumes the conclusion, that it was not the imaginary righteousness of works, but the true righteousness of faith. The supposition is so plain, that the Apostle proceeds at once to the proof.—Was justified by works. The sense can be: if he should be so justified, it could only be at a human tribunal, and not at the tribunal of God—as has been already described. But it can also be understood thus: if Abraham, according to the national prejudice of the Jews, has been really justified by works. This is the more obvious view. Conceding this kind of justification, Abraham has a χαύχημα (materiam gloriandi), but not before God. Not before God, first, because no flesh is justified by works in His sight ( Romans 3:20); second, because we know definitely from the Scriptures that Abraham was justified in God’s sight, or at His tribunal, by faith. The ἐδιχαιώθη is made by Beza, Grotius, and others, to refer to a general opinion pronounced on Abraham; but by Calvin, Calov, and others, to an imaginary opinion, under the supposition of an incomplete conclusion (the major: he who is justified by works hath whereof to glory. The minor: but not before God. The necessary concluding statement: therefore Abraham is not justified by works).[FN19] Tholuck thinks, with Meyer, that reference to God cannot disappear from ἐδιχαιώθη, and he follows him, with Theodoret, in explaining thus: “For if Abraham has been justified by God through works, he has certainly received—the perfect fulfilment of the law being granted,—glory, but not a divine glory, so far as such glory could not be traced back to God’s grace.” This explanation contradicts the previous suppositions: 1. That no flesh can be justified by the deeds of the law ( Romans 3:20); 2. That no external fulfilment of the law in the sense of νόμος ἔργων is conceivable, but only in the sense of νόμος πίστεως. A plain remark may aid in the understanding of this difficult passage: that διχαιοῦσθαι, always refers to a definite tribunal, but that this tribunal may be very different according to the different relations of διχαιοῦσθαι. Thus the tribunal of Jewish national prejudice already mentioned was very different from that of the theocratical communion of faith itself, which the passage in James 2:23 has in view (see the Commentary on James, chap2. Also, Psalm 106:31, on the justification of Phinehas). It has been counted to him for righteousness—from generation to generation, see Tholuck, p172, thereon. What Theodoret says is certainly true: that true justification before God must glorify the love of God; but for this very reason no other mode of justification before God is conceivable. (Singular explanation of Semler and others: Has he glory? No; before God, not! Protestation.)

Romans 4:3. For what saith the Scripture? Paul makes a true representation of Abraham in accordance with the Scriptures, in opposition to the false representation of the Jews.[FN20]—[But Abraham believed God, and it (viz, the believing, τὸ πιστεῦσαι, which must be supplied from ἐπὶστευσεν) was reckoned to him for righteousness, ̓ Επίστευσεν δὲ ̓ Αβραὰμ τῷ θεῷ, χαὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς διχαιοσύνην. Genesis 15:6, Sept. The emphasis lies on ἐπίστευσεν, placed first, or the faith of Abraham as distinct from works and as excluding merit on the part of man. Αογιζεσθαι εἰς διχαιοσύνην, to reckon, or count, or impute to any one as righteousness, and consequently to treat him as righteous, is identical with διχαιόω (see p130). On the controversy whether Abraham was justified per fidem (through the instrumentality of faith), as the Protestants rightly teach, or propter fidem (on account of the merit of his faith), as the Romanists assert; compare the remarks of Tholuck, p 173 ff.; also the note of Alford in loc. Hodge enters here into a lengthy discussion of the doctrine of imputation, pp164–175, partly polemical against Olshausen.—P. S.] The quotation of Genesis 15:6, is from the Seputagint which has changed the active verb וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ into the passive ἐλογίσθη. Paul uses the more prominent expression δέ instead of the χαί of the Septuagint. Different explanations: 1. Rückert: Paul incorrectly used the passage for his purpose2. Roman Catholic expositors (and Bucer): Abraham submitted to the authority of God’s word, and that gave value to his faith3. Faith in the promise of a large posterity was, in view of its object, faith in the promise of the Messiah who was to come forth from his posterity (A Lapide, Calvin, Gerhard, Calov, and others). 4. Implicit faith in the Divine promise (Bullinger, and others). Tholuck adopts this view, though with hesitation. “Delitzsch, on Genesis 15:5, having more regard for the historical interpretation, says: ‘Every thing was contained in the person of Jehovah and in the promise of a numerous posterity to Abraham, which was separately disclosed and fulfilled in the New Testament time of redemption.’ But faith in a numerous posterity cannot effect the same nova obedientia as faith in a Christus satispatiens and satisfaciens can effect.” [Tholuck, p173.] Further particulars on the nova obedientia of Abraham may be read in Genesis 22. According to Tholuck, we should not introduce into the faith of Abraham the faith in the Messiah. But yet we must not reject it. According to the promise in Genesis 12:3, the question in Genesis 15:5—the passage here in mind—could not be the promise of a merely natural posterity. It is certainly consistent with the principles of historical interpretation, when we are considering later decisions, to look back at the earlier ones which lie at their root. Meyer [p161] more appropriately remarks: “In the πιστείειν τῷ θεῷ on the part of Abraham, Paul has perceived nothing really different from Christian πίστις; since Abraham’s faith referred to the Divine promise, and Indeed to the promise which he—one who was the friend of God, and illuminated by Him—has perceived to be the promise which embraced the future Messiah ( John 8:56).”

Yet, under the supposition of the substantial identity between the faith of Abraham and that of Christians, we shall need to lay stress on the difference in form: The faith of Abraham is the essential beginning of the specific faith of salvation in the Old Testament; the faith of Paul and his companions is the completion of the same in the New. Faith in general, as well as in each of its particular parts, undergoes a great metamorphosis in its passage from that initial point to this terminal point.

But it remains the same faith in substance. And the peculiarity of this substance Isaiah, that the Divine object, and its human organic reception, constitute an indissoluble christological synthesis. The objective parts are: a. The personal God of revelation in His revelation; and especially as the creative, wonder-working God, who can call forth new salvation and life; b. His word of promise; c. The import of His word of promise—the future salvation of the nations with the seed of Abraham. Corresponding with these, are the subjective parts: a. The living knowledge, perception, and reception of the revealed God; b. Confident submission to the words of promise, against all the contradiction of sense and worldly appearance; c. The appropriation of the object of the promise as the principle and energy of the renewed life.

The operations correspond to this harmony of object and subject: 1. Justification. Freedom of conscience before God, according to the measure of the condemnation of conscience. The peace of God, Genesis 15:2. The sacramental, symbolical seal, Genesis 17, see Romans 4:11. 3. Confidence, and acquirement of new life from condemnation to death, or even from death itself—internal death.

All these separate parts exist as germs in Abraham’s faith. De Wette, after an ill-founded remark on the Apostle’s arbitrary dialectics and scriptural application, admirably says: “When the Apostle in this way unites the climax of religious development with the historical point of connection—for the developing series commenced with Abraham—he gives evidence of great historical penetration.” Comp. the Commentary on Genesis, 1 Genesis 5:1-12.

Romans 4:4. Now to the workman [τῷ δὲἐργαζομένῳ, Lange: Dem aber, welcher den Werkdienst treibt]. The statements of Romans 4:6-7 are two sentences, which establish the doctrine of justification by faith, as well in its divine as in its human character. The work does not reach up to God, His grace, or His heaven; but it belongs to the sphere of gain, and makes the remunerator the debtor—which cannot be said of God without impiety. But as God’s grace is exalted above the claims of merit, so is man’s faith exalted. The believer does not rely on merit, but on the gracious strength of Him who justifies the ungodly, and he receives the righteousness in proportion to his faith. The first sentence establishes negatively, that Abraham, according to his relation to God, could not be justified by works; the second sentence establishes positively, that justification presupposes a relation of God’s grace to the sinner. It is therefore clearly intimated that Abraham was a sinner; besides, the introduction of David and his testimony proves conclusively that the justification is that of the sinner. But the root of the antithesis is in the ἐργαζόμενος and the μὴ έργαζόμενος; it is the continuation of the contrast in Romans 2:7-8. Those who strive untiringly, seek God as their only end; but partisans oppose God by their claims. The ἐργαζόμενος is not “the active Prayer of Manasseh, whose characteristic is works” (Meyer), but he whose righteousness consists only of works, who relies on the merit of his works, and whose basis of confidence and pride are works. Therefore, his counterpart is not an οὐχ ἐργαζόμενος, but a μὴ ἐργ.

Is the reward (ὁμισθός) not reckoned according to (as a matter of) grace (χατὰ χάριν). That Isaiah, the earned reward, in accordance with the law of wages and labor. The λογίζεσθαι is a very flexible idea; in the case of works, denoting a literal settling up, a payment, according to the external quantitative relations; and in the case of faith, a respectful valuation or reward, according to the internal qualitative relations. But even in the latter case, there is no fiction, no untruth, but a decision in strict conformity with the actual condition. He who makes God his debtor for service rendered, reverses the poles of spiritual life; he conceits that God exists for his sake, and for the sake of his external work. Therefore, the mere worker becomes a culpable debtor in the judgment of God. Faith is the return to the normal relation with God. Here God is the absolute majesty, the justifier, the source, the giver of all things, the infinitely merciful; and before Him the believer stands in the sense of absolute need, dependence, poverty, impurity, and guilt. But when the believer commits himself to the burning and delivering arms of God’s love, his guilt vanishes as the cloud before the sun.—Not according to grace, but according to (as a) debt. The ἐργαζόμενος really declines grace; he claims a reward for his merit. And in the same way will his reward be reckoned according to his debt. Ὀφείλημ, the debitum, according to the relations of reward.—It is plain that such a relation did not apply to Abraham, from the fact that, according to Romans 4:3, he obtained God’s grace; and this in a definite case, where the question could not be one of merit ( Genesis 15.).

Romans 4:5. But to him that worketh not (for hire), &c. Meyer properly remarks, in opposition to Reiche, who refers the statement directly to Abraham,[FN21] that the sentence is a locus communis, and that it is left to the reader whether he will include Abraham in it or not. But, according to Paul, Abraham has certainly included himself. In the same way, Meyer properly observes that ἀσεβής, ungodly, must not be diluted into ἄδιχος, unrighteous. Faith perceives that the foundation of the ἀδιχία is the ἀσέβεια ( Romans 1:21), alienation from God; and, because of its deeper knowledge of sin, applies to the grace of God. The πιστεύειν επί τινα cannot merely denote a faith in the direction toward some one, but a believing self-surrender on the ground of God’s grace ( Acts 16:31, &c).

Romans 4:6. Even as David. The introduction of David completely establishes the fact that the justification of man is a justification of the sinner, and that the believer perceives his sins; for, in relation to David, both his guilt and pardon were conceded by the Jews. And now David must also testify to this truth. Even as (χαθάπερ) indicates that David is quoted for the elucidation and proof of what has been said already in Romans 4:4-5. He is quoted, not as a universal example of justification in general, but in special proof that it is such a justification of the sinner as excludes the merit of works. [ Romans 4:7-8 prove clearly that the forgiveness of sins belongs to justification; but this is only the negative part, with which is inseparably connected the positive part, namely, the imputation and application of the righteousness of Christ, and this contains the germ and power of sanctification.—P. S.] Tholuck: “By the negative statement, Calvin was led to insist that the idea of the justificatio is exhausted with the condonatio peccatorum (Inst. iii11). The same thing is done by the Protestant doctrinal theology before the Formula Concordiœ—which first expressly added the υἱοθεσία, which is really included therein.” Compare, however, the Heidelberg Catechism, Question60.[FN22] The beatitude from Psalm 32:1-2 is quoted from the Septuagint. [See Textual Note6] The choice of verbs in Romans 4:7 corresponds to the substantives. The ἀνομία is a debt doomed to prison; it is released, and thus abolished; the ἁμαρτία is the ground of it, and is covered from God’s eye (כָּסָה,כָּפַר)—that Isaiah, abolished by Him.

Second Paragraph ( Romans 4:9-12)

Justification applies also to the Gentiles. It is a justification for all.

[It is always safer to supply the simplest word.—P. S.]—Or also upon the uncircumcision? The also shows that the previous clause is to be understood in the exclusive sense: upon the circumcision only. [Some MSS. add, μόνον.—P. S.]—For we say. The γάρ presupposes that the Apostle has already mentally expected an affirmative reply to the question, Or upon the uncircumcision also? [The form of the question, too, with χαί, presupposes an affirmative answer to the second clause, and this implied affirmation is made the ground of the argumentation, Romans 4:10-12. De Wette and Alford.—P. S.] The τῷ ̓ Αβρ. is certainly emphatic, as Fritzsche, De Wette [Alford], and others, maintain, though Meyer denies it; for the whole of the following argument proceeds from the person of Abraham. [For we say that to Abraham faith was reckoned for righteousness.—P. S.]

Romans 4:10. Not in circumcision, but. According to Genesis 15, Abraham was justified about fourteen years before his circumcision, Genesis 17 [Consequently his circumcision was not the effective cause and condition, but the Divine ratification of grace already received.—P. S.]

Romans 4:11. And he received a sign of circumcision [χαὶ σημεῖονἔλαβεν περιτομῆσ[FN24]]. Genitive of apposition [i.e., a sign which consisted in circumcision. Van Hengel and Hofmann, preferring the reading περιτομὴν to περιτομῆς, explain: As a sign he receiver circumcision, as a seal (σφραγῖδα in apposition to σημεῖον). Meyer objects that in the first case, σημεῖον, in the second, περιτομήυ, ought to have the article, and explains: Ein Zeichen mit welchem er durch die Beschneidung versehen ward, cmpfing er als Siegel—i.e, a sign, with which he was provided in circumcision, he received as seal. But the article is sometimes omitted where the reference is specific, and where there is no danger of mistake; comp. Winer, p118 f. σημεῖον, sign, token, symbol, אוֹת. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham, Genesis 17:11; God, on His part, promising the Messianic κληρονομία ( Genesis 15:5; Genesis 15:18), and Abraham, on his part, exercising the obedience of faith which was reckoned to him for righteousness ( Genesis 15:6). Hence Paul represents it as a seal of the righteousness of faith. This was not only a “legitimate dogmatic inference” (Meyer), but, as Tholuck remarks, a historical necessity, since the sign of the covenant was granted in consequence of the faith previously shown.—P. S.]—The seal. The seal denotes here the symbolical and sacramental sealing; from this, the real sealing of Abraham, which was given him after the offering of Isaac, Genesis 22:1, is still to be distinguished (see the Biblework on Genesis 22.). “It is also represented in the Talmud as the sign and seal of the covenant. See Schöttgen and Wetstein in loc. These words belonged to the formula of circumcision: ‘Benedictus sit, qui sanctificavit dilectum ab utero, et signum (אוֹת) posuit in carne, et filios suos sigillavit (חָהַם) signo fœderis sancti;Beracoth, f. Romans 13:1.” Meyer [foot-note]. Christian writers [Acta Thomœ, § 26; Grabe, Spicileg. Patr. i, p333] speak in the same way of the water of baptism as a seal [ σφραγὶς τοῦ λουτροῦ. A seal here means a mark of Divine ratification of a justification already received, a “signaculum rei actœ, ” not a “pignus rei agendœ;” comp. 1 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Timothy 2:19. We have here an intimation of the true idea of sacraments: they are signs, seals, and means of grace, but not the grace itself. Circumcision is not the covenant, neither is baptism regeneration. A sign and seal can never be the substitute for the thing signed and sealed, nor should it be made a ground of confidence and hope; but it is all-important as a Divine ratification, and gives, so to say, legal validity to our claims, as the governmental seal to a written instrument. Without the seal of circumcision, Abraham would have had no certain guarantee of the Divine favor; and if justification by faith is abstractly separated from the church and the means of grace, it becomes a subjective fiction of man.—P. S.]—That he might be the father. The spiritual father is meant here. Abraham is the father of faith. ”The conception of author, founder, is also contained in that of father; comp. Job 38:28; Genesis 4:21; 1 Maccabees 2:54;” Tholuck.—On the idea of Abraham’s spiritual children, see Matthew 3:9; John 8:37-38. Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:29. is a parallel.—That righteousness might be reckoned also to them. This means the sense in which Abraham, as a believing Gentile, has become the father of believing Gentiles.

Romans 4:12. And the father of circumcision. Prominence is here given to the life of faith, the proof of faith, in connection with circumcision for faith. We remark on the language: 1. εἰς τὸ εἶναιαὐτόν must be mentally repeated after καὶ. 2. τοῖς, the dative commodi [for those], comes in the place of faith3. Instead of ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς στοικοῠσι, we should expect ἀλλὰ καὶ στοικοῦσι without the article. Tholuck: “The καὶ τοῖς is an unexampled solecism in the Apostle’s language.” Theodoret, Hervæus, Luther, and others, have assumed a transposition: τοῖς οὐκ, instead of οὐ τοῖς. Meyer and Tholuck reject this. Rückert defends the supposition of a transposition; Fritzsche excuses the article; Reiche defends it [so does Stuart; both regard it as a resumption of the sentence begun with the preceding τοῖς, and interrupted by the οὐκ ἐκ περιτομῆς μόνον, ἀλλὰ καί.—P. S.] It may be asked, whether οἱ οὐκ ἐκ περιτομῆς μόνον, ἀλλὰ καἰ οἱ στοικοῦντες could be said. And this would certainly be practicable, if we could place ὄντες after μόνον. They are not only the people of the circumcision, but also those who walk, &c. The faith of the real Jews is not only here made prominent, but also their life of faith; no doubt with reference to the fact that these believing Jews, like Abraham, should be the humane publishers of salvation to the Gentiles. [τοῖς ἴχνεσι, the dative after στοικεῖν is not local, but normative; comp. Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:25; Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:16; Meyer.—P. S.]

Third Paragraph ( Romans 4:13-17)

[i.e, after the promise had been given; Genesis 12:3; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15-16.—P. S.], Paul must have here in mind only later passages [ Romans 15:18; Genesis 17:8, where the promise is repeated.—P. S.]. But, according to Genesis 12, Abraham’s life of faith had begun at the time of his emigration. [The faith of Abraham covered the whole period of the promise, which was made and repeatedly confirmed to his faith.—P. S.]

Romans 4:14. For if they who are of the law. Proof that Abraham’s believing children, but not they who, in contrast with them, rely on the law and its deeds, shall inherit the world. The νόμος, according to Flatt, the moral law; according to Meyer, the Mosaic law; both, according to Tholuck. The Apostle is certainly not concerned here exclusively with the idea of the Mosaic νόμος, as such, but rather with the idea of the legal standpoint, or of the law, considered abstractly in itself, and in contrast with the promise. And it may be said of the natural moral law, too, that it worketh wrath. () ἐκ νόμου are not people who are still under the law as such, but whose life-principle is the law, and who wish to be justified by the law. [οἱ ἐκ νόμου, those of law = adherents of the law, legalists. This periphrase is of frequent occurrence; comp. οἱ ἐξ ἐριθείας, those of self-seeking = self-seeking partisans; Romans 2:8; οἱ ἐκ περντομῆς, the circumcised; Romans 4:12; Titus 1:10; Acts 10:45; Acts 11:2; οἱ ἐκ πίστεως, the believers; Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:9; Romans 4:16; οἱ ἐξ Ἰσραήλ, the Israelites; Romans 9:6; &c.; comp. Xenoph, Anab. Romans 1:2; Romans 1:18, οἱ ἐκ τῆς ἀγορᾶς, the market people. The preposition ἐκ (out of) indicates here the origin and character.—P. S.]—Be heirs, faith is made void. At the time when this decisive word was uttered, it had not only a great spiritual, but also a great prophetical meaning. Judging from external signs, it was more probable that the Jews, rather than the Christians, would inherit the earth. They had a powerful prominence, wide dissemination, and synagogues all over the world. But the Apostle was sure of his cause, and wished clearly to distinguish the future of faith from the future of that darkened legalism. Yet his thought is not; if the legalists are heirs, believers cannot be; but if the legalists are heirs, there will be no inheritance of the promise at all. Faith is made void—that Isaiah, it loses its import, the righteousness of faith—by wrath in the conscience; the promise is made powerless by the wrath of historical judgments, because it was only intended for faith.

Romans 4:15. Because the law worketh wrath. The operation of the law is to reveal sin and to represent it as transgression, as well in the conscience as in the life itself. Therefore it produces wrath, which, according to the Divine sentence and government, bursts forth from the internal and external life as the severe judgment of dissolution and of death. For where there is no law, neither is there transgression (of the law); and where there is no transgression, there is no wrath. But inversely, the law fully reveals transgression, and, with transgression, wrath and condemnation to death. The proof that the law worketh wrath, is therefore negative. This operation is meant to apply first of all to the Mosaic law, as is proved by Romans 5:13-14, particularly by the distinction between ἁμαρτία and παράβασις (see 1 Timothy 2:14; Galatians 3:19). Tholuck quotes Augustine: “Sine lege potest esse quis iniquus, sed non prœvaricator,” and says that “ this difference has generally been observed ever since. But where it has not been observed, such παρερμηνεῖαι have arisen, as with Luther (on Galatians 3:19), who introduces, from Romans 7:5; Romans 5:20, the thought that the lust of sin is dormant without the law.” Tholuck also properly remarks, that the axiom of Romans 5:13, ἁμαρτία δἐ οὐκ ἐλλογεῖται μὴ ὄντος νόμου, can be understood only relatively of a less quantity of guilt, as is proved by the judgment of the Deluge, and other judgments. He quotes Thomas Aquinas: “Et tamen omne peccatum potest dici prœvaricatio, in quantum legem naturalem transgreditur.” [But Thomas adds: “Gravius tamen est transgredi simul legem naturalem et legem scriptam, quam solam legem naturœ. Et ideo lege data crevit prœvaricatio et majorem iram promeruit.”] Yet the ἐλλογεῖται of Romans 5:13 is to be emphasized so as to denote God’s real reckoning with the sinner by His law, which first causes the natural punishment of the sinner to assume the clear blaze of wrath. Man can obtain salvation only by this passage through the judgment of death. For this reason the Apostle does not deny the necessity of the law; but with him it is a means for an end, and constitutes the pedagogic point of transition for the pious under the law (ὑπὸ νόμον, Romans 6:14-15). But people of the law (οἱ ἐκ νόμου), who seek justification ἐξ ἔργων ( Romans 4:2) because they are in feeling ἐξ ἐριθείας ( Romans 2:8), make the means an end. They seek their life in the single precepts and observance of the law, in pride in the possession of the law, and in the settlement of their account with God; and by this course they find their existence in the fire of wrath, but, unlike the salamander, they find no comfort in the fire. They do not make the law their preparation for faith, but the antithesis of faith; and they endeavor, by the fire of their fanaticism, to entice from a joyous and bright life those who are happy in faith, and to draw them into their own gloomy heat. For other explanations of ὀργή, see Tholuck. Cocceius: The ceremonial law is the emanation of wrath; J. Müller: ὀργή must be understood subjectively—the consciousness of wrath; Melanchthon: The ὀργή is the sinner’s wrath toward the avenging God.

Romans 4:16. Therefore it is of faith. The inference from Romans 4:14-15. That cannot be; therefore this must stand true. ̓Εκ πίστεως. Supply: κληρονομία γίνεται (Beza, Bengel); ἐπαγγελία τῶ Αβρ. ἐστι καί τῶ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ (Grotius, Fritzsche, Tholuck in earlier editions, and others); δικαιοσύνη (Luther); or, better, οί κληρονόμοι εἰσί (Meyer, De Wette, and Tholuck, referring to Romans 4:14, where ἐκ πίστεως and ἐκ νόμου appear as antitheses). This last seems the most appropriate; yet in Romans 4:14 we read not οἱ κληρονόμοι, but οἱ ἐκνόμου—κληρονόμοι; and further on it is οἱ ἐκ πίστεως. Therefore, we must merely supply either κληρονόμοι οr ἔστω.—That it might be by grace. Faith is here plainly denoted the homogeneous organ of grace. It is grace, and not man’s faith, that is the source of that general surety of God’s promise; but grace makes faith the organ, just as wrath manifests itself in the work of the law. ἵνα denotes here the consistency of the principle of faith, which certainly rests upon a Divine determination. Tholuck supplies ὦσιν.

In order that the promise might be sure to all the seed [εἰς τὸ εἰναι βεβαίαν τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν παντὶ τῷ σπέρματι]. The εἰς denotes the result designed by God—that the promise of His grace be communicated to faith. By this determination the fact is secured, that the promise holds good for his collective seed—that Isaiah, for his entire spiritual posterity.—Not to that only which is of the law, &c. The τῷ ἐκ τοῦ νύμου denotes here the historical origin of the whole body of faithful Jews. The τῷ ἐκ πίστεως,as antithesis, denotes the faithful Gentiles. They form a totality by which Abraham is the father of all (see Romans 4:11-12).

Romans 4:17. As it is written. Genesis 17:5; where a natural posterity of many nations is promised to Abraham in relation to his name.[FN26] Yet this promise has its ground in his faith ( Romans 4:18-19), and hence Paul very properly regarded it as the type of his spiritual posterity. The spiritual relation is also implied in the Divine appointment, τἐθεικά σε.—[It was] in the sight of him whom he believed [κατέναντι οὗ ἐπίστευσεν θεοῦ[FN27]]. On account of the connection with what has preceded, the difficult word κατέναντι must be here explained [as far as the construction is concerned]. 1. Luther follows the reading ἐπίστενσας [before God, whom thou hast believed] of the Codd. F. G, It, and others, and finds here a continuation of God’s words. An attempt to explain the connection2. Bretschneider: “in view of which word,” οὗ sc. εἰρημένου. 3. Meyer, Tholuck [Alford, Hodge], and others: The quotation, καθώς—σε, is parenthetical [so also in the E. V.], and κατέναντι must be connected with ὅς ἐστι πατὴρ πάντων ἡμῶν [i.e, Abraham is the father of us all, not physically, but spiritually, in the sight and estimation of God, with whom there are no obstacles of nature or time.—P. S.] Meyer [and also Winer, Gramm, p156, 7th ed.] thus resolves the attraction: κατέναντι τοῦ θεοῦ, κατέναντι οὗ ἐπίστευσε [i.e, before God, before whom, or, in whose sight he believed], according to the analogous attraction of Luke 1:4; and rejects the more common resolution [adopted also by Fritzsche] of the attraction κατέςαντι θεοῦ, ἐπίστευσε [before God, whom he believed—a form of attraction with the dative, which is very unusual; see Winer, p156, and Meyer in loc.—P. S.]. See Meyer, for other attempts at construction. But what are we to understand by the expression: he is the father of us all before God? The idea of a substitution by Abraham, which might easily be inferred from the language, would be foreign to the Apostle4. We supply ἐγένετο [before κατέναντι], and explain thus: As it is written, ”I have made thee a father of many nations;” it took place in the presence of God, or, it came to pass there, in the place where he stood believing before God, that he was made the father of many nations; before Him, namely, God, &c. He who is justified, who receives God’s promise, stands before God. [Philippi, without parenthesizing καθῶς—σε, supplies after this quotation: And as such—viz, as father of nations—he stands in the sight of God, &c—P. S.]

Fourth Paragraph ( Romans 4:17-25)

A.—Abraham’s Faith ( Romans 4:17-22)

Romans 4:17. Before him whom he believed, even God. Explanations of coram [κατέναντι, literally, down over against, opposite to, like the classical κατεναντιον; then = κατενώπιον, coram, so here, and often in the LXX, for לִפְנֵי—P. S.]: 1. According to the will (Reiche). 2. According to the decision (Rückert, and others). 3. Vi atque potestate divina (Koppe). 4. Before God’s omniscience (Olshausen). 5. Meyer [p173, footnote]: “We must leave it without explanation. Abraham is represented as standing before God who has appeared to him.” But it denotes the first element of the Abrahamic faith. Abraham, as the friend of God, stands in the view of the living God of Revelation, the speaking God, who is at the same time the God of miracles and new creations; and it is while Abraham is there, that he is appointed the father of many nations. (Theodoret, Theophylact, and others, have explained κατέναντι as equal to ὁμοίως τῷ θεῷ; Grotius has divided the sentence into question and answer; see Meyer).—Κατέναντι οὗ ἐπίστευσεν, standing before Him, he believed the promise on the spot.

Who quickeneth the dead. [The present tense ζωοποιοῦντος and καλοῦντος is used to indicate the continued manifestation of God’s creative power in every physical and in every spiritual birth.—P. S.] ”The ζωοποιεῖν τούς νεκρούς is the solemn characteristic of the omnipotent God,” says Meyer. The doctrine of the omnipotence of God, as the wonder-working power of the God of Revelation, has been directed from the beginning to the consummation of the revelation in the resurrection of Christ, and subsequently to the special and general resurrection ( Ephesians 1:19 ff.). This is evident from those passages of the Old Testament which represent the wonder-working power of God as a power to bring the dead to life, produced by it ( Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; Isaiah 26:19; Isaiah 53:10; Ezekiel 37:1 ff.; Hosea 13:14; Daniel 12:1-2; comp. Book of Wisdom of Solomon 16:13; Tobit 13:2; John 5:21; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:13). The Apostle, with profound penetration, sees this miraculous power which raises the dead to life, foreshadowed already in the promise of Isaac. For he does not have in view the offering of Isaac (according to Erasmus, Grotius, Baumgarten-Crusius), although the stronger expression seems to have been selected also with reference to that last believing act of Abraham. Neither is the awakening of the spiritually dead chiefly meant (according to Origen, Anselm, and others). Nevertheless, we would not, with Meyer, altogether reject these explanations as false; for the external awakenings stand in the most intimate reciprocal relation with the internal. In fact, the former are generally conditioned by the latter; as we see that Abraham had to believe first in the promise given to him.

And calleth those things, which are not, as though they were [literally, calling things not being, as being, καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄνταὡς ὄντα. Τὰ μὴ ὄντα differs from τὰ οὺκ ὄντα in that it presents the non-existence as conditional: if they are not; or as relative only, inasmuch as all things preëxist ideally and subjectively in the Divine mind before they are created and set forth objectively.—P. S.]. Two explanations:[FN28] 1. Reference to the creative agency of God (Tholuck, and most expositors). Καλεῖν often denotes God’s creative call, to summon into being, into existence ( [He refers to 1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Jude 24. Comp. Philippians 3:21, where the accusative σύμμορφον, like unto his glorious body, is the accusative of effect = so as to be like.—P. S.] De Wette: ὥς ὄντα can indeed not be a substitute for εἰς ὄντα = εἰς τὸ εἶναι, but it can be a substitute for ὡς ἐσόμἁνα, or for εἰς τὸ εἷναι ὡς ὄντα (Reiche, and others). 2. Meyer, and others (Rückert, Philippi): Who pronounces his enacting command over what does not exist, as over what does exist.[FN29] It is not necessary to prove that, even in reference to the creation, this is the full sense (see Hebrews 11:3); the ideal preëxistence of things in the mind of God is therewith intimated. Nevertheless, the idea of the καλεῖν—to call into existence, or into appearance—must be retained. Meyer holds that the things which are not, that God called into existence, are, according to Genesis 15, the posterity of Abraham. But Abraham’s faith undoubtedly presupposed earlier deeds of omnipotence. The elements of God’s creative power, and of His renewing power, are comprehended together in the conception of His miraculous power. The creative word is a symbol and pledge of every new creative word which is spoken subsequently.

[ἐπ ̓̓ ἐλπίδι is not adverbial = confidently, but ἐπι signifies the subjective ground of his faith. Faith is the organ of the supernatural, and holds fast to the Invisible as if it saw Him. Hope is faith itself, as directed to the future.—P. S.].

That he might become. Three explanations of εἰς: 1. Of the result—so that he might become (Flatt, Fritzsche, and others). 2. He believed that he should be. That [So also Alford, Hodge: He believed, in order that, agreeably to the purpose of God, he might become the father of many nations.]—According to that which was spoken. See, in Genesis 15:5, the reference to the stars of heaven. Codd. F. and G. insert the comparison: as the stars of heaven, and as the sand upon the sea-shore (the latter from Genesis 22:17).

Romans 4:19. And being not weak in faith. A meiosis [μείωσις, diminution], according to Theophylact and Beza [i.e, the negative form for the positive: being strong. So also Tholuck and Meyer.] The sense is rather that, in the long trial, his faith did not grow weary, but stronger, in spite of the difficulties in his path.—He considered [not, οὐ], κατενοήσεν. Tholuck says: “The omission of the οὐ in important MSS, such as A. C. [to which must be added Cod. Sin. and B.—P. S.], the Syriac Version, and others, was occasioned by having regard to Genesis 17:17, where Abraham does certainly reflect upon finite causes. For this reason the sense was thought to be, that he reflected without being weak in faith. But Paul had in view only Genesis 15:5-6, according to which Abraham accepted the promise at once without hesitation.” [So also Meyer.] But Paul means plainly a steadfast faith, which became more vigorous by the trial of many years of waiting, and whose strength was augmented by the temptations occurring in the meantime.[FN30]His own body now dead. Abraham was more than ninety-nine years old when the promise was fulfilled (after the circumcision, Genesis 17:24), and Sarah was more than ninety years old. The terms νενεκρωμένον and νέκρωσις, in reference to generative death ( Hebrews 11:12), must not be taken absolutely, but be considered according to the measure of experience and the usual course of nature. Bengel: “Post Semum (Shem) nemo centum annorum generasse Genesis 11legitur.” [The difficulty concerning the later children of Abraham and Keturah, Genesis 25:1-2, Augustin (De civit. Dei, 16:28) and Bengel removed, by assuming that the generative power miraculously conferred upon Abraham continued to his death. Bengel: Novus corporis vigor etiam mansit in matrimonio cum Ketura. So also Philippi and Meyer.—P. S.]

Romans 4:20. He staggered not at the promise of God. The δέ, which is an expression of antithesis, appears at first sight to favor κατενόησε, the reading of the Codd. A. C, instead of οὐ κατενόησε. But it constitutes another antithesis. Romans 4:19 says, that he continued steadfast in faith, in spite of the contradiction of sensuous experience; that he did not regard natural appearance. Romans 4:20, on the contrary, expresses the idea: Neither was he doubtful by unbelief concerning the promise itself. For unbelief is not produced merely by reflecting doubtfully on the contradiction of sensuous experience, but also by an immediate want of confidence in the miraculous promise itself which belongs to the sphere of invisible life. He was not only not weak in faith in his disregard of sensuous improbability, but, while looking at the promise, he grew even stronger in faith; for he overcame the temptation of a subtle misinterpretation of the promise. According to Meyer, the δέ is only explanatory; but Tholuck, and most expositors, regard it as expressing an antithesis. According to Rückert, the article in τῇ ἀπιστία denotes the unbelief common to man; but it denotes unbelief as such, whose nature is to doubt the promise of God. Therefore other explanations are superfluous (Meyer: in consequence of the unbelief which he would have had in this case).[FN31] The passive form, ἐνεδυναμώθη, arises from his undoubting aim toward the promise. The promise has the effect of always strengthening the faith of him who looks at it. Therefore Grotius disturbs the real meaning of the word, when he takes it in the middle voice, he strengthened himself. Even the intransitive meaning which Tholuck accepts, “to grow strong,” fails in the same way to satisfy the relation between the promise and the steadfast gaze of faith.

Romans 4:20. Giving glory to God. To give God the glory (נָתַז כִּבוֹר לַיהוָֹה or, שׂוּם); a mark of faith which God, as the revealed God, can demand. John 9:24 was spoken hypocritically; John 12:43 is indirectly expressed. Comp. also Luke 17:18-19; Romans 1:21; 1 John 5:10; Revelation 19:7; comp. Philippi and Meyer on this passage, both of whom amplify the meaning. Tholuck says better: ”Then unbelief is a robbery of God’s glory. It does not easily occur except in a state of trial (?), but it does so occur in such a state. Therefore Calvin says” ‘Extra certamen quidem nemo Deum omnia posse negat; verum simulac objicitur aliquid, quod cursum promissionum Dei impediat, Dei virtutem e suo gradu dejicimus.’ ”

Romans 4:21. And being fully persuaded. According to Lachmann (contrary to Tischendorf), the καί before πληροφορηθείς is strongly attested by the Codd. A. B. C, &c. If the καί is omitted, we have here the reason for the fact that he gave God the glory. With the καί, the words suitably explain the manner in which he gave God the glory; for he was fully convinced that He was the El Shaddai, and that, by virtue of His omnipotence, He was able to fulfil what He in His truthfulness had promised. It was by this confident looking at the El Shaddai’s word of promise that he was made strong (“heroic;” Meyer) in faith. The πληροφ. denotes intellectual activity, knowledge in living faith.[FN32]

Romans 4:22. Wherefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness. We must retain καί, as authorized by the Codd. A. C. [א.], and others. But we must not overlook the fact that we have here a justification of justification in its essential adaptation. The διδόναι δόξαν τῶ θεῷ in faith is a return to the paradisaical or angelic ( Isaiah 6:3) attitude to God ( Romans 1:21). Since man gives God the glory, he again participates in the δόξα θεοῦ which he had lost as a sinner ( Romans 3:23). In justification, believers embrace in their hearts the righteousness of Christ as the principle of the δόξα ( Romans 8:30; comp. Romans 4:18). Therefore the spirit of δόξα rests upon them ( 1 Peter 4:14) until the revelation of the δόξα of the Lord ( 1 Peter 4:13).

B.—The Faith of Christians ( Romans 4:23-25)

[Application of the Scripture testimony of Abraham, the father of the faithful, to the believers in Christ. His method of justification is our method of justification. Calvin: ”Abrahœ persona specimen communis justitiœ, quœ ad omnes spectat.” This completes the argument for the vindication of the law through faith; Romans 3:31.—P. S.]

Romans 4:23. Now it was not written for his sake alone. Explanations: 1. Not to his praise, non in ipsius gloriam (Beza, Tholuck). 2. To explain the manner of his justification (Meyer). The sense is this: not only for the purpose of a historical appreciation of Abraham ( Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Galatians 3:8.), but also to represent him as the type of believers. In the same way the entire Bible has a universal destination for the believers of all times. Meyer quotes Beresh R. 40. Romans 8 : Quidquid scriptum est de Abrahamo, scriptum est de filiis ejus. [The aorist ἐγράφη, it was written, denotes the past historical act of writing, and is used here in order to emphasize the design of God’s Spirit at the time of composition: while the more usual perf. γέγραπται, it is written, is used in quotations of Scripture passages as we now find them, and as valid for present purposes. Comp. Philippi.—P. S.]

Romans 4:24. But for us also, to whom it [viz, the faith in God, or Christ, τὁ πιστεν́ειν τῶ θεῷ] shall be reckoned [supply: for righteousness, δικαιοσύνην, as Romans 4:22]. The μέλλλει refers to the divine determination of Christianity as righteousness by faith in all time to come; but, contrary to Fritzsche, it does not refer to justification at the general judgment.

If we believe on him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. [τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ”specifies the ἡμᾶς; and the belief is not a mere historical, but a fiducial belief;” Alford.—P. S.] Christian faith is specifically a faith in the risen Christ, or also in the living God of resurrection who raised Him from the dead. It is in this its central point that the finished faith of the New Testament is perfectly in harmony with the central point of Abraham’s faith. The germ and fruit of this faith are identical in substance, though they differ very much in form and development. The nearest formal analogy to Abraham’s faith is the birth of Christ from the Virgin. The highest exhibition of omnipotence was at the same time the highest exhibition of grace. [Christ’s resurrection was a triumph of God’s almighty power, similar, though much higher, than the generation of Isaac from the dead body of Abraham; by faith in the miracle of the resurrection, the resurrection is spiritually repeated in us, as we become new creatures in Christ, and walk with Him in newness of life; comp. Romans 6:3; Ephesians 1:19-20; Colossians 3:1.—P. S.]

Romans 4:25. Who was delivered up, &c. [“In these words the Apostle introduces the great subject of chaps5–8, Death, as connected with Sin, and Life as connected with Righteousness;” Alford and Forbes. ” Romans 4:25 is a comprehensive statement of the gospel;” Hodge. The διά means in both clauses, on account of, for the reason of, but with this difference, that it is retrospective in the first, prospective in the second: διὰ τὰ παραπτώ ματα, because we had sinned, or, in order to secure the remission of our transgressions; διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν, not because we had been, but that we might be justified.[FN33] To the first διά we must supply: for the atonement, or, for the destruction of; to the second: for the procurement of. De Wette: zur Büssung—zur Bestätigung. παρεδόθη, a frequent designation of the self-surrender of Christ to death; Isaiah 53:12; Romans 8:32; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:25 : παρέσωκεν ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν. δικαίωσις, from δικαιόω, (only here and Romans 5:18, in opposition to κατάκριμα,) justification, i.e, the effective declaratory act of putting a man right with the law, or into the status of δικαιοσύνη, righteousness.—P. S.] The antithesis in Romans 4:25 [παρεδόθη διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶνἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ᾑμῶν, the negative ἀφεσις and the positive δικαίωσις] is difficult. Tholuck [p194]: ”This separation, as also that in Romans 10:10, is generally taken as a rhetorical μερισμός, separating that which is in substance indivisible. Yet, in the contemplation of the Apostle, the δικαίωσις certainly is more nearly related to the resurrection of Christ than to His death, as is shown by the climax of Romans 8:34, and by the πολλῶμᾶλλον of Romans 5:10; comp. 2 Corinthians 13:4.” But the passages cited do not contain the same antithesis. According to Roman Catholic interpretation, δικαίωσις refers to sanctification (Thomas Aquinas, and others). The old Protestant explanation, on the contrary, referred the first clause to the destruction of sin, and the second to the ratification of the atonement secured thereby (Calvin). Meyer refers the first part to the expiation of our sins, and the second to our justification; with reference to 1 Corinthians 15:17. Tholuck distinguishes between the negative and positive abolition of guilt. In the latter—the δικαίωσις—Christ’s intercession is also included; for the Lutheran theology (Quenstedt) denotes the applicatio acquisitœ salutis as the purpose of the intercessio [the Reformed theology: patrocinium perpetuum coram Patre adversus Satanœ criminationes]. Melanchthon also remarks in this sense: “Quamquam enim Præcessit meritum, tamen ita ordinatum fuit ab initio, ut tunc signalis Applicaretur, cum fide acciperent.” We must bear in mind, however, that the antithesis is not: Christ’s death and resurrection, but the deliverance of Christ for our offences, and his resurrection on God’s part. The principal weight of the antithesis therefore rests upon the Divine deed of Christ’s resurrection; with which justifying faith was first called into living existence. This justifying faith is analogous to Abraham’s faith in the God of miracles, who calls new life into being. To this, the deliverance of Christ to death for our sins (transgressions, falls, παραπτώματα) forms a complete antithesis; and to this corresponds, in the single work of redemption, the antithesis: the abolishment of our guilt, and the imputation of His righteousness. Yet, in reality, these two cannot be separated from each other, and the δικαίωσις here means the general and potential justification which is embraced in the atonement itself, and which, in individual justification by faith, is appropriated by individuals only by virtue of its eternal operation through the intercessio, the gospel, and the spirit of Christ. [See Doctrinal and Ethical, No10.—P. S.]


1. As Paul has proved from the Old Testament the truth of the New Testament, and especially the doctrine of righteousness by faith, so can the evangelical Church confirm the truth of its confession by the best testimonies of the best fathers of the Catholic Church. The evangelical confession of sin and grace is defended against the Romanists by Augustine, and others, in the same way that Abraham defended the believing Gentiles against the Jews. [On Augustine’s doctrine of sin and grace, comp. my Church History, vol. iii. pp783–865. Augustine differs in form from the Protestant doctrine of justification, since he confounded the term with sanctification; but he agrees with it in spirit, inasmuch as he derived the new life of the believer exclusively from the free grace of God in Christ, and left no room for human boasting. The same may be said of Anselm, St. Bernard, and the forerunners of the Reformation.—P. S.]

2. Here, as in the Epistle to the Galatians, and especially in chap3, the Apostle characterizes the Old Testament according to its real fundamental thought—the promise of God, which was revealed in Abraham’s faith, and perfectly fulfilled in the New Testament covenant of faith. Accordingly, the Mosaic legislation is only a more definite Old Testament signature; but, as a stage of development, it is subordinate to Abraham’s faith (see Romans 5:20; Galatians 3:17).

Some errors of the present day concerning the Old Testament have in many ways obscured its true relation by the following declarations: (1) “The Old Testament is essentially Mosaism.” In this way the patriarchal system in the past, and the prophetic system in the future, are abolished. (2) “Mosaism is legal and statutory stationariness.” But, on the contrary, the Old Testament is a continuous and living development. (3) “This stationariness is theocratical despotism; the Jew is absolutely enslaved under the law.” This is contradicted by Moses’ account of the repeated federal dealings between Jehovah and His people, by the introduction to the Decalogue, as well as by the whole spirit of the Old Testament. It is particularly contradicted by the fact that Jehovah abandons the people to their apostasy, in order to visit them in justice.

3. The signification of Abraham for the doctrine of justification by faith is supplemented by David’s example and testimony. Abraham was justified by faith, notwithstanding his many good works; David was likewise justified by faith, notwithstanding his great offence. The righteousness of faith is therefore thus defined: (1) It does not presuppose any good works; but, (2) It presupposes a knowledge of sin. On the signification of the passage, Romans 4:3-5, for justification by faith, see Tholuck, p175.

4. As Abraham became the natural father of many nations, so did he become the spiritual father of the believing people of all nations, both Jews and Gentiles.

5. The designation of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness of faith, is important for the doctrine of the sacraments. See the Exeg. Notes.

6. The great promise of faith ( Romans 4:13). Its development (chap8.; Isaiah 65, 66; Revelation 20-22). There is a grand view in the reasoning of Romans 4:14. The men who are ἐκ νόμου, of the law, cannot be the heirs of the world: (1) Because they are particularists. But also, (2) Because the legal, human ὀργή, provokes the historical, divine wrath—the destruction of the world. Thus did legalistic fanaticism bring on the destruction of Jerusalem, the fall of Byzantium, the exhaustion of Germany by the Thirty Years’ War, the disorders in Spain, Italy, Poland, and other countries (see Matthew 5:5).

7. The identity of the faith of Abraham with that of Paul. We must define: (1) Its object; (2) Its subject; (3) Its operations. The difference, on the contrary, must be determined according to the developing forms of the revelation of salvation, and in such a way that the initial point will appear in the faith of Abraham, and the concluding or completing point shall appear in the saving faith of the New Testament. But it is a mistake to suppose that faith can be the same thing in a subjective view, and another in an objective. The objective and subjective relations will always thoroughly correspond to each other here; and the operations of faith will be shaped in accordance with them. For historical information on the question under consideration, see Tholuck, p173.

8. On the nature of saving faith, see the Exeg. Notes on Romans 4:19. Likewise, on the signification of the resurrection for faith, those on Romans 4:25.

9. The importance of the sentiment, ”He gave God the glory.” See the Exeg. Notes on Romans 4:20.

10. On Romans 4:25. This important and comprehensive passage clearly shows the inseparable connection between Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection, as also the connection between the remission of sins and justification to a new life (comp. Romans 5:10; Romans 6:4). By His atoning death Christ has abolished the guilt of sin ( Romans 3:25), and secured our pardon and peace; and hence it is generally represented as the ground of our justification (δικαίωσις)—i.e, the non-imputation of sin, and the imputation of Christ’s merits; comp. Romans 3:24-25; Romans 5:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:7. But, without the resurrection, the death of Christ would be of no avail, and His grave would be the grave of all our hopes, as the Apostle clearly says, 1 Corinthians 15:17. A gospel of a dead Saviour would be a miserable failure and delusion. The resurrection is the victory of righteousness and life over sin and death. It is by the fact of the resurrection that Christ’s death was shown to be the death of the innocent and righteous One for foreign guilt, and that it was accepted by God as a full satisfaction for the sins of the world. If man had not sinned, Christ would not have died; if Christ had sinned, He would not have been raised again. In the next place, as the resurrection is the actual triumph of Christ, so it is also the necessary condition of the appropriation of the benefits of His death. It is only the risen Saviour who could plead our cause at the mercy-seat, and send the Holy Spirit to reveal Him, and to apply the benefits of the atonement to believers. Just as little as the death and the resurrection, can we separate the effects of both—the remission of sins and the new life of Christ. The sinner cannot be buried with Christ, without rising with Him as a new creature; the death of the old Adam is the birth of the new, and the life of the new presupposes the death of the old.—P. S.]


Romans 4:1-8. Abraham and David as examples of the righteousness of faith: 1. Abraham; 2. David.—What hath father Abraham found? 1. No reward by works; but, 2. Righteousness by faith ( Romans 4:1-5).—Abraham not only the natural, but also the spiritual father of his people ( Romans 4:1-5).—Glory before God is better than the glory of works ( Romans 4:2).—If the reward is reckoned of debt, man loses; but if it is reckoned of grace; he gains ( Romans 4:4-5).—How blessed is the man to whom God imputeth not sin, but righteousness! ( Romans 4:6-8).—Two beatitudes from the mouth of David ( Romans 4:6-8).

Romans 4:9-12. Why must even the Jews acknowledge the Gentiles’ righteousness of faith? Answer: Because, 1. Faith was not counted to Abraham for righteousness while in circumcision; but, 2. His faith had already been counted to him for righteousness.—As the sign of circumcision was to the Jews a seal of the righteousness of faith, so are the signs of Baptism and of the Lord’s Supper seals to Christians of the righteousness of faith.—Abraham, a father of all believers: 1. From among the Gentiles; 2. From among the Jews ( Romans 4:11-12).—Walking in the footsteps of Abraham ( Romans 4:12).—The promise to Abraham of the inheritance of the world Isaiah, first, obscure, as a germ-like word. But, second, it is of infinitely rich meaning; for, in addition to the redemption of the world, it also embraces the renewal of the world and the heavenly inheritance.—To what extent does the law work wrath? ( Romans 4:15).—It is only by faith that the promise holds good for all ( Romans 4:16).

Romans 4:18-22. The strength of Abraham’s faith. It is shown: 1. In his believing in hope, where there was nothing to hope; 2. In holding fast to this hope against external evidence; 3. He did not doubt, but trusted unconditionally in the words of promise.—Believing in hope, when there is nothing to hope ( Romans 4:18).—We must not grow weak in faith, even if it be long before our hopes are realized ( Romans 4:19).—The worst doubt is doubting the promises of God ( Romans 4:20).—How precious it is to know to a perfect certainty that God can perform what He has promised ( Romans 4:21).

Romans 4:23-25. As Abraham believed that life would come from death, so do we believe in the same miracle: 1. Because God has given us a pledge in the resurrection of Christ; 2. Because this God is a living and true God, who will keep His promises for ever.—Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a faith in the Redeemer, who: 1. Was delivered for our offences; and, 2. Was raised for our justification ( Romans 4:24-25).

Luther: Faith fulfils all laws; but works cannot fulfil a tittle of the law ( James 2:10). A passage from the preface to the Epistle to the Romans is in place here: “Faith is not the human delusion and dream which some mistake for faith. … But faith is a Divine work in us, which changes us, and gives us the new birth from God ( John 1:13); which slays the old Adam, and makes us altogether different men in heart, spirit, feeling, and strength; and which brings with it the Holy Spirit. Oh, faith is a living, creative, active power, which of necessity is incessantly doing good! It also does not ask whether there are good works to perform; but, before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is continually doing them,” &c.—He who believes God, will give Him the glory, that He is truthful, omnipotent, wise, and good. Therefore faith fulfils the first three (four) commandments, and justifies man before God. It Isaiah, then, the true worship of God ( Romans 4:20).

Starke: The Holy Scriptures must not be read superficially, but with deliberation, and with careful reference to their order and chronology ( Romans 4:10).—The holy sacraments assure believers of God’s grace, and forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation ( Romans 4:11).—It is vain to boast of pious ancestry, if you do not walk in the footsteps of their faith ( Romans 4:12).—God has His special gracious gifts and rewards, which He communicates to one of His believers instead of another ( Romans 4:17).—We should rely on and believe in God’s word, more than in all the arguments in the world. It should be enough for us to know, “Thus saith the Lord” ( Romans 4:18).—The heart can be established by no other means than by grace. But there can be no grace in the heart except by faith, which brings in Christ, the source of all grace ( Romans 4:21).—Blessed are they who only believe, though they see not ( Romans 4:22).—The Epistle to the Romans was also written for us, and it has been preserved until our day, and given to us as a precious treasure by Divine Providence.—If Christ has been raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, His death is truly a sufficient offering and ransom for our sins ( Romans 4:25).—Hedinger: Away with the leaven of Pharisaic delusion, that our own righteousness must build a ladder to heaven! God will glorify His compassion to publicans and sinners, but not to proud saints.—Faith is in its highest degree, strength, and adornment, when it beholds nothing but heaven and water, God and despair, and yet believes that all will be well, glorious, and happy ( Romans 4:18).

Quesnel: The more faith in a soul, the less pride there is in it ( Romans 3:27).—Ye magistrates, fathers, and mothers, if you set an example of faith, fear of God, love, righteousness, and other virtues, before those committed to you, you will truly become their fathers, just as Abraham became the father of the faithful by his faith ( Romans 4:11).—He who makes a parade of himself, may easily despair afterwards because of his insufficiency in every respect; but he who trusts in the omnipotent God, gets strength and consolation from his own nothingness ( Romans 4:18).—Cramer: The sacraments do not help for the work’s sake; otherwise Abraham would have been immediately justified and saved on account of circumcision ( Romans 4:10).—All promises spring from the fountain of eternal grace ( Romans 4:13).—Nova Bibl. Tub.: The laws of nature are set by God for nature, but they are not binding on God Himself. Faith looks beyond them ( Romans 4:19).—Lange: As sin, because of its magnitude and multiplicity, is denoted by different words, so is justification, as something great and important, explained by three words: to forgive, to cover, and not to impute ( Romans 4:7).—The creation and resurrection of the dead are those great works of God which confirm and explain each other. Therefore he who believes in creation will find it easy to believe in the resurrection of the dead ( Romans 4:17).

Bengel: The divine promise is always the best support of faith and confidence ( Romans 4:20).—Why do we believe in God? Because He has raised Christ ( Romans 4:25).

Gerlach: Abraham only received the promise that his seed should possess the land of Canaan; but beyond the earthly, there lies the heavenly Canaan—the renewed world—which he and his real children, the believers, shall possess in Christ, his seed. The earthly Canaan was the prophetic type of this heavenly Canaan; it was the external shell which enclosed the kernel—the bud which bore and enclosed the still tender flower ( Romans 4:13).—By the clearer knowledge of the commandment sin becomes more sinful, destruction appears more prominently, lust is not subdued but becomes more violently inflamed; therefore transgression increases ( Romans 4:15).—If Abraham’s clear eye of faith could penetrate the veil with so much certainty of God’s majesty, how powerfully should we—to whom God has spoken by His own Son—be kindled by this love to raise our idle hands and to strengthen our weary knees ( Romans 4:23).

Lisco: Abraham’s faith is an example worthy of our imitation by faith in Christ ( Romans 4:18-25).—The resurrection of Jesus was a testimony and proof of what His death has accomplished for us (for, without the resurrection, He could not have been considered the Messiah, and His death could not have been deemed a propitiatory sacrifice for the blotting out of our sins), Isaiah 53:10 ff.; Romans 4:25.

Heubner: The appeal to Abraham’s example is: 1. Right in itself; 2. Was important for the Jews ( Romans 4:1-6).—Why does Paul cite Abraham’s circumcision, and not father the offering of Isaac? Answer: 1. Circumcision was the real sign which Abraham received by the command of God Himself; 2. It was that which all the Jews, equally with Abraham, bore in their own person, and on which they founded their likeness to Abraham and their glory ( Romans 4:1).—David’s feeling in the Psalm is humble, and was exalted only by grace.—The universal confession of God’s children Isaiah, We are saved by grace ( Romans 4:6-8).—In the historical statement of Romans 4:10 there is an application to us; namely, that justification by faith must precede all good works, because no good work is possible without the attainment of grace.—The preaching of the law alone with the threatened penalty repels our heart from God; and when carried to excess, it makes man angry with God, because he is driven to despair ( Romans 4:15).—Yea, if every thing were brought to us ante oculos pedesque, there would be no room for faith ( Romans 4:18).—Abraham is an example of a holy paternal blessing, of holy paternal hopes, and the founder of the most blessed family among men ( Romans 4:18).

Dräseke: Easter: the Amen of God, the Hallelujah of men.—Our faith must be preserved, and grow amid temptations ( Romans 4:20).—The object of his faith is just as certain to the believer, as a demonstration is to the mathematician ( Romans 4:21-22).—All the history of the Old Testament is applicable to us. The circumstances are different, but there are the same conflicts, and it is internally and fundamentally the same faith which is engaged in the struggle ( Romans 4:23-24).—Similarity of the Christian’s faith to that of Abraham.

Besser: Luther calls Romans 4:25 a little covenant in which all Christianity is comprehended.

J. P. Lange: Abraham, the original, but ever-new witness of faith: 1. As witness of the living God of revelation and miracle; 2. As witness of the perfect confidence and divine strength of a believing reliance on God’s word; 3. As witness to the blessed operation of faith—righteousness through grace.—The life of faith not dependent: 1. On natural ancestry; 2. On works of the law; 3. On visible natural appearances.—Justification and sealing.—All faith, in its inmost nature, is similar to that of Abraham: 1. As faith before God in His word; 2. As faith in miracles; 3. As faith in the renewal of youth; 4. As faith in the rejuvenation of life from righteousness as the root.—The glorious operation of Christ’s resurrection.

[Burkitt: We must bring credentials from our sanctification to bear witness to the truth of our justification.—On the sacraments in general, and circumcision in particular. There is a fourfold word requisite to a sacrament—a word of institution, command, promise, and blessing. The elements are ciphers; it is the institution that makes them figures. Circumcision was a sign: 1. Representative of Abraham’s faith; 2. Demonstrative of original sin; 3. Discriminating and distinguishing of the true church; 4. Initiating for admission to the commonwealth of Israel; and5. Prefigurative of baptism.—On faith. It has a threefold excellency: 1. Absenting to the truths of God, though never so improbable; 2. Putting men on duties though seemingly unreasonable; and3. Enabling to endure sufferings, be they never so afflictive.—Doddridge: We are saved by a scheme that allows us not to mention any works of our own, as if we had whereof to glory before God, but teaches us to ascribe our salvation to believing on Him who justifieth the ungodly. He who has promised, is able to perform; for with Him all things are possible. Already He hath done for us that for which we had much less reason to expect, than we now have to hope for any thing that remains. He delivered His own Son Jesus for our offences.—Henry: It is the holy wisdom and policy of faith to fasten particularly on that in God which is accommodated to the difficulties wherewith it is to wrestle, and will most effectually answer the objections. It is faith indeed to build upon the all-sufficiency of God for the accomplishment of that which is impossible to any thing but that all-sufficiency.—Clarke: Romans 4:18. The faith of Abraham bore an exact correspondence to the power and never-failing faithfulness of God.

Hodge: 1. The renunciation of a legal self-righteous spirit is the first requisite of the gospel; 2. The more intimately we are acquainted with our own hearts, and with the character of God, the more ready shall we be to renounce our own righteousness, and to trust in His mercy; 3. Only those are happy and secure who, under a sense of helplessness, cast themselves on the mercy of God; 4. A means of grace should never be a ground of dependence; 5. There is no hope for those who take refuge in a law, and forsake God’s mercy; 6. All things are ours, if we are Christ’s; 7. The way to get your faith strengthened, Isaiah, not covers the difficulties in the way of the thing promised, but the character and resources of God who has made the promise; 8. It is as possible for faith to be strong when the thing promised is most improbable, as when it is probable; 9. Unbelief is a very great sin, as it implies a doubt of the veracity and power of God; 10. The two great truths of the gospel are, that Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins, and that He rose again for our justification; 11. The denial of the propitiatory death of Christ, or of His resurrection from the dead, is a denial of the gospel.—Barnes: On the resurrection of Christ ( Romans 4:25). If it be asked how it contributes to our acceptance with God, we may answer: 1. It rendered Christ’s work complete; 2. It was a proof that His work was accepted by the Father; 3. It is the mainspring of all our hopes, and of all our efforts to be saved. There is no higher motive that can be presented to induce man to seek salvation, than the fact that he may be raised up from death and the grave, and made immortal. There is no satisfactory proof that man can be thus raised up, but by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.—J. F. H.]


FN#1 - Romans 4:1.—The reading in Lachmann, εὑρηκέναι Ἀβ ρ. τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν, is not only mostly authenticated (A. B. C, &c.), but, if well understood, it also gives the best sense; and we regard the opposite reading, which is now generally favored, as an explanatory transposition. See the Exeg. Notes. [The text. rec. puts Ἀβραὰμ τ ὸν πατέρα (not προπάτορα) ὴμῶν before εὑρηκέναι. Cod. Sin. sustains the reading of Lachmann, which is also adopted by Alford, who, however, brackets εὑρηκέναι as being of doubtful authority, since it is omitted by the Vatican Cod. (see Tischendorf’s edition, p1448). But it is indispensable, and abundantly sustained by the other uncial MSS. Meyer admits the weight of external authority in favor of Lachmann’s reading, but is disposed, nevertheless, to regard it as a later transposition to suit the connection of κατὰ σάρκα with τὸν πατέρα ἡμῶν. The E. V, following the text. rec., adopts this connection, and Dr. Lange defends it in the Exeg. Notes. But with the majority of modern commentators, including Meyer, Alford, Hodge, I prefer to join κατὰ σάρκα with εὑρηκέναι. This is indeed necessary, if we follow the lectio recepta, and it is perfectly allowable, though not so natural, if we adopt the reading of Lachmann. In this case we must translate: What, then, shall we say that Abraham our father (forefather) found (or, gained, attained) according to (the) flesh (or, in the way of the flesh)—i.e., through his own natural efforts as distinct from the grace of God. Grotius: propriis viribus; De Wette, and others: nach rein menschlicher Weise. Meyer takes σάρξ here as the weak, unspiritual, sinful human nature. Abraham did indeed attain righteousness, but by faith, not by works. Codd. א. A. B. C*. sustain προπάτορα for the πατέρα of the Rec.—P. S.]

FN#2 - Romans 4:2.—[Lange translates: er hat Ruhm, glory. καύχημα (as also καύχησις) in the N. T, and in the LXX, means generally (not always, as Meyer says, p160) the object or ground of boasting, materia gloriandi; Romans 4:2; 1 Corinthians 9:15-16; 2 Corinthians 1:14; Galatians 6:4; Philippians 1:26; Philippians 2:16; and sometimes, as in the classics, the act of boasting or exulting, gloriatio; 1 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 9:3.—P. S.]

FN#3 - Romans 4:4.—[τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ is well rendered by Luther: dem der mit Werken umgeht. Lange: dem welcher den Werkdienst treibl. Meyer: dem Werkthätigen. The word is frequent, and signifies a workman who works for pay. Conybeare and Howson, too freely: if a man earns his pay by his work. Young: too literally: to him who is working.—P. S.]

FN#4 - Romans 4:5.—[τῷ μὴ ἐργαζομἐνῳ, to him who worketh not for hireder nicht Werkdienst treibt.—P. S.]

FN#5 - Romans 4:6.—[μακαρισμόν, in allusion to the Hebrew form אֲטְרְי, Oh, the blessedness, or, happiness of. The N. T. of the Amer. Bible Union, and Robert Young, render μακάριος, here and elsewhere, even in the Sermon on the Mount, by happy, instead of blessed, which properly corresponds to εὐλογητός. There is the same difference between the German grücklich and selig. In a popular English Bible, I would retain blessed and blessedness where religious or eternal happiness is spoken of. The E. V. is inconsistent, and, without a fixed rule, alternates between happy and blessed.—P. S.]

FN#6 - Romans 4:7-8.—[From Psalm 32 :, which describes the happiness and the condition of the forgiveness of sins. The following is a literal version of Romans 4:1-2 :

Blessed (Happy) is he whose transgression is forgiven,

Whose sin is covered.

Blessed (Happy) is the man

To whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity,

And in whose spirit there is no guile.

Ewald (Die Psalmen, 3d ed, 1866, p65) renders the passage thus:

Selig dessen Missethat vergeben,

Dessen Sünde ist verziehn!

Seliger Mensch dem Jahve nicht anrechnet Schuld,

Und in dessen Geiste keine Täuschung!—P. S.]

FN#7 - Romans 4:11.—The accusative περιτομήν [A. C*. Syr.] does not really change the thought, but rather strengthens it. It is probably an alteration or oversight [caused by the surrounding accusatives. The genitive περιτομῆς is attested by א. B. C2. D. F. K. L, &c.—P. S.]

FN#8 - Romans 4:12.—καὶ αὐτοῖς must be retained, contrary to Lachmann. [καί is wanting in א. B. Meyer defends it.—P. S.]

FN#9 - Recommended by Griesbach, adopted by Scholz—contrary to the majority of the uncial MSS. It looks like a mechanical adjustment to Romans 4:11. τῇ is also to be omitted.—P. S.]

FN#10 - Romans 4:15.—οὖδέ is probably an exegetical correction; though strongly attested by A. B. C, Griesbach, Lachmann. [The text. rec. reads οὗ γάρ, for where, which is supported by א3. D. F. K. L, while א1. favors οὖδέ, But where.—P. S.]

FN#11 - Romans 4:17.—ἐπίστευσας, Codd. F. G, Luther [credidisti, dem du geglaubt hast, as if it was part of the Scripture quotation, instead of ἐπίστευσεν, credidit, which is sustained by Cod. Sin.—P. S.]

FN#12 - The οὐ is inserted in D. F. K. L, Lat, Syr, &c. Alford brackets it. See Exeg. Notes.—P. S.]

FN#13 - Romans 4:19.—The ἥδη is wanting in B. F. G, &c. [and thrown out by Fritzsche and Tischendorf, but sustained by א. A. C. D. K. L. Lachmann and Alford bracket it.—P. S.]

FN#14 - Romans 4:21.—The καί is sustained by A. B. C, &c, Lachmann. [Cod. Sin. likewise favors καί, and Alford retains it.—P. S.]

FN#15 - Romans 4:22.—[The καί after διό is omitted by B. D1. F, but inserted by א. A. C. D3. K. L. Lachmann and Alford bracket it.—P. S.]

FN#16 - Romans 4:25.—[Luther, to whom above all others the Christian world is indebted for a lucid and forcible exposition of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith, has made a strange mistake here by translating δικαίωσιν: Gerechtigkeit (righteousness), instead of: Rechtfertigung (justification). δικαίωσις is the divine act of setting a man right, or putting him into the state and possession of δικαιοσύνη.—P. S.]

FN#17 - Hodge quotes Calvin for the opposite view, explaining κατὰ σάρκα in the sense naturaliter, ex seipso. But Calvin goes on to say: “Probabile tamen est epitheti loco Patri conjungi,” and gives the preference to the construction with πατέρα.—P. S.]

FN#18 - Meyer quotas Kiddush, f82, 1; Ioma, f28, 2; Beresh. rabba, f57, 4. Tholuck says: “The justification of Abraham before God was a locus communis of Jewish theology.” P.S.]

FN#19 - Calvin’s interpretation is given by him (ad Romans 4:2) in these words: “Epicherema [ἐπιχείρημα, an attempted proof, an incomplete syllogism] est, i. e, imperficta ratiotinatio, quæ in hanc formam colligi debet: Si Abraham operibus justificatus Esther, potest suo merito gloriari; sed non habet unde glorietur apud Deum; ergo non ex operibus justificatus est. Ita membrum illud, ‘Sed non opud Deum,’ est minor propositio syllogismi. Huic attexi debet conclusio quam posui, tametsi a Paulo non exprimitur.” Similarly Fritzsche: “Si suis bene factis Dei favorem nactus Esther, habet, quod apud Deum glorietur ?; sed non habet, quod apud Deum glorietur, quum libri s. propter fidem, non propter pulchre facta eum Deo probatum esse doceant ?; non est igitur Abr. ob bene facta Deo probatus.” So also Kraussold, Baur, Köstlin, Hodge. This interpretation would have been more clearly expressed thus: ἔχει καύχημα (πρὸς τὸν θεὸν) ἀλλ̓οὐκ ἕχει καύχημα πρὸς τὸν θεόν. But it certainly gives good sense and falls in best with the γάρ in Romans 4:3. We explain thus: If Abraham, as the Jews suppose, was justified by works, he has reason to glory before God (for then he can claim justification as a just reward for his merits, leaving no room for the display of God’s mercy); but, according to the Scripture, he has no ground to glory before God, for ( Romans 4:3) the Scripture derives his justification from faith in God or from something outside of him, and not from works of his own. Meyer, in his former editions, defended the untenable view that ἐι ... ἐδικαιώθη was a question, and ἔχει ... θεόν the negative answer; but, in his last editions, he returns, with Tholuck and Wordsworth, to the interpretation of the Greek fathers (Theodoret, Chrysostom, Theophylact), which would require in Romans 4:3, ἀλλά, instead of γάρ.—P. S.]

FN#20 - If Romans 4:3 contained the refutation of the inference, Romans 4:2, we would rather expect ἀλλὰ τί, instead of τί γάρ. But if the refutation is contained in ἀλλ̓ οὐ πρὸς θεὸν (ἔχει καύχημα, the γάρ is in its place and gives the proof for the answer from Genesis 15:6, showing that justification proceeded not from any work which Abraham performed, but from God in whom he put his trust. See note on p. Meyer, holding the old Greek interpretation of Romans 4:2, thus tries to explain the γάρ: “Mit Recht sage ich: οὐπρὸς τὀν θεόν, denn vom Glauben, nicht von den Werken Abraham’s leitet die Schrift ausdrücklich seine Rechtfertigung her, und zwar als etwas durch Zurechnung Empfangenes.”—P. S.]

FN#21 - According to Reiche, Abraham is the μὴ ἐργαζόμενος, the ἀσεβής; and this word alludes to the early idolatry of Abraham, which is described by Philo, Josephus, and Maimonides. Grotius, and others, have adopted the same opinion.

FN#22 - This question of the Heidelberg Catechism, which was first published in1563, contains one of the best statements of the evangelical doctrine of justification, and clearly brings out the positive element, which Tholuck wrongly dates from the Form of Concord of the year1577. It reads thus: “How art thou righteous before God? Answer: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. That is: although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and that I am still prone always to all evil, yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me, if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.”—P. S.]

FN#23 - This must refer to a former edition; for, in the 4 th ed. of1865, Meyer gives the preference to ἐστί: “Als das sich von selbst verstchende. Verbum wird am einfachsten ἐστί gedacht (vergl. Romans 2:9; Acts 4:33, al.); weniger naheliegend: λέγεται aus Romans 5:6.—P. S.]

FN#24 - The order of the words is simply rhetorical and euphonic, and gives no emphasis to σημεῖον. See Tholuck and Philippi.—P. S.]

FN#25 - By a typographical mistake, the original, in the second as well as the first edition, reads Calvin, instead of Calovius, who was a fierce Lutheran polemic of the seventeenth century, and author of the Biblia illustrata, in refutation of the commentaries of Grotius.—P. S.]

FN#26 - Abraham, אַכ הֲמוֹן גּויִם = אַכְרָהָם, father of a multitude, the new significant name given to Abram, אַבְרָם, i.e, father of elevation, high father, Genesis 17:5; Genesis 18:18.—P. S.]

FN#27 - Lange makes a period after the quotation from Genesis 17:5, and then translates: Angesichts [war’s] des Gottes, dem er Glauben hielt. He supplies ἐγένετο, and commences here a new paragraph. See his interpretation below.—P. S.]

FN#28 - Or three, rather; but the third, which refers καγε͂ν to the effectual calling of unborn men by the Holy Spirit, and explains: “God calls to be His children those who were not children,” is entirely foreign to the context. It is strange that even the rationalistic Fritzsche explains: “homines nondum in lucem editos tamquam editos ad vitam æternam invitat.” Theἐκλογή and πρόγνωσις of God precedes the birth, but the κλῆσις only refers to living men.—P. S.]

FN#29 - Tholuck doubts that καλεῖν, קָרָא, ever means, to command, to dispose of; but comp. Psalm 50:1; Isaiah 40:26; Isaiah 45:3; Isaiah 48:3. Meyer and Philippi quote two striking parallel passages from Philo, De Joshua, p544, C, where he speaks of the imagination as forming τὰ μὴ ὅντα ὡς ὅντα, and Artemidor, i53, where it is said of the painter that he represents τὰ μὴ ὅντα ὡς ὅντα. To these quotations I may add the famous lines of Shakespeare on the creative power of the poet’s genius (Midsummer-Night’s Dream, Act v. Scene1):

“The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;

And, as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”—P. S.]

FN#30 - Stuart, Hodge, and Wordsworth take no notice of this important difference of reading. Alford brackets οὐ, but prefers it as being better suited to the context; the object being to extol Abraham’s faith. Omitting οὐ, the sense will be: “And not being weak in the faith, he was indeed well aware of,” &c, “but (δέ) did not stagger at the promise,” &c.; or, “although he was aware of,” &c, “yet did he not.” This agrees better with δέ in Romans 4:20; but we miss in this case μέν after κατενόησε. The dogmatic idea of the passage is well brought out by Calvin, who is followed by Philippi and Hodge. A similar obstruction of faith, as the one recorded of Abraham, Genesis 17:17, occurred in the life of John the Baptist; Matthew 11:2 ff.—P. S.]

FN#31 - Meyer and Philippi take τῆ ἀπιοτία as an instrumental dative; τῆ πίστει as a dative of reference: “Er schwankle nicht Vermöge des Unglaubens (den er in diesem Fulle gehabt haben würde), sondern wurde stark am Glauben (den er hatte).—P. S.]

FN#32 - Dr. Hodge, after quoting from Calvin, makes the following excellent remarks on πληροφορηθείς: “It is a very great error for men to suppose that to doubt is an evidence of humility. On the contrary, to doubt God’s promise, or His love, is to dishonor Him, because it is to question His word. Multitudes refuse to accept His grace, because they do not regard themselves as worthy, as though their worthiness were the ground on which that grace is offered. The thing to be believed, Isaiah, that God accepts the unworthy; that, for Christ’s sake, He justifies the unjust. Many find it far harder to believe that God can love them, notwithstanding their sinfulness, than the hundred-years-old patriarch did to believe that he should be the father of many nations. Confidence in God’s word, a full persuasion that He can do what seems to us impossible, is as necessary in the one case as in the other. The sinner honors God, in trusting His grace, as much as Abraham did, in trusting His power.”—P. S.]

FN#33 - Bishop Horsley, as quoted by Alford and Wordsworth, takes διά, in the second clause, in the sense that Christ was raised because our justification had already been effected by the sacrifice of His death. But this is inconsistent with 1 Corinthians 15:17. Newman explains: because our justification is by the Second Comforter, whom the resurrection brought down from heaven.”—P. S.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Abraham and David Justified by Faith

Now there is deepest patience and grace shown on the part of God through Paul, His instrument in writing this epistle: for it is blessed to see that He gives no mere peremptory statement of truth. There is rather a perfectly ordered reasoning from a basis of known and admitted facts - a reasoning that cannot but appeal to spiritual wisdom. Every objecting argument, whether of Jews or Gentiles, is fully met.

Romans 4:1-25 then takes up two test cases to confirm the conclusion of Romans 3:28. The first of these is Abraham - a most important consideration for Jews in particular; for being the father of Israel (they making him their chief boast), Abraham was the original depositary of all the promises of God for blessing, to the nation Israel specially, but indeed also to Gentiles. No Israelite would dare to gainsay this truth, though doubtless they gave little attention to the distinct promise of blessing to Gentiles - "all nations of the earth."

But the matter of Abraham's own personal justification is first raised. Can it be said that Abraham was justified before God? - and while he was still in flesh? and if so, how was he justified? Did his works justify him? If so, he had an occasion for boasting, "but not before God." His works are doubtless a testimony that justify him before men, but "in God's sight" it is a different matter. The eye of God penetrates more deeply. James 2:18; James 2:21 reminds us of Abraham's being justified by works when he offered up Isaac; but James deals with justification before men, not before God. His words are "Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works" (James 2:18).

"But what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Now this is mentioned in Abraham's history many years before he "offered up" Isaac. The former is in Genesis 15:6, the latter in Genesis 22:1-24. How thoroughly distinct then is justification before God, from justification before men.

It is blessed to contemplate this simple, sublime statement so early in the history of men - "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." This is the whole character of justification. For naturally man has utterly no righteousness. But God supplies the righteousness He demands. On man's account is a great debt of unrighteousness; but "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," God credits to the account of "him that believeth in Jesus" a righteousness that fully and forever removes all debt, all unrighteousness; and leaves an account in which God Himself can take unfeigned delight.

Now one who works for a reward does not at the end consider that it is given him by grace: he has earned it and would be most resentful if anyone suggested that it was a "gift of grace": his working has made his employer his debtor. Does God so employ men on this business basis? Men may suppose so, but their work is nothing to Him. He has given them no such contract. They are like men working, with no authoritative instruction, to build a railroad where no train will ever travel.

"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." God is no debtor to man: He is a Giver; and any blessing from God to man can never be on the ground of man's works, but only on the ground of God's grace. Judgment is according to works; but salvation, thank God, is according to grace. And this verse 5 is marvelously plain and decisive for eyes that have been opened by the Spirit of God. "Working" is put over against "believing on Him that justifieth the ungodly." Do I work for justification, or do I receive it freely by God's grace through faith in His Son? It is one or the other. There is no mixture: the two are distinct. But God cannot impute righteousness to my account in virtue of my works. Why?Because they are not perfect in righteousness: they savor all too strongly of unrighteousness. But the virtue of the work of Christ is a different thing: it is perfect, faultless, unadulterated; and on this ground God can freely impute righteousness to the account of "him which believeth in Jesus."

Now briefly considered, more or less as a parenthesis, is the testimony of "David also." Here is the first king of God's choice in Israel. Unlike Abraham, he was born, and lived "under the law." But did he therefore have a different means of justification than did Abraham? It is a vital question, but one that David himself answers with marvelous clarity and decision. In Psalms 32:1-2 he "describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." Where is the law in all this? Where are man's works? There is no place for them. David himself recognizes such blessing as absolutely and only the work of God in unmingled grace.

David here speaks of blessing to one who has disobeyed the law - a sinner, a transgressor. Now in such a case the law spoke only of cursing. Blessing was indeed promised by law, but only on the ground of obedience; while disobedience called from it an absolute curse.

David speaks of forgiveness as obtained: the law could accuse; it could not forgive. David speaks of sins covered now: the law exposed sins; it could not cover them. David speaks of the Lord not imputing sin; whereas the law had been compelled to impute sin: it could not do otherwise. But He who gave the law is greater than the law, and by the exercise of grace is able to reverse the imputation.

The reader of Psalms 32:1-11 will quickly see that David flies not to law for his refuge on the occasion of his grievous sin. When Psalms 51:1-19 (written concerning the same occasion) is also read, this will be most abundantly plain. He did not even seek relief by means of sacrifices provided under law (Psalms 51:16-17); for he knew that such sacrifices could not meet his case: his sin demanded immediate death, if law was to be carried out. But his plea is simply, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions" (Psalms 51:1). Moreover, in Psalms 32:1-11 (v. 5), he can say "Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." Blessed answer, according to mercy, certainly not according to law!

But verse 9 raises the question - is this blessedness obtainable only by those who are circumcised - that is, those outwardly connected with God's earthly testimony? The answer is evident: Abraham received this blessing - was counted righteous by faith - before he was circumcised - indeed at least thirteen years before.

Circumcision was a sign, however (and merely a sign) which he received as an identifying seal of the righteousness of faith he already possessed. It signified simply the cutting-off of the flesh - thus impressing the lesson that this righteousness was not mixed with any fleshly activity or merit, upon which circumcision put the outward stamp of death.

Abraham was thus the first man "in whom real separation to God was first publicly established." (See note in New Translation). Hence, he is "father of all them that believe" - that is, publicly their father - whether or not there is the same public separation with them. The point is not at all in their outward identification with Abraham, for Abraham's own outward sign was the seal of previously imputed righteousness - a seal that marks him as "the father of all them that believe; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also."

So that he is "the father of circumcision" not only to those who are circumcised, but to those who walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised" - those who have the same faith on account of which Abraham was circumcised.

For the promise to Abraham that he should be heir of the world was not by law, and not therefore conditional upon his obedience to law; but rather by the righteousness of faith - that is, as a result of righteousness already fully established, not required to be established by future works. The promise was therefore unimpeachable; there was no possibility of its failure. Genesis 17:1-8 gives us the promise in no uncertain terms, as an absolutely settled issue with God, needing only time for its fulfillment. Only after this (in vv. 9-14) do we see God giving Abraham the sign of circumcision.

Now if, as the Jew would feign argue, only those who are of the law have title to the inheritance, faith would be made a vain, useless thing, and the promise of God would be as worthless and ineffectual as the word of a wicked man. What folly and virtual infidelity, what blind, unyielding unbelief, what vain confidence in flesh and despising of God is that man guilty of, who insists that he can be justified by works, or who objects to grace being shown to those who have gone out of the way.

"Because the law worketh wrath; for where no law is, there is no transgression." A sinner, forbidden under penalty, to sin, will only incur the penalty. Hence, to impose law upon a sinner is to bring him under wrath, for he becomes a transgressor (not merely a sinner: he was that before the law was given: transgression is disobedience to a given law). Sin was certainly in the world before, and for sin the Gentiles as well as Jews are under judgment to God; but the law put the Jew demonstratively under wrath by making him a transgressor.

"Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed." Not one of the true seed of Abraham is to be excluded, as would be the case if the promise were given on the principle of law; but the principle of faith is the only ground upon which all the seed could be blessed, while at the same time this principle shuts up all to the grace of God as the only spring of blessing. But only thus is the promise sure to either Jew or Gentile believers, yet absolutely sure.

Before God, Abraham "is the father of us all" - all those who are of faith. God declared this before Abraham had yet obtained Isaac - he whom God called his "only son," not considering Ishmael, for being born of a bondwoman, he was a bondman. But at the time all natural circumstances were utterly opposed to the fulfillment of the promise. Abraham was virtually dead, and Sarah also, so far as the birth of a child was concerned. But Abraham's faith rose far above circumstances when God spoke. So indeed did Sarah's (Hebrews 11:11), though at the first she doubted.

But this is a blessed example of the patience of faith that believed in a God of resurrection. At the birth of Isaac, just as at his being bound on the altar as an offering we see that Abraham recognized even in death no hindrance to the fulfillment of God's promise. Plainly he saw that it is God's prerogative to call "those things which be not as though they were."

Contrary to all natural hope, he "believed in hope" - that is, he fully trusted God although it meant purely anticipative faith, not that the word "hope" suggests the least thought of doubtfulness. The spoken word of God he bowed to, accepting it simply as such: in God's sight he was then made the father of many nations, according to the Word spoken in Genesis 15:1-21 - "So shall thy seed be."

He was not weak in faith: he simply accepted the Word of God as true and unbreakable, apart altogether from the consideration of circumstances - whether it was his own dead body or "the deadness of Sarah's womb." He knew that God was not dependent upon the energy of natural life, whether in himself or in another upon whom he might be naturally inclined to lean. Faith in the living God always involves the repudiation of confidence in flesh.

Only unbelief and confining God to man's limitations, would have caused Abraham to hesitate: but he "was strong in faith, giving glory to God." Blessed simplicity indeed; blessed reality! Yet it is the only proper attitude for any creature, let us mark well. To "give glory to God" is the very reason for our existence. If we do not practice "the obedience of faith," we are robbing God of His glory: we neither take our own proper place, nor give Him His. May our souls contemplate this seriously and well.

Are we "fully persuaded" of the truth of the Word of God? Are we prepared to stand upon it, whatever the expense or personal humiliation? Will we stake everything upon this, that what God promises, He is able to perform? To speak of our faith is one thing: to speak and act in faith is another. To be "fully persuaded" of the truth of God, is to be fully submissive to it, and to thereby have a character of calm, unruffled, uncomplaining patience - not indeed indifference, but the patience of an exercised and chastened spirit, that trusts the living God, and distrusts all that is of the flesh.

Abraham therefore was counted righteous because of faith in the God of resurrection. But the written Word concerning this result is not given merely for Abraham's sake. This is plain: there is a value far more comprehensive than this: the Word is written for the sake of souls in every age. "But for us also, to whom it (righteousness) shall be imputed if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus from the dead, Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification."

There is of course, a manifest distinction between Abraham's position and ours. Abraham believed the promise of God, though not accomplished. We are asked to believe God in regard to the accomplished work of Christ in death and resurrection. Abraham believed in the promise of resurrection: we believe in the fact of resurrection. Yet it is not merely belief in resurrection that is required, nor belief in any other truth, simply, but faith in the living God, who has raised Christ from the dead.

But our justification is inseparably bound up with His resurrection. He was delivered up to death for our offenses. But if He had remained in the grave, where would be our comfort and assurance? How could we believe He had justified us if He were not living? But He "was raised again for our justification." Blessed be God for the unspeakable peace of this knowledge! Faith can have no doubts as to the full accomplishment of righteousness when it beholds the One who suffered for sins now raised by the glory of the Father - perfectly accepted by the God who had judged Him fully for sins. Thus His resurrection is proof that He has utterly exhausted the judgment: sin put Him to death; righteousness raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory. That same righteousness now justifies "him which believeth in Jesus." He is a Savior whom death could not hold: He is "alive forevermore." Blessed Object for faith! Perfect, unchangeable assurance to the heart renewed by grace!

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.

Wells of Living Water Commentary

Abraham an Exemplar of Faith

Romans 4:1-5 , Romans 4:13-25


In our verses there are several things relative to the faith of Abraham that are worthy of note:

1. What did Abraham find according to the flesh? The query is one of a far vista, for it deeply concerns every one of us.

(1) If Abraham were justified by the flesh he might have had whereof to glory, but not before God. He could have gloried before men, because men look at the outward appearances. Men delight to boast in their own worthiness and their own accomplishments. Men delight in parading themselves, as. though they, by their might or prowess, had done this or that After the flesh and before men, Abraham might have paraded his power to make money, and to increase his goods; he might have gloried in his feats of valor, such as overthrowing certain kings and delivering his nephew Lot; he might have gloried in his power in prayer; in his dedication of Isaac to death; in his years of faithful service and worship.

(2) Before God, Abraham could not have gloried in any of these, because, in what he did, power was given him of God. Before God, Abraham, like all of us, was but a sinner saved by grace. Every good he possessed in daily walk, every virtue he showed, and every act of faith he demonstrated, was all the gift of God. He was beautiful only by God's beauty that God had put upon him,

2. If Abraham had been saved or justified by works, the reward would not be reckoned of grace but of works. The moment we pass into the realm of works, we pass out of the realm of grace. Rewards lie in those accomplishments of saints which follow after they have been saved by grace. For God is not unrighteous to forget our work and labor of love; therefore when He comes He says, "My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be."

Rewards must, therefore, of necessity, fall far below the bestowment of grace, for this simple reason, that rewards can give no more than merit requires; but grace can give unbounding favors, because it is based on Christ's sacrificial Blood, and His marvelous accomplishments for those who believe.

No man could merit eternal life, or Heaven, or any of its glorious and eternal benefactions, because none of us could render a service to merit so great a prize.

3. The righteousness which is by faith. Romans 4:3 says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Romans 4:5 says, "To him that * * believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."

What was it, then, for which Abraham believed God? He believed that God had found a way by which He could be just, and yet justify the ungodly. That was the underlying principle of Abraham's faith not merely that God had told Abraham to go out to a country that he knew not of, and that Abraham by faith went out; not merely that God told Abraham to offer up his son, and that Abraham by faith had obeyed, and was in the process of sacrificing Isaac, accounting that God would raise him up not that alone.

The faith that was counted unto Abraham for righteousness was the faith that believed that God, through the death of Christ (whose day Abraham saw and understood) could justify the ungodly, Abraham believed that God would put his sins on Christ, and Christ's righteousness upon him he believed this, and nothing short of this; because anything short of this kind of faith, God could not have counted unto him for righteousness.


Here is Romans 4:13 : "For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith." These words carry great weight. If righteousness had come to Abraham by the Law, then Christ had died in vain. If righteousness had come to Abraham by circumcision, then men could be saved by religious rites and ceremonies.

Circumcision was, however, only a sign or a seal of the fact that Abraham had obtained righteousness by faith, while he was yet uncircumcised.

Thus also Abraham's righteousness by faith, being uncircumcised, is set forth by the Spirit of God to demonstrate the fact that uncircumcised Gentiles may now be justified by faith, apart from the works and the rites of the Law. What then?

1. If righteousness were by the works of the Law as given to the Jews, then all Gentiles would of necessity have been forced to become righteous only by being grafted into Judaism, and Judaistic rites. We who are Gentiles would have needed to become Jews, sealed by the seal of Judaistic circumcision. We would have been forced to become followers of Abraham, according to the flesh, and not after the Spirit.

2. If righteousness had come by Judaistic Law-works, then the Gentiles who know not the Law would have perished without the Law. Then the whole set-up of world missions as it now stands would have to be done away. Then the Church would need to be forever set aside, as an incubus on God's method of redemption. Then the ordinances of the Church, which link us to the Cross, would need be done away. Then the proclamation of salvation by grace through faith would cease to be God's plan of redemption. Then the Cross would be thrown out of the plan of redemption.

If righteousness is by Law-works, or Law-rites, then Christ would have died a martyr, and not a Redeemer; a murdered religious zealot, and not a God-sent Saviour.

Salvation would have been a work of the flesh, humanly reached through the deeds of the flesh, instead of a power of God through the Spirit. Then all the songs of the redeemed in Heaven would need to be hushed.


Let us quote Romans 4:14 : "For if they which are of the Law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect."

1. God's promise to Abraham concerning his seed and their heirship would have long ago faded away under the basis of Law-works. If God had promised Abraham that of his seed He would raise up Christ, and promised it solely by virtue of Abraham's worthiness and upon the worthiness of his children and his children's children, then Christ had never been born. Any promise based upon anything humanly dependent is certain to fail, through the weakness of human flesh. The reason the Law cannot perfect is because the Law is made weak by the flesh; that is, the heart of man is deceitful above all things and is desperately wicked. Who can know it?

2. God's promise to Abraham concerning his seed and their heirship would long have been made impossible if based upon religious rites and ceremonies. Even religious forms and traditions, Divinely given, soon are corrupted by man. Take the things commanded by God to Moses, concerning the Tabernacle and the worship of God; all these were soon spoiled by human additions and subtractions, even the rabbinical additions to the Judaistic demands. Hear the Lord Jesus as He speaks to the scribes and Pharisees. They had come to Him, saying, "Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread." The Lord Jesus replied, "Why do ye also transgress the Commandment of God by your tradition?" These rulers in Israel had so mutilated what God had said, that Christ, said unto them, "Ye hypocrites, * * in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

Take present-day Judaism: it is far, far away from the express commandments of God. Take also the present-day church, how has it gone away from the simplicities of the New Testament church! There is not one altogether true to the faith once delivered. Thus, if salvation was based upon Law-works or church rites, it would of necessity collapse.


1. How would you like to trust something to save you from wrath, that worketh wrath? Why, then, does the Law work wrath? We know that the Law is holy and righteous and good. How then can that which is good, work wrath? Remember, the Laws of God, like all just and holy laws, carry with them penalties for disobedience. The Law worketh wrath, because it carries these penalties upon the disobedient.

A law unenforced by penalties is a law that is void. A law given to the lawless will be quickly broken. Therefore the law must carry vengeance upon lawbreakers.

2. The giving of the Law was under throes of darkness, and a tempest, and an earthquake. Old Sinai did exceedingly tremble and shake. The reason for all this was that the Law was holy, but man was vile; the Law was righteous, but man was unrighteous; the Law was just, but man was unjust. He who would, as a sinner and breaker of the Law, appeal to the Law for salvation, is appealing unto the sword that is unsheathed to slay him. Shall we seek light from that which forebodes darkness and death? Shall we look for mercy where justice reigns?

3. The Law then becomes a schoolmaster to drive us to Christ. By the Law comes the knowledge of sin, but not a Saviour from sin. From the Law comes the pronouncement, "The wages of sin is death"; from faith comes the pronouncement, "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Nay, I had not known sin but by the Law. I had not known the depth of sin, if the height of God's holiness had not been proclaimed by the Law.

What then? How can a sinner be just before God? The Law cannot justify the one whom it can only condemn. The Law cannot save that which it judges worthy of death. There remains, therefore, but one hope, and that is by the way of faith in Christ, even the Christ who died, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God; even the Christ who was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.


Our verse is a rather long one. It reads: "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by 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; who is the father of us all."

1. Faith drives us away from the Law and into the arms of grace. Herein is the faith of Abraham disassociated from everything that is of the Law, and of any self-accomplishment. It was not the achievements of Abraham's faith to which he looked for salvation. The achievements of Abraham's faith were the result of his faith, not the object of his faith.

Abraham looked by faith unto a redemption which is in Christ Jesus. He looked purposely and distinctly, not vaguely and indefinitely. He saw Christ, saw His atonement, saw His resurrection, saw it all; and seeing, he believed. He cast himself onto the arms of God's grace. His faith antedated his works, as well as his circumcision.

Yes, according to James, faith will work; and it will work wonderfully, even as Abraham's faith worked. Abraham was justified by a faith that works; he showed us his faith by his works. However, Abraham's faith that worked was not in the works of his faith, but in God's grace, which saves.

2. If salvation were by works, then it would be by the works of an unregenerated heart. If salvation were by works, then it would be works that are impossible, and unacceptable to God; for the very best of the works of the flesh is enmity to God, and cannot please God.

The moment faith becomes supreme in the life, as a basis for salvation, that moment the works of the flesh are denied, and grace is enthroned.

3. Salvation by grace through faith makes the promise sure to all the seed of Abraham; not to the Jews only, but also to the Gentiles; not to the circumcision only, but also to the uncircumcision.

If salvation were by the Law, or by Law-works, or by Law-rites, then the Jew would have every advantage. But salvation by grace through faith is a message to every man. All stand alike guilty before God; and all, alike, may be saved by grace.


Here is a wonderful Scripture: "(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickened the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were." We now begin to get an inside light on the far-flung meanings of Abraham's faith.

1. He believed God. Here is something that goes deep down into Abraham's grip of faith. His faith was not placed in things, nor in himself, nor in men. He believed God. How this expression brings to mind the words, "Have faith in God." God is the only Rock that stands unshaken; He is the only Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep; He is the only Light that never fades.

God's Word is the only Word that is forever and for aye, Amen. It is the only Word that never fails, never falters, never flees.

2. He believed in God who quickeneth the dead. Abraham, in the offering of Isaac, believed in the God who is the Resurrection and the Life. He believed more than this he believed in the resurrection of the saints. We read that Abraham received Isaac from the dead in a figure. Yes, he saw the resurrection of Isaac, and of Christ, and of us all. What a faith in God!

3. He believed in God, calling those things which are not as though they were. Faith may have a far-flung vision; however, faith brings that far-flung vision into the immediate present. Faith gives substance to the things hoped for; and evidence to the things not seen. Faith makes things become so real that it acts as though they were present.

We often speak of eschatology, of things to come, of thing's in the far distance. Do we speak of them as though they were here with us now? Do we believe as though we had in hand the things which we hope for? Are they ours before we get them? All this was true in the faith of Abraham. He considered God's promises of future acquisitions as dependable as were God's already received realities. Both to him were things already received. He had what he hoped for. He possessed what he was to obtain.

Let us each examine his faith in the light of the faith of Abraham.


Our verse reveals a real faith: "Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be." The next verse adds: "And being not weak in faith, he considered not his body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb."

1. Abraham's faith was according to that which God had spoken, and not according to natural facts or factors. What if he were as good as dead? What if Sarah were past bearing? What did that have to do with God's ability to do what He had said?

Must we limit God to work in the realm of the natural, or allow Him to work in the realm of the miraculous? Is God man, that His hand must be shortened that He cannot save? Is God not abundantly able to do what He promises? Shall faith limit God by man's idea of limitations? Shall faith become unbelief, when anything outside the realm of what is possible with man comes up?

Does the fact that man cannot do it mean that God cannot do it? We are told to walk by faith: where shall we walk? We are told to live by faith: how shall we live? Shall we place ourselves inside the wonderful achievements of mortal man, and say to faith, "So far shalt thou go, and no further?" Even though man has never been able to walk, or to sleep in peace in a lions' den, faith can so do. Man has never walked up and down in the midst of the fire, yet faith can walk there. We aver that what is impossible to men, is possible to faith.

2. As the church has lost faith in God's Word of promise generally so, it has lost power to do wonders. We need some more Abrahams, and Moseses, and Elijahs, and Gideons, and Davids, and the like. With the coming of the church age, did God cease to work in the realm of the miraculous? Then it is because the church ceased to believe into that realm. When the church was born, did faith die? When the church came in, did God, who worketh all things after the counsel of His will, go out?


1. Abraham staggered not through unbelief. We judge that the church, instead of laying her failure in the realm of the miraculous to the silence of God in this age, had better place her failures at the feet of her own unbelief. Unbelief is black with the frown of God. Unbelief is the foe of everything spiritual, and of every attempt and effective accomplishment of the present-hour saints.

2. Abraham was strong in faith giving glory to God. How the words slay us. Shall saints of yore know more of God than we know? Shall they stagger not, while we stagger? Shall they haste to give glory to God, while we languish on in unbelief? God forbid!

Abraham gave glory to God when he received the promise. Abraham never did receive a great bulk of what God had promised, but he died in faith, and everything promised shall yet be fulfilled, and his seed, even as it was said. The presence of Israel, the Jews of today, in such ever-increasing numbers, is a sufficient proof that God is about to do what He told Abraham He would do.

3. Abraham was fully persuaded that what God promised He was able to perform. Do we not have the God of Abraham for our God? Are we living in God who was, or who is? The God who of old was able to perform all that He had promised, is still able to do the same.

Come, let us examine His promises to the Church. Let us take a tablet and write them down, one by one: then, with all of them written, let us write across that all God is able to perform, and He will perform even as we faith Him.

4. All this faith of Abraham which staggered not, was not written for his sake, but for us also. Righteousness was imputed to Abraham because he believed God. We too may have righteousness imputed to us if we believe in Him who wrought the supreme miracle of raising Christ from the dead; even the Christ who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification. Hearken here is the miracle of all miracles a Saviour who is ours by faith.


Abraham, without knowing where he went, obeyed God, and Abraham has abundant rewards.

"'Go, and dig there!' advised a facetious miner, thinking to play a joke on the confiding tenderfoot who had asked where he should begin his mining. He pointed as he spoke to a crumbling prospect hole, long before abandoned. To the eyes of inexperience one spot looked as promising as another, and the new arrival set to work, with the result that in less than twenty-four hours he had uncovered one of the richest veins of tellurium ever opened in that camp. He was still so ignorant of what he had found that when another miner offered to sink the shaft forty feet for a half interest in the claim, the opportunity to relieve a pair of blistering palms was hailed with delight. Yet that forty feet of sinking paid something like £10,000, while, first and last, the great Melvina Mine of Boulder County, Col., has yielded nearly £140,000. 'Treasures of wickedness profit nothing' (Proverbs 10:2 ). Like Moses, seek the 'greater riches than the treasures in Egypt' (Hebrews 11:26 )."

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Living Water".

Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible

The Case of Abraham. A. D. 58.

1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Here the apostle proves that Abraham was justified not by works, but by faith. Those that of all men contended most vigorously for a share in righteousness by the privileges they enjoyed, and the works they performed, were the Jews, and therefore he appeals to the case of Abraham their father, and puts his own name to the relation, being a Hebrew of the Hebrews: Abraham our father. Now surely his prerogative must needs be as great as theirs who claim it as his seed according to the flesh. Now what has he found? All the world is seeking but, while the most are wearying themselves for very vanity, none can be truly reckoned to have found, but those who are justified before God and thus Abraham, like a wise merchant, seeking goodly pearls, found this one pearl of great price. What has he found, kata sarka--as pertaining to the flesh, that is, by circumcision and his external privileges and performances? These the apostle calls flesh, Philippians 3:3. Now what did he get by these? Was he justified by them? Was it the merit of his works that recommended him to God's acceptance? No, by no means, which he proves by several arguments.

I. If he had been justified by works, room would have been left for boasting, which must for ever be excluded. If so, he hath whereof to glory (Romans 4:2), which is not to be allowed. "But," might the Jews say, "was not his name made great (Genesis 12:2), and then might not he glory?" Yes, but not before God he might deserve well of men, but he could never merit of God. Paul himself had whereof to glory before men, and we have him sometimes glorying in it, yet with humility but nothing to glory in before God, 1 Corinthians 4:4; Philippians 3:8,9. So Abraham. Observe, He takes it for granted that man must not pretend to glory in any thing before God no, not Abraham, as great and as good a man as he was and therefore he fetches an argument from it: it would be absurd for him that glorieth to glory in any but the Lord.

II. It is expressly said that Abraham's faith was counted to him for righteousness. What saith the scripture? Romans 4:3. In all controversies in religion this must be our question, What saith the scripture? It is not what this great man, and the other good man, say, but What saith the scripture? Ask counsel at this Abel, and so end the matter, 2 Samuel 2:18. To the law, and to the testimony (Isaiah 8:20), thither is the last appeal. Now the scripture saith that Abraham believed, and this was counted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6) therefore he had not whereof to glory before God, it being purely of free grace that it was so imputed, and having not in itself any of the formal nature of a righteousness, further than as God himself was graciously pleased so to count it to him. It is mentioned in Genesis, upon occasion of a very signal and remarkable act of faith concerning the promised seed, and is the more observable in that it followed upon a grievous conflict he had had with unbelief his faith was now a victorious faith, newly returned from the battle. It is not the perfect faith that is required to justification (there may be acceptable faith where there are remainders of unbelief), but the prevailing faith, the faith that has the upper hand of unbelief.

III. If he had been justified by faith, the reward would have been of debt, and not of grace, which is not to be imagined. This is his argument (Romans 4:4,5): Abraham's reward was God himself so he had told him but just before (Genesis 15:1), I am thy exceeding great reward. Now, if Abraham had merited this by the perfection of his obedience, it had not been an act of grace in God, but Abraham might have demanded it with as much confidence as ever any labourer in the vineyard demanded the penny he had earned. But this cannot be it is impossible for man, much more guilty man, to make God a debtor to him, Romans 11:35. No, God will have free grace to have all the glory, grace for grace's sake, John 1:16. And therefore to him that worketh not--that can pretend to no such merit, nor show any worth or value in his work, which may answer such a reward, but disclaiming any such pretension casts himself wholly upon the free grace of God in Christ, by a lively, active, obedient faith--to such a one faith is counted for righteousness, is accepted of God as the qualification required in all those that shall be pardoned and saved. Him that justifieth the ungodly, that is, him that was before ungodly. His former ungodliness was no bar to his justification upon his believing: ton asebe--that ungodly one, that is, Abraham, who, before his conversion, it should seem, was carried down the stream of the Chaldean idolatry, Joshua 24:2. No room therefore is left for despair though God clears not the impenitent guilty, yet through Christ he justifies the ungodly.

IV. He further illustrates this by a passage out of the Psalms, where David speaks of the remission of sins, the prime branch of justification, as constituting the happiness and blessedness of a man, pronouncing blessed, not the man who has no sin, or none which deserved death (for then, while man is so sinful, and God so righteous, where would be the blessed man?) but the man to whom the Lord imputeth not sin, who though he cannot plead, Not guilty, pleads the act of indemnity, and his plea is allowed. It is quoted from Psalm 32:1,2, where observe, 1. The nature of forgiveness. It is the remission of a debt or a crime it is the covering of sin, as a filthy thing, as the nakedness and shame of the soul. God is said to cast sin behind his back, to hide his face from it, which, and the like expressions, imply that the ground of our blessedness is not our innocency, or our not having sinned (a thing is, and is filthy, though covered justification does not make the sin not to have been, or not to have been sin), but God's not laying it to our charge, as it follows here: it is God's not imputing sin (Romans 4:8), which makes it wholly a gracious act of God, not dealing with us in strict justice as we have deserved, not entering into judgment, not marking iniquities, all which being purely acts of grace, the acceptance and the reward cannot be expected as debts and therefore Paul infers (Romans 4:6) that it is the imputing of righteousness without works. 2. The blessedness of it: Blessed are they. When it is said, Blessed are the undefiled in the way, blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, &c., the design is to show the characters of those that are blessed but when it is said, Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, the design is to show what that blessedness is, and what the ground and foundation of it. Pardoned people are the only blessed people. The sentiments of the world are, Those are happy that have a clear estate, and are out of debt to man but the sentence of the word is, Those are happy that have their debts to God discharged. O how much therefore is it our interest to make it sure to ourselves that our sins are pardoned! For this is the foundation of all other benefits. So and so I will do for them for I will be merciful, Hebrews 8:12.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". 1706.

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

To meet the views of the Jews, the apostle first refers to the example of Abraham, in whom the Jews gloried as their most renowned forefather. However exalted in various respects, he had nothing to boast in the presence of God, being saved by grace, through faith, even as others. Without noticing the years which passed before his call, and the failures at times in his obedience, and even in his faith, it was expressly stated in Scripture that “he believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness,” Genesis 15:6. From this example it is observed, that if any man could work the full measure required by the law, the reward must be reckoned as a debt, which evidently was not the case even of Abraham, seeing faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. When believers are justified by faith, “their faith being counted for righteousness,” their faith does not justify them as a part, small or great, of their righteousness; but as the appointed means of uniting them to Him who has chosen as the name whereby he shall be called, “the Lord our Righteousness.” Pardoned people are the only blessed people. It clearly appears from the Scripture, that Abraham was justified several years before his circumcision. It is, therefore, plain that this rite was not necessary in order to justification. It was a sign of the original corruption of human nature. And it was such a sign as was also an outward seal, appointed not only to confirm God's promises to him and to his seed, and their obligation to be the Lord's, but likewise to assure him of his being already a real partaker of the righteousness of faith. Thus Abraham was the spiritual forefather of all believers, who walked after the example of his obedient faith. The seal of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification, making us new creatures, is the inward evidence of the righteousness of faith.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Henry, Matthew. "Concise Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Matthew Henry Concise Commentary

on the Whole Bible". 1706.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

He proceeds to prove, that Abraham was not justified by works, but by faith, and free grace, and so had no cause of boasting. This he illustrates by a comparison betwixt one that worketh, and one that worketh not, but believeth. To him that worketh; i.e. to him that worketh with a design or intent to obtain or merit justification by his works, for else he that believeth also worketh; only he is said not to work, secundum quid, after a sort, to the end or intent that he might merit by it.

Is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt; he speaks this by way of supposition, in case he should have fulfilled the condition of perfect obedience: and yet, to speak properly, there is no reward, as a due debt from God to him that worketh, Romans 11:35; only he speaks after the manner of men, and useth a civil maxim, taken from human affairs.

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Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

The Way Of Justification Through Faith Illustrated In Abraham And Announced By David (4:1-8).

Paul now demonstrates that Abraham’s acceptability with God was by faith, not works, something which is then further confirmed by David. This thus confirms that Abraham was not justified by his works. This went totally contrary to contemporary Jewish teaching which was that Abraham was justified by his works which were pleasing to God. And Paul stresses that it is on the basis of Scripture.

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Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

What Paul Has Just Described Is Now Seen To Be In Accordance With Ideas Related To Abraham And David (4:1-25).

No one was of more importance to the Jews than Abraham. It was to him that God had given promises concerning both the land and the people (Genesis 12:1-3). It was because they were ‘sons of Abraham’ that they saw themselves as special. Indeed, many considered that because they were sons of Abraham God must look on them with favour and could never therefore reject them. That was why John the Baptiser had had to remind them that God could ‘from these stones raise up sons of Abraham’ (Matthew 3:9).

Their high view of Abraham comes out in Jewish literature. ‘Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life’ (Jubilees 23:10). ‘No one has been like him in glory’ (Sirach 44:19). That these citations should not be taken too literally comes out in the fact that we do know of times when God would not have been pleased with Abraham. For example, when he deceived Pharaoh about his wife (Genesis 12:10-20). Or with regard to his treatment of Hagar (Genesis 16:6). Or when he deceived Abimelech about his wife (Genesis 20:2). But their general aim is in order to bring out the high level of Abraham’s conformity to the will of God. That would, however, have been Paul’s point. That even Abraham did come short of the glory of God.

We must remember that the large majority of Jews were not literally sons of Abraham, and that very few could trace their descent back very far. For, as the Old Testament makes clear, ‘Israel’ included people descended from Abraham’s multiplicity of ‘servants’ (of which 318 were fighting men); from a mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel who were united with Israel at Sinai and would have been circumcised on entering the land (Exodus 12:38; Joshua 5); and from many who joined with Israel and became Israelites on the basis of Exodus 12:48. Thus Israel were not on the whole physical ‘sons of Abraham’. Those were very much a minority of Israel from the start, even though all Israel no doubt claimed to be. Sonship of Abraham in a natural sense was a myth. But from their own point of view the Jews were confident of their situation. To them therefore the example of Abraham was crucial.

Nor must we overlook the fact that in the following argument Paul is not trying to argue that certain things can be transferred from Israel to the church. The argument is between faith and works of the Law, not Israel and non-Israel. To Paul the church was Israel. It was founded on the Jewish Messiah, established on Jewish Apostles, and initially composed only of Jews. The church was the true remnant of Israel, ‘the true vine (John 15:1-6), the Messiah’s ‘congregation’ (Matthew 16:18). The inclusion of Gentiles who responded to the Messiah was simply a matter of incorporating proselytes into the true Israel, something which had always happened. That was why the question of whether they should be circumcised was seen as so important. All saw these Gentiles as being incorporated into Israel when they became Christians, the only question was whether they all needed to be circumcised. Paul’s reply was that they were already circumcised because they had been circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands in ‘the circumcision of Christ’ (the Messiah - Colossians 2:11). But he himself continually confirmed that the church was the true Israel and that it was unbelieving Israel that had ceased to be Israel (Romans 2:28-29; Romans 11:17-28; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22; see also 1 Peter 2:9; 1 Peter 1:1; James 1:1). Thus that was not a problem to be dealt with here.

It will be noted that this chapter takes up many of the points previously stated in Romans 3:27-30. Abraham has no right to boast (Romans 4:1-2, compare Romans 3:27 a). Abraham was justified by faith and not works (Romans 4:3-8; compare Romans 3:27 b). God accepts both circumcised and uncircumcised (Romans 4:9-12; compare Romans 3:29-30). Both Jew and Gentile are involved together (Romans 4:16-18; compare Romans 3:29). It thus sets out to demonstrate that these principles have been recognised in Israel from the beginning.

It is also important to note that what is stated in this chapter would not have the same force had it not been preceded by the arguments in chapters 1-3. For Paul and the Jews were looking at things very differently. Paul was seeing righteousness from God’s point of view, as something equatable with ‘the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). To be truly righteous was to have lived fully according to the Law of God in every detail. It was to have not come short of the glory of God. To the Jews, however, righteousness involved obedience to the Law in so far as man was seen as capable. That is why the Jews could see Abraham as accepted by God as righteous. It was because Abraham’s life came so far above the norm. But even they would have hesitated to say that Abraham had never sinned. If Paul was right, and he has demonstrated it quite clearly in chapters 1-3, then Abraham’s righteousness could not in itself be sufficient to make him acceptable to the Judge of all men, for Abraham came short on a number of occasions. If, however, the Jews were right then Abraham might well have been seen by God as acceptable because of his godly life. Thus the question of how Abraham was justified before God was a crucial one.

The chapter can be divided into three parts, although having said that it must be recognised that the theme of Romans 4:3 continues throughout the chapter binding the parts together, and it is again underlined in the concluding verses. The divisions can be seen as follows:

1) The Way Of Justification Through Faith Illustrated In Abraham And Announced By David (Romans 4:1-8).

2) How Circumcision Affects The Issue As Illustrated In The Life Of Abraham (Romans 4:9-12).

3) Abraham’s Life Illustrates The Fact That God’s Greatest Gifts Do Not Come To Us Because We ‘Obey The Law’, But Because We ‘Believe In The Lord’ (Romans 4:13-25).

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Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘Now to him who works, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt, but to him that who does not work, but believe on him who reckons as in the right the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.’

Paul now brings out the significance of that Scripture in respect of the matter they are dealing with. When it comes to man being rewarded for his works, the reward is not looked on as ‘of grace’ (freely given as an undeserved favour), but as of debt (it has been duly earned and the worker is thus receiving only what is due to him). In contrast we have the case of the man whose ‘reward’ is ‘of grace. He believes on Him who ‘justifies the ungodly while they are still in an ungodly state’, and his faith is reckoned for righteousness. The principle here is very important. The moment works enters into the equation to any extent then it puts God under an obligation. Thus ALL works have to be excluded. God does not owe us anything. He does not justify us because our faith makes up for what is lacking in our works. He justifies us when we truly believe in Him regardless of any works. It is all ‘of grace’ (God’s unmerited favour). And Paul underlines this by stressing that the one who is justified is so even though he is yet ungodly.

Note how boldly he declares that God justifies the ungodly while he is still ungodly. In that case there can be no question of the man being justified by his works. He is ungodly. He deserves nothing. Thus his being ‘justified, reckoned as righteous’, in other words his ‘justification’, could only spring from his response of faith towards a justifying God (Who is ‘just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus’ - Romans 3:28). Note how this ‘ungodliness’ reflects Romans 1:18. There has been great emphasis on how God has dealt with man’s unrighteousness. Here now is God’s answer to man’s proven ungodliness. It confirms his argument in Romans 3:28 that, ‘We reckon therefore that a man is justified (reckoned as in the right) by faith apart from the works of the law.’

We may, of course, react against the suggestion that Abraham had been ungodly, but in that case we need to remember that initially he had no doubt been involved in the worship of idols, for we are told that ‘your fathers dwelt in the past beyond the River (Euphrates), even Terah the father of Abraham --- and they served other gods’ (Joshua 24:2). Thus Abraham had been brought up to worship false gods, until God called him and he believed and responded. It was when he was yet ungodly that God had initially called him. And it was then that God’s righteousness came to him and he was ‘accounted as righteous’.

‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.’ We must not see this as signifying that God saw Abraham’s faith and approved of it and thus recognised him as righteous on the basis of his ‘righteous faith’, as though his faith was a work of which God approved, shining out above his other works. Rather the thought is that Abraham was reckoned as righteous by God because he responded in faith to God, disregarding all works that he had done. The verb chashab followed by the preposition ‘l’ always refers to something being reckoned to someone regardless of their right state. Thus Shimei asks David not to reckon his guilt against him but to treat him as though he were innocent (2 Samuel 19:20). Compare also Leviticus 7:18; Numbers 18:27; Numbers 18:30.

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Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

a. The Example of Abraham.

Romans 4:1. The Jewish objector once more: "What about Abraham then?" (mg.); if the circumcised Israelite is justified on no more favourable terms than the Gentile outsider, how was it with "our" great "forefather"? Abraham's case was the instantia probans for Jewish theology.

Romans 4:2 f. "If Abraham had been justified by works," Paul replies, "he has ground of glorying; but" however great his glory amongst men, "he has none Godwards, Nay, Scripture says, But Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness" (cf. Galatians 3:6 f.).

Romans 4:4 f. Arguing on this text in the sense of Romans 3:27 f., Paul contrasts "the worker" claiming "his pay of debt" with "the believer" to whom, "ungodly" as he doubtless had been, "righteousness is credited on terms of faith, by way of grace."

. The patriarch's experience resembled that stated in Psalms 32, "the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord will no longer impute sin."

a. Now, the sentence of justification was pronounced on Abraham before his circumcision. This ceremony was not the basis of a righteousness acquired by works, but the "seal set upon the righteousness conferred through faith." Faith antedates Circumcision, as it underlies the Law (cf. Galatians 3:17). Circumcision was properly a sacrament of faith.

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Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary


Rom .—Alford, following Meyer, says κατὰ σάρκα is in contrast to κατὰ πνεῦμα, and refers to that part of our being from which spring works in contrast with that which is the exercise of faith. κατὰ σάρκα in respect to efforts by one's own natural powers, or efforts made in one's own strength.

Rom . ἐξ ἔργων.—Talmud maintains that Abraham was justified by works.

Rom .—Jewish Rabbis viewed Abraham's faith as so much merit. "As the reward of his faith our father Abraham inherited both this world and that which is to come, as it is said, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted,' etc."

Rom . But of debt.— ὀφείλημα, what one owes—a debt, a due, duty, obligation.

Rom . Blessed are they, etc.—Paul refers them to the example of Abraham and the beatitudes of David. Another proof that he does not disparage the law (Wordsworth). ἀφίεναι.—New Testament side of forgiveness—real removal of sin. ἐπὶκαλύπτειν.—Old Testament side—sin only covered till atonement should be made for it.

Rom .— λέγομεν γάρ supposes an affirmative to the preceding questions—viz., "The privilege belongs also to the uncircumcised." Proved by the quotation from David.

Rom .—The term σημεῖον, sign, relates to the material thing; the term σφραγίς, seal, to its religious import. Seal of the covenant of grace.

Rom .—Refers to believers of Jewish origin who formed the other half of Abraham's spiritual family.

Rom .—Abraham was justified before the institution of circumcision and the delivery of the law, therefore by faith in Christ to come.

Rom .— παράβασις, transgression, from παραβαίνειν, to trespass. A barrier cannot be crossed except in so far as it exists; so without law there is no sin in the form of transgression.

Rom .— καλεῖν is the creature call of the Almighty, by which He, according to the analogy of the first act of creation, calls forth the concrete formations out of the general stream of life (Olshausen). Abraham the father of all the faithful, however far removed. In God's sight Abraham still lives; in God's sight we were already in existence when He spake to Abraham.


The father of the faithful.—The divinity of the Bible shown in this, that it confers immortality upon its heroes which no other book possesses. Abraham's trials, faith, and final victory are familiar facts to-day. He lives both in Bible story and in tradition's lore. It is a fact to be noticed that the fame of Bible heroes has spread beyond the book in which it is related. "The memory of the just is blessed;" and Abraham's memory is blessed and green because he was justified by faith and is the father of the faithful. Consider the negative and the positive aspect of Abraham's descendants.

I. Negatively.—His descendants:

1. Are not the moralists. Ethical systems cannot be a ground of justification before the unchangeable God. They run from Socrates down to Victor Cousin or Mr. Herbert Spencer. How am I to know by which ethical system I am to be saved? How am I to ascertain which is relatively right and which is absolutely right? Amid hypothetical imperatives, categorical imperatives, and apodeictical principles, what am I to do? Abraham's descendants would be few if they were confined to the ethical philosophers and their scholars.

2. Are not the legalists. The law maketh wrath and brings condemnation. For all are guilty of infractions of the law, both natural and revealed. Without the written law men will be judged by the natural law written on their hearts. Conscience is a witness to guilt. When it has not been killed, it doth make us all criminals. Can the criminal claim reward as a debt? Punishment is his due.

3. Are not the ceremonialists. We must coin the word so as to avoid a word which has become descriptive of a certain party. Forms and ceremonies have their place, but we must observe the rule, "A place for everything and everything in its place." Clothes have their use; but what use are they to the dead? First life, then clothes and food. Abraham had the righteousness of faith, being uncircumcised.

II. Positively.—His descendants are:

1. Those who exercise faith. This is the source from the human side of justification, and is the root force which generates the leaves, flowers, and fruits of the Christian character.

2. Those who are forgiven. The doctrine of the forgiveness of sins too often ignored. The blessing to be realised. Faith rightly exercised brings into the soul the consciousness of the divine pardon.

3. Those who are the subjects of grace. "By grace are ye saved." The method of grace is one for Abraham and for all God's people, from the dawn of time to its close.

4. Those to whom belong the sure promises. They are sure, resting upon the solid foundation of God's grace. This is a rock. All other foundations are as shifting sand. Our moods change; our ethical systems have their days; our volitions vary; our efforts, if strong to-day, are weak the next day, and they always fall far short of our noblest volitions. God's grace is immutable; His promises are firm:

"Engraven as in eternal brass

The might; promise shines."

5. Those who stand a gracious army before Him, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things that be not as though they were. Review the muster-roll of faith's sons and daughters, and it will be found that, though sometimes lightly esteemed, they are indeed the precious sons and daughters of Zion, comparable unto fine gold. They stand in the presence of the infinite Purity, and are ennobled by the gracious influence.

(1) Let us seek for that faith which justifies and leads on to purity.

(2) Let us strive to walk in the steps of that faith which has been exercised by the noblest,—these are the steps leading to spiritual greatness and happiness.

(3) Let us believe the promises sure because they are of grace.

(4) Let us glory, not in ourselves, not in works, but in our sublime heirships.

Rom . "What saith the Scripture?"—In the third chapter St. Paul had brought this truth plainly forward—that all men before God are sinners. Those to whom the apostle was referring thought they had such special privileges connected with themselves that they at least ought to be exempted from this general statement. But the apostle says, No such thing; and he falls back therefore upon the question; "What saith the Scripture?" Now before I attempt to lead you to the answer which ought to be given to this question, it will be necessary that I dwell briefly upon one or two introductory points.

I. What is meant by the Scripture?—When St. Paul used these words he certainly referred simply to the Old Testament Scriptures; but we are never for a moment to suppose that the Old Testament and the New Testament are different; and therefore if a man ask me, "What saith the Scripture?" I am quite as ready to give him an answer out of the Old Testament as I should be to give him one out of the New, and just as ready to answer him out of the New as I should be out of the Old. But when a man asks me a question about his soul, when he is asking me how a man may get to heaven, I should like to answer him out of both Testaments, because when they are put together the one seems to explain the other, enabling a man to say, "Thus saith the Scripture."

II. What is the authority of Scripture?—If you ask me what there is in this book different from what there is in the best kind of other books, I have but one plain answer. It is because this book was written, not by man, but by God; it is because, though "holy men of old" wrote the book, they wrote it "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." We speak of "the Gospel according to St. Matthew," "the Gospel according to St. Luke," or "the Gospel according to St. John"; but we say it is "the gospel of the grace of God," and we acknowledge that from first to last the book was written as God Himself put it into the hearts and minds of the different writers. So then we acknowledge in this book the authority of God Himself. No wonder therefore St. Paul should fall back upon the question of the text. I would only further remark in connection with this part of my subject that we are not to think that the Scripture was intended for men of another age or another country, as if it did not bear upon ourselves; neither must you, when you look at the Scriptures and consider them as the word of God, expect to find them without their difficulties. Even infidels who have disbelieved the Bible have testified to its morality. They have said that if they wanted to bring up their children well there was no morality like that which was to be found in the Bible. To the truth of what the Bible contains the researches of the last few years have testified.

III. "What saith the Scripture,"

1. For my head? It unfolds to me many difficulties. That great doctrine of there being three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—but one living and true God. But the Scripture unfolds to me another great subject, and that is the plan of salvation. The apostle had been showing that all men were sinners—if sinners, they could not save themselves, and that therefore a plan must be devised by which they could be saved. Here is the plan. You and I could do nothing for ourselves. When we were condemned as sinners Christ died in our place, bore our punishment, endured the shame, suffered on the cross, and has now set us free.

2. But "what saith the Scripture" for my heart? I have known the Scripture turn many a bad man into a good man and make him happy, but I have never known it make a single person unhappy. To each individual I say, You have no hope; but you may have a full hope, a good hope through Christ.

3. But "what saith the Scripture" for our life—I mean our way of living? It tells us the impossibility of a double service: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Therefore if the man who loves his sin would only read, "What saith the Scripture?" he would find that he must leave off sinning if he would have peace, for "there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." But "what saith the Scripture" still for our life? It bids us ask ourselves, in the midst of the busy world, in the midst of all our occupations, when we rise early and late take rest—it bids us ask ourselves, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

IV. But how are we to know these Scriptures?—We must search those Scriptures; and if we were asked how and when, I should say the how must be prayerfully and the when must be daily. I would say to all that if you will only follow that advice there is not one but may be mighty in the Scriptures—if you will only search them and pray over them, and that daily. There is an awful responsibility that rests upon every one who does not study that book, who does not read the Bible, who does not consider what the Scripture saith. It is just as if you were walking in a dark place, not knowing the road, and some one were to offer you a light, and you were to say, I do not require it, and refuse to take it. If a man suffered injury under such circumstances, who would marvel?—Dr. Villiers, Bishop of Carlisle.

How did Abraham get his righteousness?—Justification by faith is a very old doctrine—one of the oldest dogmas on record. It is as old as Abraham, as old as Abel.

I. Who justifies?—"It is God that justifieth." The Judge, the Lawgiver, is the Justifier. Self-justification is as useless as it is impossible.

II. What sort of justification does He give?—His justification is:

1. Righteous. The adjustment of the question between us and God is a righteous adjustment. Nothing but this would satisfy God or ourselves, or make us feel safe in accepting it in our dealings with a holy God. This righteousness is secured by the full payment of the penalty by a surety or substitute.

2. Complete. It extends to our whole persons, to our whole lives, to every sin committed by us. The whole man is justified; it is no half pardon.

3. Irreversible. No second verdict can alter our legal position. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?"

4. Divine. It is a justification worthy of God; a justification which shall place the justified on a far higher level than the first Adam stood upon.

III. For whom is it?—For the ungodly. Yes; for such alone. Righteousness for the unrighteous is that which the righteous One came to bring. In this matter of pardon and acceptance, the principle is not, to him that hath shall more be given, but to him that hath nothing shall all be given.

IV. How we get it.—By believing. In accepting God's testimony to this righteousness, in crediting His word concerning this justification, we are justified at once. The righteousness becomes ours; and God treats us henceforth as men who are righteous, as men who, on account of the righteousness which has thus become theirs, are entitled to be dealt with as righteous out and out, Of Abraham it is said, "His faith was counted for righteousness"—that is, God counted this believing man as one who had done all righteousness, just because he was a believing man. Not that his act or acts of faith were substituted as equivalent to work, but his believing brought him into the possession of all that working could have done. Thus, in believing, we get the righteousness. Our believing accomplishes for us all that our working could have done.—H. Bonar.

Rom . Belief in God.—Belief in God is the foundation of all religion, both natural and revealed. Now as without belief in God there can be no religion, so where there is such belief in God the Scripture always of course supposes it accompanied with every other part of true religion. As the foundation of religion in general is believing in God, so the foundation of Christianity in particular is the belief of that great act of God, the raising His Son from the dead, in order to judge the world in righteousness.

I. Now the account which the Scripture gives us of the faith of Abraham is this:

1. It consisted in his believing the true God, the Maker and Governor of the universe, the Lord of heaven and earth. The nations among whom he sojourned were all idolaters, worshippers of dead men, worshippers of the kings who had reigned over them in their lifetime; for that was the original of all the heathen idolatry. Every city or territory had its own prince, and the world was divided into small kingdoms. These kings were honoured by their flatterers with honours during their lives too nearly divine, and after their deaths they were by the ignorant people worshipped as gods. The worship paid to such gods of their own making was accordingly superstitious; and the corruption of their manners was answerable to the absurdity of their religion. From these Abraham separated himself and believed in the true God, the Maker of all things; and for the sake of that belief forsook his native country.

2. As Abraham's faith consisted in general in believing the true God, so in particular it manifested itself in such acts of dependence upon Him as became a person who had just and worthy notions of the true God, whom he served; and for this "it was counted unto him for righteousness."

3. The faith of Abraham was not a speculation or mere credulity, but a principle of obedience and true holiness.

4. The faith of Abraham is opposed in Scripture, just as the faith of Christians is, not to the works of virtue, but to the rites and ceremonies of the law of Moses. "They that are of faith," saith St. Paul (Gal )—that is, they who, believing in Christ, expect salvation through the real holiness of the gospel, and not by such outward forms and ceremonies as the Jews observed—"the same," saith he, "are the children of Abraham"; "even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Rom 4:6).

II. The second thing I proposed to speak of is, what it is that is particularly required of us when we likewise are in Scripture commanded to "believe in God."—And this evidently implies:

1. Believing His being—that is, not only in a speculative manner believing that there is an infinitely perfect Being in the notional way wherein philosophers describe Him, which may easily be separate from any religious affection, but it is having upon our minds a constant sense of His being in the moral sense the supreme Governor and righteous Judge of the world. This belief of the being of God is that only which, because it will certainly produce the fruits of virtue, shall therefore certainly be "accounted unto us for righteousness."

2. The duty of believing in God implies not only our believing His being, and His being governor and judge of the world, but also that we have worthy and honourable apprehensions of His nature and attributes; for when any man thinks he believes in God, without attending at the same time to those perfections and excellences which constitute the true and real notion of God, he deceives himself with that empty fallacy of putting words for things, and, instead of placing his religion in obeying the commands of the true Governor of the universe by the practice of all holiness, righteousness, and virtue, he will be apt to content himself with worshipping he knows not what, and he knows not how, with a blind superstition, without understanding, and without any real improvement in goodness. This is naturally the effect of ascribing absurdities to God, as those of the Church of Rome do in the matter of transubstantiation; or of teaching things concerning Him contrary to the common and obvious notions of righteousness and goodness, as those have done who contend for the doctrine of absolute and unconditional predestination. The religion of such men usually consists more in a useless amazement of mind than in any real practise of virtue, than which nothing can be more dishonourable to God or more injurious to religion.

3. Believing in God signifies believing His revelations also, as well as what nature teaches concerning Him. The obligations of revealed religion are founded upon the same ground as the obligations of natural religion, and they mutually strengthen and confirm each other. By the dictates of nature it was reasonable to expect that God would vouchsafe to make more clear to men His will by revelation; and in all true revelation is contained a fuller enforcement and more strong confirmation of the law of nature. Men, therefore, who in Christian countries, where the gospel is preached, pretend to believe in the God of nature, and yet at the same time reject the revelation of the gospel, which is so agreeable to and perfective of the law of nature, do, generally speaking, in pretence only, and not in reality, show any more regard to natural than to revealed religion, falling for the most part into absolute atheism. Whereas they who seriously believe and practise the duties of natural religion are generally disposed to embrace also consequently the revelation of the gospel.

4. As believing in God signifies believing His revelations as well as His nature and attributes, so it always includes obedience to Him likewise, when it means that faith which shall be "counted to us for righteousness." "Abraham's faith," saith St. James, "wrought with his works, and by works was his faith made perfect." And concerning ours in like manner St. Paul declares, "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom ).—Clarke.

Rom . An uncommon conception.—St. Paul throws a new light on Old Testament utterances, a spiritual interpretation not received by the Jews. He likewise gives a conception of happiness not generally accepted. Let us examine it.

I. In order to taste joy we must feel sorrow.—Thus in a general way sorrow has its blessed uses. The sorrow of pain tastes the joy of release. Sorrow for sin prepares the way for the joy of its removal. No wonder men make light of sin when they do not feel the sorrow it inflicts. The sorrowful pathway of the sin-stricken soul leads to the blessedness of forgiveness.

II. In order to enjoy ease we must bear the burden.—The burden-bearers of time may seem to have a hard lot, but they can taste a rich enjoyment when the burden is removed which is unknown to the indolent. The burden of sin is a heavy load; but what joy when the Saviour's invitation is accepted, the burden is removed, and the weary soul obtains infinite repose!

III. In order to welcome forgiveness we must realise our helplessness.—If a man fancies he is rich and increased in goods, he will be possessed of pride. Fancy plays fantastic tricks. Men fancy that they are morally rich. Why should they crave forgiveness? The sense of soul poverty must be antecedent to the reception of infinite riches. A man condemned will welcome the remission of sentence. Helpless, we rejoice in forgiveness.

IV. In order to rejoice in buried sins we must feel their loathsomeness.—We feel in no hurry to carry to the grave the beautiful child that sweetly sleeps in death. The sins that are not frowned upon by society, the sins that make us popular, we are in no haste to cover. But the sin which exposes us to the contempt of our fellows we would gladly bury many fathoms deep. All sin is hateful to God. He loves man, and yet man's sin turns divine complacency into abhorrence. All sin is loathsome. Let us haste to have it covered. It can be covered beneath the propitiation. Let us pray for the divine Spirit to show us the evil of sin, to reveal to us our own sin, and then are we likely to know the high felicity of those whose sins are forgiven.

Rom . A vast heirship.—Is any single man heir of the world? He possesses only a part. One man possesses property, another fame, another power. Each man has his own dominion. Even of that he is not complete master. We possess in part as well as know in part. Abraham's material world was small as compared with the world of the present, but he looked beyond and above the material to the moral sphere, to the wide expanding future. Abraham's spiritual seed is heir of the world; and why? Because:—

I. It is a dominating force.—We may try to exalt the material, but we are being constantly confronted with the fact that the moral is mighty. Moral wisdom is mightier than weapons of war. Spiritual forces are more dominating than either material, social, or political forces. The spiritual seed is sovereign in time, as time's advance will manifest.

II. It is a formative agency.—The spiritual seed is working silently, almost secretly, and yet surely. The great formative agency in the highest of modern civilisations is the spiritual seed. Christ and the Christ like—the true Abrahamic seed—are permeating all nationalities. The seed is germinating through the centuries; and when the harvest time of humanity and of God's purpose has come, the golden grain will beautify the planet.

III. It works by means of an eternal principle.—The righteousness of faith is the principle of the Abrahamic seed. It is not a Pauline doctrine; it is a divine creed. Righteousness is eternal. God and righteousness are synonymous. Faith in God implies faith in righteousness—faith in righteousness as a divine attribute, as a divine bestowal to the human unrighteous one.

IV.—It conquers self, and thus conquers all.—The tendency of the earth seed is to obtain heirship by way of merit. The spiritual seed represses this erroneous tendency. Not by the works of the law, but through the righteousness of faith. The seed that masters its own false tendencies must master. True, individually, that he who conquers self conquers all. World slaves seek possession through works. World masters obtain possession through the righteousness of faith.

V. It marches in harmony with the divine order.—We may find fault with nature; but the man who moves in harmony with those laws by which nature is governed is most likely to prove nature's master, and certainly most likely to secure the greatest good—if not to himself, to the race. The moral and the material order are connected. The seed that marches in harmony with the moral order will have the largest dominion. Man's immorality has well-nigh made God's kosmos into a chaos. Man's morality, through the righteousness of faith, will turn back the chaos into a kosmos.

VI. It delights in the divine beauty.—Delight in moral and spiritual beauty should promote delight in material beauty. He is heir of the world who can delight in all things good, true, and beautiful. Possession is not by legal enactments, but by the imperial and absorbing soul. The peasant may possess more than the peer. How poor an heir is that peer who spends his days in a room of the tower, where he paces up and down like a caged lion mourning over his incapacity! How rich an heir is that peasant who can walk God's earth singing, All things are ours!

VII. It moves to universal renovation.—The spiritual seed is not as the material seed. The latter seeks heirship for self-aggrandisement. Too often it heeds not that destruction and misery are in its ways, if by that destruction it can obtain spoils of enrichment. The former seeks heirship for universal enrichment, and thus it moves on to universal renovation. Let us seek the true heirship of the world. Let us pursue the right method. Let us contemplate ultimate results. Let us have faith in final triumph.


Abraham's greatness.—The name of Abraham, as we shall afterwards see more fully, is not confined to the sacred history. Over and above the book of Genesis there are two main sources of information. We have the fragments preserved to us by Josephus and Eusebius from Greek or Asiatic writers. We have also the Jewish and Mussulman traditions, as represented chiefly in the Talmud and the Koran. It is in the former class—those presented to us by the pagan historians—that the migration of Abraham assumes its most purely secular aspect. They describe him as a great man of the East well read in the stars, or as a conquering prince who swept all before him on his way to Palestine. These characteristics, remote as they are from our common view, have nevertheless their point of contact with the biblical account, which, simple as it is, implies more than it states. He was, in practice, the friend of God, in the noblest of all senses of the word—the friend who stood fast when others fell away. He was the first distinct historical witness, at least for his own race and country, to theism, to monotheism, to the unity of the Lord and Ruler of all against the primeval idolatries, the natural religion of the ancient world. In him was most distinctly manifested the gift of "faith." In him long, long before Luther, long before Paul, was it proclaimed, in a sense far more universal and clear than the "paradox" of the reformer, not less clear and universal than the preaching of the apostle, that "man is justified by faith." "Abraham believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness." Powerful as is the effect of these words when we read them in their first untarnished freshness, they gain immensely in their original language, to which neither Greek nor German, much less Latin or English, can furnish any full equivalent. "He supported himself, he built himself up, he reposed as a child in his mother's arms," in the strength of God—in God whom he did not see, more than in the giant empires of earth, and the bright lights of heaven, or the claims of tribe and kindred, which were always before him. It was counted to him for "righteousness." This universality of Abraham's faith—this elevation, this multitudinousness of the patriarchal, paternal character, which his name involves—has also found a response in those later traditions and feelings of which I have before spoken. When Mahomet attacks the idolatry of the Arabs, he justifies himself by arguing, almost in the language of St. Paul, that the faith which he proclaimed in one supreme God was no new belief, but was identical with the ancient religion of their first father, Abraham. When the emperor Alexander Severus placed in the chapel of his palace the statues of the choice spirits of all times, Abraham, rather than Moses, was selected as the centre doubtless of a more extended circle of sacred associations. When the author of Liberty of Prophesying ventured, before any other English divine, to lift up his voice in behalf of universal religious toleration, he was glad to shelter himself under the authority of the ancient Jewish or Persian apologue, of doubtful origin, but of most instructive wisdom, of almost scriptural simplicity, which may well be repeated here as an expression of the world-wide sympathies which attach to the father of the faithful.—Stanley.

Sins hid.—"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." Get your sins hid. There is a covering of sin which proves a curse. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper"; there is a covering it by not confessing it, or, which is worse, by denying it. Gehazi's covering—a covering of sin by a lie; and there is also a covering of sin by justifying ourselves in it. I have not done this thing, or I did no evil in it. All these are evil coverings: he that thus covereth his sin shall not prosper. But there is a blessed covering of sin: forgiveness of sin is the hiding it out of sight, and that is the blessedness.—Richard Alleine.

"Whose transgression is forgiven."—We may lull the soul asleep with carnal delights, but the virtue of that opium will be soon spent. All those joys are but stolen waters, and bread eaten in secret—a poor, sorry peace that dares not come to the light and endure the trial—a sorry peace that is soon disturbed by a few serious and sober thoughts of God and the world to come; but when once sin is pardoned, then you have true joy indeed. "Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee."—Thomas Manton.

"Sin is covered."—Every man that must be happy must have something to hide and cover his sins from God's eyes, and nothing in the world can do it but Christ and His righteousness, typified in the ark of the covenant, whose cover was of gold, and called a propitiatory, that as it covered the tables that were within the ark, so God covers our sins against those tables. So the cloud covering the Israelites in the wilderness signified God's covering us from the danger of our sins.—Thomas Taylor.

Sin covered by Christ.—This covering hath relation to some nakedness and filthiness which should be covered—even sin, which defileth us and maketh us naked. Why, saith Moses to Aaron, hast thou made the people naked? The garments of our merits are too short and cannot cover us; we have need therefore to borrow of Christ Jesus His merits and the mantle of His righteousness, that it may be unto us as a garment, and as those breeches of leather which God made unto Adam and Eve after their fall. Garments are ordained to cover our nakedness, defend us from the injury of the weather, and to adorn us. So the mediation of our Saviour serveth to cover our nakedness, that the wrath of God seize not upon us. He is that "white raiment" wherewith we should be clothed that our filthy nakedness may not appear—to defend us against Satan. He is "mighty to save," etc., and to be an ornament to decorate us, for He is that "wedding garment." "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."—Archibald Symson.

Sweet is pardon.—The object of pardon, about which it is conversant, is set forth under divers expressions—"iniquity," "transgression," and "sin." As in law, many words of like import and signification are heaped up and put together to make the deed and legal instrument more comprehensive and effectual. I observe it the rather, because when God proclaims His name the same words are used—"Taking away iniquity, transgression, and sin." Well, we have seen the meaning of the expression. Why doth the holy man of God use such vigour and vehemency of inculcation, "Blessed is the man"? and again, "Blessed is the man"? Partly with respect to his own case. David knew how sweet it was to have sin pardoned; he had felt the bitterness of sin in his own soul to the drying up of his blood, and therefore he doth express his sense of pardon in the most lively terms. And then partly, too, with respect to those for whose use this instruction was written, that they might not look upon it as a light and trivial thing, but be thoroughly apprehensive of the worth of so great a privilege. Blessed, happy, thrice happy, they who have obtained pardon of their sins, and justification by Jesus Christ.—Thomas Manton.

Sin not reckoned.—"Unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity." Aben-Ezra paraphrases it, of whose sins God does not think, does not regard them, so as to bring them into judgment, reckoning them as if they were not; οὐ μὴ λογίζεται, does not count or calculate them, does not require for them the debt of punishment. To us the remission is entirely free, our Sponsor having taken upon Him the whole business of paying the ransom. His suffering is our impunity, His bond our freedom, and His chastisement our peace; and therefore the prophet says, "The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed."—Robert Leighton.

Legality.—He to whom thou wast sent for ease, being by name Legality, is the son of the bond-woman which now is, and is in bondage with her children, and is, in a mystery, this Mount Sinai, which thou hast feared will fall on thy head. Now, if she with her children are in bondage, how canst thou expect by them to be made free? This Legality, therefore, is not able to set thee free from thy burden. No man was as yet ever rid of his burden by him; no, nor ever is like to be. Ye cannot be justified by the works of the law; for by the deeds of the law no man living can be rid of his burden. Therefore Mr. Worldly-Wiseman is an alien, and Mr. Legality is a cheat; and for his son Civility, notwithstanding his simpering looks, he is but a hypocrite, and cannot help thee. Believe me, there is nothing in all this noise that thou hast heard of these sottish men, but a design to beguile thee of thy salvation, by turning thee from the way in which I had set thee. By laws and ordinances you will not be saved, since you came not in by the door. And as for this coat that is on my back, it was given me by the lord of the place whither I go; and that, as you say, to cover my nakedness with. And I take it as a token of his kindness to me; for I had nothing but rags before. And besides, thus I comfort myself as I go: Surely, think I, when I come to the gate of the city, the Lord thereof will know me for good, since I have His coat on my back, a coat that He gave me freely in the day that He stripped me of my rags. I have, moreover, a mark on my forehead, of which, perhaps, you have taken no notice, which one of my Lord's most intimate associates fixed there in the day that my burden fell off my shoulders. I will tell you, moreover, that I had then given me a roll, sealed, to comfort me by reading as I go on the way. I was also bid to give it in at the celestial gate, in token of my certain going in after it; all which things, I doubt, you want, and want them because you came not in at the gate.—Bunyan.

Reason and will joined in faith.—The prerogative of God extendeth as well to the reason as to the will of man; so that we are to obey His law, though we find a reluctation in our will—we are to believe His word, though we find a reluctation in our reason. For if we believe only what is agreeable to our sense, we give consent to the matter and not to the author. But that faith which was accounted unto Abraham for righteousness was of such a point as whereat Sarah laughed, who therein was an image of natural reason.—Lord Bacon.

Abraham's constant trust.—Though this be the only instance mentioned in Scripture of the patriarch's faith being counted to him for righteousness, yet we know that this unhesitating trust in God was the habitual temper of his mind, as it must be that of every man who would imitate the example of the father of the faithful. The Lord had communed with him previous to this period, accompanied with the same implicit reliance on the part of the patriarch. It is this immutable trust in God which communicates its whole value to the act of obeying the divine commands; for were the command obeyed without any reference to God or any reliance on Him, this would not be an act of moral obedience, as not proceeding from the proper motive. And this implicit reliance, without any external act of obedience, was counted to Abraham for righteousness. The event on which Moses remarks that Abraham's faith was counted to him for righteousness took place when the patriarch must have been under eighty-six years of age. He received the seal of the covenant by which he and his family were constituted the Church of God when he was ninety-nine years old. Hence the reckoning of his faith for righteousness took place at least thirteen years before he and his descendants were constituted the Church of God. Now if Abraham's faith was counted for righteousness when he was not a member of the outward community of God's Church, why may not the same mark of divine favour be extended to others who, like him, place their confidence in God, and study to obey His law, though they too belong not to the visible Church of God? With all who admitted the inspiration of the Jewish Scriptures, the apostle's argument must have appeared absolutely conclusive; for when Abraham had his faith reckoned to him for righteousness he was in the situation of the pious Gentiles of every age who have lived and died out of God's visible Church. No person, then, can be entitled to maintain that the pious heathen may not, in virtue of the redemption that is in Christ, have their faith counted to them for righteousness, when we have the example of the father of the faithful himself obtaining justification while precisely in this situation. The term "father" is applied to Abraham in this passage metaphorically, to signify that he was constituted the type or example to all mankind of obtaining justification. This method of justification was revealed to him, not as a special instance of divine favour to himself as an individual, but as a pattern or example of the manner in which all men may obtain this blessing, an instance of the principle on which alone any of the fallen race of mankind can be justified. In the first instance the covenant, as the divine promise is often called, was made with Abraham. But it having been declared in the covenant itself that Abraham in this transaction was the father or type of all believers, the promise extends to all men, and is as immutably certain to every human creature who walks in the steps of Abraham's faith as it was to the patriarch himself. "Now this promise," says the apostle, "was not given to Abraham and to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith." The expression "the law" is apt to suggest the law of Moses. But this cannot be the meaning, for the law of Moses did not then exist. Therefore by "the law" the apostle means generally "the law of God," both moral and ceremonial, whether made known by revelation or written on the heart; and the force of his observation is, that the reward was not promised to Abraham and his seed in consequence of their meriting it by obedience to the divine law, but because God of His own free will was pleased to count their faith to them as righteousness, or to accept the imperfect righteousness of faith as if it were an unsinning fulfilment of His law.—Ritchie.

Canaan typical.—We know that the earthly Canaan was, in express terms, promised to Abraham and his seed. And that the promise of the heavenly Canaan was couched under this is scarcely less plain, from the two following simple considerations. First: Abraham himself, and the other believing patriarchs, so understood it; for, on the footing of this promise, they looked for the heavenly country—"for the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (see Heb ; Heb 11:13-16). This country was the object of their hope, as being the subject of divine promise. But no promise of it is to be found, unless it was couched under that of the earthly Canaan, as a type; connected with the declaration, "I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed"; which also includes the promise of eternal inheritance; and, indeed, considered as the glorious sum of the promises made in the Abrahamic covenant. The whole of the gospel revelation was then, and for many ages afterwards, under the veil of figurative language, and of typical rites, objects, and events. To have given, in clear and explicit terms, the full promise of the eternal inheritance, would not have been consistent with the divine scheme of gradual development, nor with the fact of "life and immortality being brought to light" by Jesus Christ. But that the promise was given is manifest from the apostle's manner of expressing himself in the passages above alluded to, and from his saying of the patriarchs, who had gone to the "better country," that "through faith and patience they inherited the promises" (Heb 6:12). Secondly: This is still further evident, from believers in all ages and countries being called heirs, according to the promise of inheritance given to Abraham. So they are spoken of in Gal 3:18; Gal 3:29. "If ye be Christ's," says the apostle in Gal 3:29, "then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise"—i.e., the promise of the inheritance mentioned in Rom 4:18 : "If the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise." So also, in Heb 6:17-20, "the heirs of promise," who derive "strong consolation" from the word and oath of God to Abraham, are those "who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them: which hope … entereth within the veil; whither the forerunner is entered, even Jesus." But as the word here rendered world is one which usually, if not uniformly, when it occurs without any restrictive noun, is used to denote the whole inhabited earth, I cannot help thinking that there is here a reference to the whole earth becoming the possession of Abraham's seed, of which the possession of Canaan was but a small prelude. There is an obvious difference between a right and actual possession. The whole earth may be, by the gift or promise of God, the property of this seed, although they are not yet, and may not be for a good while to come, invested with the actual possession of it. When promises are made to a seed which is to come into existence in the successive ages of the world, it is not necessary to their fulfilment that they should be enjoyed in the same manner and in the same degree, by all, from the first period to the last; for with this, in the present instance, facts do not accord. We certainly possess the blessings contained in the divine promises in a more eminent degree than the saints of old: "God having provided better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (Heb 11:40). Both temporal and spiritual blessings will be possessed, in a much higher degree of perfection than even now, during the period of the millennial glory of the Church. And as to these who shall be alive on the earth at the coming of Christ, they shall escape the sentence of mortality. But such differences in the enjoyment of the promises, at different periods, do not render them void of effect to any. All the seed have "the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." All being finally put in possession of the "heavenly country" may be said then to inherit the promises in their full extent—this being their grand sum, their glorious completion. Moses and Aaron "inherited the promises," although, as a judgment for failing to sanctify the name of the Lord at the waters of Meribah, they were sentenced to finish their course short of the earthly Canaan.—Wardlaw.


Rom . A lantern refused.—If, then, we have a light for our souls, and we will not use it, who can wonder if we suffer injury? This reminds me that something of this kind actually happened. It was not so long ago that I happened to be visiting in a great castle situated on the top of a hill, near which there was a very steep cliff and a rapid river running at the bottom. A person, anxious to get home from the castle, late one night, in the midst of a violent thunderstorm, when it was blackness itself, was asked to stop till the storm was over. She declined. She was begged to take a lantern, that she might be kept in the road; but she said she could very well do without it. She left, and, perhaps frightened by the storm, she wandered from the road, and got upon the top of the cliff; she tumbled, and the next day the lifeless body of that foolish woman was found washed ashore from the swollen stream. How many such foolish ones are there, who, when the light is offered, and they have only to say, "What saith the Scripture?" are prepared to say, "I have no need of that book; I know right from wrong; I am not afraid; I fear not the end!" Oh, how many souls will be found in the last day who have tumbled over the cliff in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, and who have perished because they have refused the light of God's truth, which would have guided them on the road to heaven!

Rom . Influence of the Bible.—It is hazarding nothing to say that, other things being equal, the political power and promise of nations is in direct ratio with their fidelity to the word of God. When a pagan ambassador asked Queen Victoria the secret of England's national greatness she gave him a Bible, and said, "That is the secret of the greatness of England." In the Centennial letter which the President of the United States addressed to the American Sunday Schools, he said "To the influence of the Bible we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilisation." Froude says, in his essay on Calvinism, "All that we call modern civilisation, in a sense which deserves the name, is the visible expression of the transforming power of the gospel."

Rom . Boy would not part with his Bible.—Let me just mention a story. I remember once hearing of a little lad in a town in Lancashire, where I first began my work of preaching. He lay upon the steps of a door, in the middle of the night, in the great town of Warrington, and the policeman, or rather watchman, coming up to him, said, "What are you doing here?" The boy replied, "I am without father and mother; I have travelled thus far, and I have no food, no money, no place to lie down in." There was something in the boy's jacket which attracted the watchman's eye, and when he touched it he thought he had found a thief. "What have you here?" he asked. The boy then put his hand into his pocket, and brought out a small pocket Bible. "Well," said the watchman, "if you are so badly off, I will give you a few pence for your Bible; I will take it home to my children, and you will be able to get your bed and food for the night." But the lad, young as he was, knew that the Bible was true; he had an experimental knowledge of the Bible, and he was ready at once with his reply. "Thank you, sir," he said, "but I won't give it up." "Why, you are starving," said the watchman. "Yes; but this is the word of God, and it tells me, ‘When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.'" Here was the experimental knowledge of the power of the promises. The watchman showed his humanity, his kindness, and gentleness towards the fatherless boy. He took him home and fed him, and God prospered that boy who relied on the promises. And, believe me, that is just the experience of hundreds and thousands who have found their extremity to be God's opportunity—who had found when they were very low that God could extend to them His everlasting arms, could lift them up, and bless them and preserve them.

Rom . There is no fear now.—Lord Shaftesbury, speaking on behalf of the South American Missionary Society, said, "I remember a missionary from Fiji telling me an anecdote. You have all heard how the Fijians were raised in the scale of social life when Christianity had been introduced among them. Well, a missionary told me that this came under his observation. A ship having been wrecked off one of the islands of Fiji, a boat's crew that had got ashore from the wreck were in the greatest possible terror lest they should be devoured by the Fijians. On reaching land they dispersed in different directions. Two of them found a hut, and crept into it; and as they lay there wondering what would become of them, one suddenly called out to his companion, ‘All right, Jack, there is a Bible on this chair; there's no fear now.' This poor, despised book, which this man would probably have scorned to look at, and which he didn't believe could do any one any good, be was glad enough now to hail as a proof that his life was safe. He was sure that those who cared to have and to read a Bible would not wish to eat him. I remember reading a somewhat similar story of a traveller who came to a rough hut which was owned by a very rough-looking man. The owner of the hut gave him a meal, and prepared such a bed for him as he could, but the traveler's only idea of spending the night was to keep his eyes open and his pistol near. But when the rough owner of the hut took down a Bible from its resting-place, and read a chapter, and then offered a short prayer, and then went to bed himself, the traveller knew that no danger was to be apprehended there, and quietly went to sleep."

Rom . Gentleness of Charles V.—We are told that on one occasion a swallow having built its nest on the tent of Charles V., he generously commanded that the tent should not be taken down until the young birds were ready to fly. Truly, if he, a rough soldier, could have such gentleness in his heart towards a little bird, how much more will the Lord have it to all those who flee to Him for shelter in loving trustfulness. "He that builds his nest upon a divine promise," says one, "shall find it abide and remain until he shall fly away to the land where promises are lost in fulfilments." Believers should be the more emboldened to do this from the fact that what God has already done for them is designed to be a sure and blessed earnest of all the grander things to be done for them in the future. He never lifts any from the pit only to cast them in again. Men may do such a thing, but the Lord never does.

Rom . Mr. Hewitson's advice to Dr. Macdonald.—In one of his prized letters his friend Mr. Hewitson once said to Robert Macdonald, D.D., "Have faith in God. Faith will be staggered by loose stones in the way if we look manward; if we look Godward faith will not be staggered even by seemingly inaccessible mountains stretching across and obstructing our progress. ‘Go forward!' is the voice from heaven; and faith, obeying, finds the mountains before it flat as plains."

Rom . Christian happiness.—In this verse there is a declaration of the Christian's blessedness. The New Testament use of the word μακάριος throws light upon Christian happiness, and will help us to understand such songs of trust as that which closes thus:—

"There are briars besetting every path

That call for patient care;

There is a cross in every lot,

And an earnest need for prayer.

But a lowly heart that leans on Thee

Is happy everywhere."

Rom . Brave negro lad.—Courage is not confined to race or colour. A negro lad of nineteen will be remembered as the hero of the Washington disaster a short time ago. When the floors of the Government offices fell in, burying some hundreds of clerks in the ruins, this brave youth climbed to the top of a lofty telegraph pole which stood near. He drew up a ladder, one end of which he lashed to the pole, and holding the other end to the third-story window of the tottering building, saved the lives of fifteen young men. Certainly faith is not confined to race or colour. Members of Abraham's family are found everywhere. The colour of the skin is no barrier to faith. The inward spirit triumphs over the mere external.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? (2) For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. (3) For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (4) Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. (5) But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

The Apostle begins this Chapter, at the place he left off in the preceding. Foreseeing that difficulties might be started by some, from what he had advanced, that by the deeds of the law no flesh could be justified in god's sight; all the world being found guilty before him: he adopts an admirable method, to confirm the doctrine, in taking the most unexceptionable character the Scriptures of the Old Testament could furnish, and in the instance of Abraham he shews, that this great father of the faithful, considered in himself, had nothing more to recommend him to God than the greatest sinner. Abraham, when beheld in relation to the Adam-nature in which he was born, was equally involved with all mankind in a fallen state, and belonged as much as any to that race, of whom the word of God had decidedly declared, that there is none righteous, no, not one,

Paul treats this subject in an unanswerable manner, as proved in the case of Abraham. He shews, from the Patriarch's history, that when the Lord first called Abraham, to make known to him his sovereign grace and Covenant-mercy in Christ; Abraham at that time was an Idolater, dwelling in Ur of the Chaldees. Of consequence there could be nothing in the conduct of the Patriarch, which prompted, and called forth the mercy of the Lord. It began, therefore, on the part of God; and was altogether free, unmerited, unlooked for, and unsought by Abraham. And the simple act, which Abraham exercised upon this occasion, at the call of the Lord, was faith in God's word, and promise. If the Reader will compare Genesis 12:1-4

with Hebrews 11:8, this point will appear abundantly plain and evident. And as he prosecutes the Patriarch's history, in the after stages of it, he will next learn, in confirmation of the Apostle's doctrine, what that faith was, which the Patriarch was enabled to exercise; and who was the one great object of it. The Lord called him to get out of his country, and kindred, and from his father's house; (all which were shadows of a separation from the Adam-nature of a fallen state;) and the Lord promised to make of him a great nation, and that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed: all which referred to the Person, and work of Christ.

That these glorious promises wholly referred to Christ, and that the Patriarch so viewed them, is evident, from what followed in his history. For thus the Holy Ghost hath caused it to be recorded. After these things, the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, fear not Abram, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward, Genesis 15:21. What word of the Lord was this? It could not be the written word; for at that time, the Scriptures were none of them written. It must have been the Essential, the uncreated Word, which God the Holy Ghost, in after ages of the Church, spake of by his servant John, when revealing the Son of God, John 1:1. See also Commentary on that scripture. Reader! pause over the subject, for it is precious. Oh! how delightful it is, thus to discover Him, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, Micah 5:2. And, how precious are such testimonies to the Godhead of the Lord Jesus!

But, let us not stop here. The Almighty Word, which thus spake in vision to Abraham, declared himself to be Abraham's shield, and his exceeding great reward. And I need not, I hope, tell the Reader, that these are among the titles of Christ. Indeed, they can belong to no other. Jesus, and Jesus only, is the hiding place from the wind, and the covert from the tempest, Isaiah 32:2. And, the Church could mean no other, when she said, in her prayers to Jehovah: Behold, 0 God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed. For the Lord God is a sun, and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory, Psalms 84:9; Psa_84:11. And, the Lord is both the portion of his people, and their God their glory, Deuteronomy 33:29; Isaiah 60:9. Hence, in every point of view, the Word, which came unto Abraham in a vision, is proved to have been the Essential, Uncreated Word, in all the properties of Godhead: and considered no less in his Mediatorial-character, he is Emmanuel, God with us, God in our nature, manifesting himself in those characters, as the shield, and the exceeding great reward of his people.

And, what forms another distinguishing feature to be attended to in this history of Abraham is, the sense which the Patriarch had of his need of these glorious promises; and the consciousness he enjoyed, of his own personal interest in them. We have our Lord' s own authority, for this most certain conclusion. For Jesus told the Jews, that their father Abraham saw his day afar off, rejoiced, and was glad, John 8:56. A most decided proof, that Abraham had clear apprehensions of the Person, and work of Christ; and of justification solely by him. So indeed Paul told the Galatian Church. The Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith; preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying: In thee shall all nations be blessed, Galatians 3:8. Hence, there can be no question, but that the Patriarch, in this Gospel, learnt all the great doctrines of redemption by Christ; and of his own personal right therein. The same Almighty Word, which taught Abraham in a vision, that he was Abraham's shield, and exceeding great reward; taught him no less, that the Patriarch needed both: Hence, the Lord said fear not; intimating great cause of fear without them, being in himself a sinner before God. And, it was this believing view which Abraham had in Christ, and the great things to be accomplished by Christ, which made Abraham's faith so illustrious, and his enjoyment so unbroken. He saw them afar off indeed, but he realized them as near. The promise to him became as sure, as though the whole events included in the promise, had been already accomplished. Hence, he believed God. He gave God the credit of God: and took God at his word. The faithfulness of the Almighty Promiser, became security, in his view, for the promise: and, being strong in faith, he gave glory to God; being fully persuaded that what God had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

We shall find occasion hereafter, towards the close of this beautiful Chapter, to speak more fully to the circumstances of this righteousness, in which Abraham, (and every child of God like Abraham, of this spiritual seed,) is said to be justified. But in the mean-time, from the view of the subject, as set forth in those verses, we have seen enough to discover, under divine teaching, that the faith of Abraham, and the great object of that faith, had respect wholly to Christ. Abraham was conscious of his fallen state before God. He rejoiced in Christ's day, though seen afar off. He knew the whole to be of grace, not of debt. The Covenant transactions, from beginning to end, he was perfectly aware, had no respect to merit, or deservings, in the Patriarch, either in the Lord's view of Abraham, or Abrahams view of himself. Hence, the Patriarch was blessed of God in this righteousness of Christ. And so then, (saith the Apostle,) they which are of faith, are blessed with faithful Abraham, Galatians 3:9

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.

People's New Testament

What shall we say then? Paul, having show that faith is the essential principle of justification, now inquires concerning Abraham's faith and justification.

Abraham, our father. "Our forefather according to the flesh," in the Revision. The ancestor of the Jewish race.

Hath found. The thought is, Hath he found justification by works, or by faith?

Hath whereof to glory. If Abraham was justified by his own righteous works, he would have ground for glorying in himself.

What saith the Scripture? The passage quoted is found in Genesis 15:6, and is quoted three times in the New Testament--here, and in Galatians 3:6 and in James 2:23. God promised an heir to Abraham, and, although it seemed contrary to nature, he believed the promise. His faith in the promise was reckoned as righteousness. It was the ground of his acceptance with God. His faith was a trusting faith, which contained in it the element of obedience. No other faith justifies (see James 2:23).

To him that worketh. Who earns wages as a servant. To that one a reward is not of grace, a free gift, but a debt. If one has rendered himself righteous by his works, this is true of him.

But to him that worketh not. Does not trust his works for acceptance with God.

But believeth, etc. Trusts in the mercy of him who justifies sinners who come to him penitent and believing.

His faith, etc. It is made the ground of his acceptance with God. By faith he clings to Christ, the Savior.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Original work done by Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "People's New Testament". 1891.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Romans 4:4-5. Now to him that worketh — All that the law requires; is the reward not reckoned of grace — Or mere favour; but of debt — It is due to his merit. Not that God can properly and strictly be a debtor to any creature, in respect of communicative justice; but if man had continued in that state of holiness wherein he was made, that he should have been esteemed righteous, and have continued in God’s favour and lived, would have been according to the rules of distributive justice. But to him that worketh not — In the sense above explained, who can by no means pretend to have wrought all righteousness; but — Conscious of his sinfulness and guilt, and of his utter inability to justify himself before God; believeth on him — Who, in his great grace, justifieth the ungodly person, when he truly repents and returns to God; his faith is counted — Or placed to his account; for righteousness — He is graciously accepted, and treated by God as if he were perfectly righteous. Therefore, God’s affirming of Abraham that faith was imputed to him for righteousness, plainly shows that he worked not; or, in other words, that he was not justified by works, but by faith only. Hence we see plainly, how groundless that opinion is, that holiness or sanctification is previous to justification. For the sinner, being first convinced of his sin and danger by the Spirit of God, stands trembling before the awful tribunal of divine justice, and has nothing to plead but his own guilt, and the merits of a Mediator. Christ here interposes: justice is satisfied: the sin is remitted, and pardon is applied to the soul by a divine faith, wrought by the Holy Ghost, who then begins the great work of inward satisfaction. Thus God justifies the ungodly, and yet remains just and true to all his attributes. But let none hence presume to continue in sin, for to the impenitent God is a consuming fire.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

But as of debt (αλλα κατα οπειλημαalla kata opheilēma). An illustration of the workman (εργαζομενωιergazomenōi) who gets his wages due him, “not as of grace” (ου κατα χαρινou kata charin).

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

2. Proof from the case of Abraham, that Righteousness is by Faith.

The principle of faith, as the universal one, does not make void the law. In the truest sense it is by this principle that ‘we establish the law’ (chap. Romans 3:31). As regards Abraham himself, the ancestor of the Jews (Romans 4:1), the Scripture teaches that he was justified by faith (Romans 4:2-5); this accords with what David says of free forgiveness (Romans 4:6-8) as well as with the fact that Abraham was justified while yet uncircumcised, and thus became the father of believers, uncircumcised and circumcised alike (Romans 4:9-12); furthermore the promise of the inheritance of the world came through the righteousness of faith, not through the law (Romans 4:13-17). This is further set forth by a description of Abraham’s faith in God’s omnipotence (Romans 4:18-22); the whole matter being applied to the case of all believers in Christ (Romans 4:23-25). Comp. throughout the similar argument in Galatians 3.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Romans 4:4. Now to him that worketh. Romans 4:4-5 illustrate Romans 4:3, by a general contrast of the two ways by which we can be accounted righteous. A workman whose business it is to labor for hire represents the legal method, the plan of making one’s own moral character and doings the basis of acceptance with God.

The reward; his reward, for which he works.

Not reckoned; this takes up the verb from Romans 4:3. but without emphasizing it.

Of grace, but of debt; not according to, as a matter of favor, but of debt. That Abraham’s case was ‘of grace’ is so heavily implied, that it was not necessary to express it, especially as the thought is now quite general.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae



Romans 4:1-8. What shall we then say that Abraham, our father as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

THE mind of man, however open to conviction from the plain deductions of reason, is susceptible of peculiarly strong impressions from that species of argument, which, at the same time that it addresses itself to his intellect, has a tendency to engage his feelings, and to enlist his prejudices in its favour. All the prejudices of the Jews were in favour of Abraham their father, and of David, the greatest of their monarchs, and one of the most distinguished of their prophets: and, if the conduct of these two could be adduced as precedents, there would need but little further argument to convince a Jew, that the thing which was so recommended was right. Of this prejudice St. Paul availed himself in the passage before us. He had proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the justification of a sinner was, and must be, solely by faith in Christ: he had proved it from the guilty state of all, whether Jews or Gentiles, (which precluded a possibility of their being justified by any works of their own [Note: Romans 3:20.];) and from the Lord Jesus Christ having been sent into the world to make an atonement for sin, and thereby to reconcile the demands of justice with the exercise of mercy. He had shewn, that this way of salvation cut off all occasion of boasting, and was equally suited both to Jews and Gentiles; and that, instead of in validating; the law, as at first sight it might appear to do, it did in reality establish the law.

Having thus proved his point by argument, he now comes to confirm it by example; and he adduces such examples, as the Jews could not but regard as of the highest authority.

We must bear in mind what the point is which he is endeavouring to maintain: it is, That the justification of the soul before God is not by works of any kind, but simply, and solely, by faith in Christ. This he proceeds to prove from the examples,

I. Of Abraham—

What (he asks) did Abraham, the great progenitor of the Jewish nation, find effectual for his salvation? This he answers,

1. By an express declaration of Holy Writ—

[The manner in which he appeals to the decision of Scripture is well worthy of notice. “What saith the Scripture?” It matters little, what this or that man may say: we must abide by what God has spoken. His word shall stand, though the whole universe should rise up to contradict it. On that therefore we must found our sentiments, and on that alone: if men speak according to his word and testimony, it is well: “if not,” whatever may be their pretences to wisdom, “there is no light in them [Note: Isaiah 8:20.].”

Now the Scripture declares, that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness [Note: Genesis 12:1-3. with 15:5, 6.]” — — — In the passages referred to, there were two promises made to him: the one was, that one particular “seed should be given to him, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed;” and the other was, that a spiritual seed should be given him, who should be “numerous as the stars of heaven.” These promises he firmly believed; and so believed them, as actually to repose all his hope and trust in that promised Seed, who was to be the Saviour of the whole world. “This faith of his was counted to him for righteousness;” or, in other words, this Saviour, on whom his faith reposed, was made the source of righteousness and salvation to his soul.

This particular declaration of Holy Writ is referred to by the Apostle a great many times, on account of its singular importance: but, as its importance will more fully appear in the sequel of our discourse, we shall proceed to notice how St Paul answers his own question.]

2. By arguments founded upon it

[He justly observes, that, when the Scripture thus represents Abraham as justified by faith all works are of necessity excluded from any participation in the office of justifying: for if it be supposed that a man is justified, either in whole or in part, by his works, his reward would come to him as a debt, and not as a gift. However great the distance maybe between the work and the reward, it will make no difference with respect to this point: if the work be proposed as the ground of the reward, and be performed in order to merit that reward, then is the reward a debt which may be justly claimed, and cannot with justice be withheld. Moreover, if works be thus admitted as purchasing or procuring the reward, then may the person who performs them have a ground of glorying in himself: he may say with truth, This I earned; this I merited; this could not justly have been withheld from me. But had Abraham any such ground of glorying? No: the Scripture denies that he had, in that it ascribes his salvation, not to any righteousness of his own, but to a righteousness imputed to him, and apprehended by faith only.

But whilst the Apostle argues thus strongly and incontrovertibly on the passage he has cited, we must not overlook the peculiarly forcible language which he uses, and which, if it had not been used by him, we should scarcely have dared to use. In declaring who the person is that is thus justified, he tells us, that it is the person “who worketh not” (with a view to obtain justification by his works), but “believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly.” Of course the Apostle is not to be understood as saying, that the justified person will continue “ungodly,” or that he will “not work,” after he has been justified; but only as saying, that he does not work with a view to obtain justification, or come as godly person to receive a recompence: in coming to the Saviour, he will bring nothing but his sins with him, in order that he may be delivered from them, and obtain an interest in the Redeemer’s righteousness, in which he may be clothed and stand before God without spot or blemish. But still the terms are such as to mark with the utmost force and precision, that, from the office of justifying, works must be for ever excluded; and that we must, like Abraham, be justified by a righteousness not our own; a righteousness which cuts off all occasion of glorying, and which makes our salvation to be altogether of grace.]

But, as to the Apostle’s arguments several objections may be made, we will endeavour to state and answer them.

1. This statement of Abraham’s being justified by faith is directly contradicted by St. James—

[St. James, it is true, does say that Abraham was justified by his works; and specifies the offering up of his son Isaac as the work for which he was justified: and farther declares, that in that act the passage quoted by St. Paul received its accomplishment [Note: James 2:21-23.]. But here is no opposition between the two Apostles; as the scope of the context in the two passages will clearly evince. St. James is evidently speaking of the difference between a living and a dead faith; and he shews that Abraham clearly proved his to be a living faith, by the fruits it produced [Note: James 2:18.]. But St. Paul is speaking of the way in which Abraham was justified before God: and the faith whereby Abraham was justified, was actually exercised forty years before the time that St. James speaks of [Note: The faith by which Abraham was justified was exercised twenty years before Isaac was born. See Genesis 15:5-6. And we suppose Isaac to have been at least twenty years old when his father offered him up.]: which we consider as a decisive proof of these two things, namely, that Abraham was justified (in St. Paul’s sense of that term) by faith without works; and next, that St. James did not intend to contradict St. Paul, but only to guard his doctrines from abuse.]

2. Though it was not for offering up his son that God justified Abraham, yet it was for another act of obedience, namely, his submitting to circumcision—

[This idea is entertained by many, who oppose the doctrine of justification by faith alone: but it is as erroneous as that before stated: for Abraham had no son at all, when he exercised faith in God’s promises, and by that faith was justified before God: and he had waited some years in expectation of the promised seed, before Sarah gave him her servant Hagar to wife [Note: Genesis 16:3.]: and Ishmael was thirteen years old when God renewed his covenant with Abraham, and enjoined him the use of circumcision: so that, in this, as in the former case, Abraham was justified many years before the act took place for which our objector would suppose him to be justified. And this is so important an observation, that St. Paul, in the verses following our text, dwells upon it with all the emphasis imaginable [Note: ver. 9–11. with Genesis 17:23.] — — — deducing from it a truth which is of infinite importance to us, namely, that, as Abraham was justified in his uncircumcised state, he is as truly the father of us uncircumcised Gentiles, as he is of his lineal descendants, the circumcised Jews.]

3. If we are constrained to acknowledge, as indeed we must, that Abraham was justified by faith without works, yet that was a personal favour to him. on account of the extraordinary strength of his faith, and not to be drawn into a precedent for us

[But this also is as erioneous as either of the foregoing objections: for though it is certain that he is celebrated above all men for the strength of his faith, and that the exercises of his faith are recorded to his honour, yet it is expressly affirmed by St. Paul, that “it was not written for Abraham’s sake alone, that 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 from the dead, who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification [Note: ver. 20–25.].”]

Having thus considered the example of Abraham, we proceed to notice, that,

II. Of David—

The passage which St. Paul adduces from the Psalms of David, in confirmation of his argument, is peculiarly deserving of our attention [Note: Psalms 32:1-2.].

In the words themselves, we, if not directed by an inspired Apostle, should not have found any decisive evidence of justification by faith alone—

[There is nothing in it respecting imputation of righteousness, but only of a non-imputation of sin. That non-imputation, or forgiveness of sin, might, for aught that appears in that passage to the contrary, be obtained by works: for there is nothing said about faith in Christ, or indeed about faith at all. Moreover, the words, as they stand in the psalm, and are followed by what is spoken of a guileless spirit, seem to intimate the very reverse of what St. Paul has deduced from them, namely, that a man, who, in consideration of his guileless spirit, has his infirmities forgiven, is a blessed man.]

But St. Paul has, by Divine direction, put a sense upon them which beyond all possibility of doubt determines the question before us—

[He tells us, that David in this passage “describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” Here it is not possible to shut our eyes against the doctrine of imputed righteousness. We do not approve of taking one or two particular expressions, and giving them in our discourses a prominence and importance which they do not hold in the inspired volume. But we equally disapprove of keeping out of view any doctrine which is clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures: and we must say, that the doctrine of “righteousness imputed to us without works,” is more clearly taught here, than if it had been maintained in a long and elaborate course of argument; because it is introduced so incidentally, and because the Apostle goes, if we may so speak, so much out of his way on purpose to introduce it. To introduce it, he represents David as saving, what (in words) he did not say; and he omits some very important words which he actually did say. It is observable, that St. Paul stops short in his quotation, and leaves out those words of David, “and in whose spirit there is no guile.” And why did he omit them? We apprehend, for this reason. If he had inserted them, he might have been supposed to countenance the idea, that, though we are justified by faith, yet it is not by faith only, but by faith either as connected with a guileless spirit, or as productive of a guileless spirit: whereas we are justified by it, not as united with holy dispositions, nor as an operative principle in the soul, but simply and solely as apprehending Christ, in and through whom we are justified. Thus by a remarkable addition, and by a no less remarkable omission, he brings the words of David to bear upon his point, and to prove what is of incalculable importance to every soul of man.

We would earnestly wish these words of David to be understood in their full import, as declaring explicitly, that we are to be justified by a righteousness not our own, nor obtained by any works of ours; but by a righteousness imputed to us, and apprehended entirely by faith, even by the “righteousness of Christ, which is unto all, and upon all them that believe [Note: Romans 3:22.].”]

From hence then we may see, how incontrovertibly the doctrine of justification by faith alone is established; and,

1. How far it is from being a new doctrine—

[Wherever this doctrine is preached, a clamour is raised against it, just as it was in the Apostle’s days [Note: Acts 17:19.], as a “new doctrine:” but let any one look into our Articles and Homilies, and see, whether it be not the doctrine of our Church. It is that very doctrine which constituted the basis of the Reformation — — — Then let us go back to the apostolic age: Can any one read the epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, and doubt what St. Paul thought of it? If we go farther back, to David and to Abraham, we see that they sought salvation in no other way than simply by faith in Christ: and we may go farther still, even to Adam, whose views were precisely the same, and who had no hope but in “the Seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent’s head.” There has been but one way of salvation for fallen man from the beginning of the world: nor shall there be any other as long as the world shall stand [Note: Acts 4:12.]. If it be new in any place, the fault is not in him that preaches it, but in those who have preceded him, who have neglected to preach it. Dismiss then this prejudice; and receive the glad tidings of a Saviour with all the joy and gratitude that the occasion demands.]

2. How far it is from being an unimportant doctrine—

[Many who do not reject the doctrine itself, yet consider it as a merely speculative doctrine, a mere strife of words. But our reformers did not so think it, when they sealed the truth of it with their blood. Nor did St. Paul think it so, when he denounced a curse against any man, yea even against any angel from heaven, that should attempt to establish any doctrine that interfered with it [Note: Galatians 1:8-9.]. See how strongly he guards us against any dependence whatever upon our own works, as entirely invalidating the whole Gospel, and destroying utterly all our hope in Christ [Note: Galatians 5:2-4.]— It was owing to the aversion which the Jews had to this doctrine, that so few of them were saved; whilst the Gentiles, who felt less difficulty in submitting to it, were brought in vast multitudes into the kingdom of our Lord [Note: Romans 9:30-32.]. Know then, that this doctrine of justification by faith alone without works, is absolutely necessary to be received, and known, and felt, and gloried in; and that if we build on any other foundation, we must inevitably and eternally perish [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.].]

3. How far it is from being a discouraging doctrine—

[Another calumny generally circulated respecting justification by faith, is, that it is an alarming and terrifying doctrine, and calculated not only to bewilder weak persons, but even to deprive them of their senses. But the very reverse of this is true. Doubtless, before that this doctrine can be received aright, a man must be made sensible that he is in a guilty and undone state, and incapable of effecting his own salvation by any works of righteousness which he can do: but when once a person is brought to that state, the doctrine of a full salvation wrought out for him by Christ, and freely offered to him “without money and without price,” is replete with consolation: it is marrow and fatness to the soul; “it is meat indeed, and drink indeed.” Look at the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, and see the effect of this doctrine upon them [Note: Acts 2:46-47.]. Look at the Ethiopian Eunuch, and at the whole city of Samaria, when Philip had preached it to them [Note: Acts 8:8; Acts 8:39.]; and then you will see the proper tendency of the doctrine, and the sure effect of it wherever it is received. If any works of ours were required to purchase salvation, that doctrine might well drive men to despair: for, it would he like telling the wounded Israelites, when they were in the very article of death, to perform some arduous feats in order to procure their restoration to health; or rather, like telling the dead to raise themselves in order to their enjoyment of life. But the erection of the brazen serpent, that the dying might look unto it and live, is a lively emblem of that salvation which is offered to the world through faith in a crucified Redeemer: and the more pungent is the grief which any feel on account of their guilt and helplessness, the richer is the consolation which will flow into their souls the very instant they believe the glad tidings of the Gospel.]

4. How far it is from being a licentious doctrine—

[There is no end to the calumnies raised against this doctrine, and against all who maintain it. The preachers of it, even those who are most sober, and most guarded, and most practical, are always represented as saying, that, if only men will believe, they may live as they please. But there is nothing more contrary to truth than such a representation as this. We always affirm, that though works are excluded from the office of justifying the soul, they are indispensably necessary to prove the sincerity of our faith; and that the faith which is not productive of good works, is no better than the faith of devils. And then, as to the actual effects which are produced by this doctrine, look back to our reformers: look back to St. Paul, the great champion of this doctrine: look back to David, and to Abraham, and to all the saints recorded in the eleventh chapter to the Hebrews: or if you wish for living examples, look to thousands who maintain and glory in this blessed doctrine. We will appeal to matter of fact: who are the persons that in every place are spoken of as precise, and righteous overmuch, and as making the way to heaven so strait that nobody can walk in it? Are not these the very persons, even these who maintain salvation by faith alone? That there are some who do not adorn this doctrine, is true enough: and so there were in the apostolic age. But do we not bear our testimony against them, as well as against the self-righteous contemners of the Gospel, yea, with far greater severity than against any other class of sinners whatever? Be it remembered then, that the Gospel is “a doctrine according to godliness;” and that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation teaches us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live righteously, soberly, and godlily in this present world.” And we now declare before all, that they who profess the Gospel in words, and deny it in their works, will have a less tolerable portion in the day of judgment than Tyre and Sidon, or even Sodom and Gomorrha.]

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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible

Romans 4:1-3. What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

He stands as the great Father of believers, and this is the charter given to him, and given to all believers in him. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.”

Romans 4:4. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

That is to say, to him who hopes to be saved by his works, to whom salvation is of merit. He has worked for the reward. He has earned it. Do not talk about grace in that case.

Romans 4:5. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

This is the man who does not go upon the line of works — who does not rest in his works at all, or bring them as a price to God. “His faith is counted for righteousness.” It is a very wonderful thing that faith should stand in the stead of righteousness, and should make righteous all those that believe in God by Jesus Christ.

Romans 4:6-8. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works. Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Instead of being a worker, this man had been an offender — a sinner. God did not impute it to him. He was a believer, and God imputed righteousness to him on account of his faith, and did not impute sin to him. Then comes a very important inquiry.

Romans 4:9. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also?

Is circumcision so necessary that a man is justified by faith after he is circumcised, and could not be so justified if he were an uncircumcised man?

Romans 4:9-10. For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

How was it then reckoned? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Look back to the history. See in what condition Abraham was when faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. Was it when he was in circumcision or in uncircumcision? The answer is: —

Romans 4:10-11. Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised:

But the sign is to follow the thing signified. He is, first of all, justified by his faith, and then afterwards he receives the token of the covenant.

Romans 4:11. That he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised: that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:

It is a very remarkable fact. A great many readers of the Book of Genesis would never have noticed it if the Holy Ghost had not called attention to the fact that father Abraham was justified by his faith before he was circumcised; and this is the reason of it — that he might be the father of all believers, whether they be circumcised or uncircumcised. “That righteousness might be imputed to them also.”

Romans 4:12-13. And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

For the law was not even given when that covenant promise was made. The law was 400 years afterwards. The covenant of grace was the oldest covenant of all, and it shall stand fast, whatever shall happen.

Romans 4:14. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

If you are upon that tack of salvation by the law, then what have you to do with faith? And what have you to do with promise, and what have yea to do with Christ? You are on a different line altogether.

Romans 4:15. Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

That is plain enough. You cannot break a law if there is not any; and thus, through our sinfulness, the law becomes a cause of sin, and never does it become the cause of justification.

Romans 4:16. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace:

Salvation is by faith alone, that it may be seen to be of the free favor of God, that we may not look to merit or look to human strength, but may look away to the abounding mercy of God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 4:16-17. 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; who is the father of us all.

What a God we trust in — a God who quickeneth the dead. We have no faith unless we believe in such a God as this. We shall need such a God in order to bring us safely to his right hand at last.

Romans 4:18-20. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb; He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God:

Men seem to think that only workers can give glory to God; but there is more glory given to God by one drachma of faith than by a ton of works. After all, works usually generate conceit and pride in us. But faith lays itself low before its God, and gives to him all the glory. God is never more glorified than he is by the believing confidence of his people when difficulties seem to come in the way. He was “strong in faith, giving glory to God.”

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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". 2011.

Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible

Romans 4:1-8. What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

There is a special blessedness, therefore, which comes to those who, by faith, are under the dispensation of grace. It came to Abraham, and it came to David; yet both Abraham and David were circumcised men belonging to a special race. So the question naturally arises, —

Romans 4:9-12. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

The historical argument is a very forcible one. The blessing was not given to Abraham as a circumcised man, but as a believing man; and hence it comes also to all of us who believe. What a mercy it is that there is, in this sense, no distinction between Jew and Gentile now! I hate that plan of reading the Scriptures in which we are told, when we lay hold of a gracious promise, “Oh, that is for the Jews.” “Then I also am a Jew, for it is given to me.” Every promise of God’s Word belongeth to all those who have the faith to grasp it. We who have faith, are all in the covenant, and are thus the children of faithful Abraham; so be not afraid, ye who are the true seed, to take every blessing that belongs to your father Abraham and to all the seed.

Romans 4:13-14. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

But that would also make void circumcision and the whole of the ancient covenant, seeing that the blessing was given to a man whom God had chosen before his circumcision, and before the ceremonial law had been promulgated.

Romans 4:15-17. Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by 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; who is the father of us all, (as it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,)

Not a father of one select race of people only, but a father of all who, in any land, and speaking any language, are believers in the glorious Jehovah, who is the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.

Romans 4:17. Before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

Abraham was a believer in the God of resurrection, expecting to see Isaac raised up from the dead if he did actually offer him as a sacrifice to God. He was a believer in things that were not yet apparent to him, looking forward to them, and expecting to see them in due time; believing in them because he believed in God, who “calleth those things which be not as though they were.”

Romans 4:18-21. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

This exposition consisted of readings from Romans 3:19-31; and Romans 4:1-21.

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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". 2011.

Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible

Romans 4:1. What shall we say then that Abraham our father as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

What blessings did really come to Abraham, the father of the faithful? What is the nature of that covenant of grace which God made with him?

Romans 4:2. For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

Certainly, before God, Abraham neither gloried nor yet was justified by his works.

Romans 4:3. For what saith the scripture?

That is the question for us always to ask, “What saith the Scripture?”

Romans 4:3. Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

There is no doubt about that point, for in Genesis 15:6 we read, “He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

Romans 4:4. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

He gets what he earns, what he deserves to have, what he receives is “not reckoned of grace, but of debt.”

Romans 4:5-8. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

So then it seems that the blessings of salvation come to men through faith, and not through their own efforts,-not as the reward of merit, but as the simple gift of God’s grace.

Romans 4:9. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also?

Is this blessing entailed upon the natural seed of Abraham alone, or is it for others besides the Jews?

Romans 4:9-10. For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

If you turn again to Genesis 15:6, and then to 17:10, you will find that Abraham was justified by faith before the rite of circumcision was instituted. The blessing came to him “not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.”

Romans 4:11-12. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

The vital question is not, “How were we born?”: or “What rites and ceremonies have been practiced upon us?” but, “Do we believe in God? Have we true faith in God’s Word? Are we trusting our souls to the keeping of God’s Son?”

Romans 4:13. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

The law was promulgated on mount Sinai four hundred years after the covenant of grace was made with Abraham the father of believers, and so made with all believers, for they are his true seed, and God has entered into a covenant of grace and salvation with them.

Romans 4:14-15. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

So that the law is not for justification, but for condemnation. It is the law that reveals sin, and that shows sin to be sin; so men can never become right with God by the law.

Romans 4:16. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed;

That is, to all believers, who are the true seed of Abraham. He is the father of the faithful, and if thou art one of the faithful, he is thy father; and the covenant which God made with Abraham and his seed was made with thee, and on thy account, if thou art indeed a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 4:16-22. 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 us all, (as it is written. I have made thee a father of many nations, before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness..

O soul, if thou art like one who is dead, if thou art devoid of all strength, and grace, and savor, if thou canst but believe in God who can quicken the dead, if thou wilt but trust thy soul in the hands of him who is able even to raise dry bones out of their graves, and make them live, thy faith shall be imputed unto thee for righteousness! Thy faith is that which shall justify thee in the sight of God, and thou shalt be “accepted in the Beloved.” Oh, what marvels faith works! This is the root-grace, all manner of good things spring from faith, but there must be faith as the root if there are to be other graces as the fruit. Do thy God the honour to believe him,-to believe that he cannot lie,-to believe that he has never promised what he is not able to perform. If thou wilt do that, it is clear that thou art one of Abraham’s seed, and the covenant made with Abraham was made with thee also.

Romans 4:23-25. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 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 was raised again for our justification.

See the great object of saving faith,-Christ, once dead, has been raised from the dead, and if thou wouldst be saved, thou must rely upon the crucified and risen Saviour. If thou thus believest that Jesus the crucified is the Christ of God, the anointed Messiah and Redeemer, thou provest that thou art born of God; and if thou trustest thyself to the risen and glorified Christ, thou hast risen in him, and thou shalt rise to be with him for ever and ever.

This exposition consisted of readings from Romans 4, and Romans 5:1-2.

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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". 2011.

The Biblical Illustrator

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 4:4". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

The Biblical Illustrator

Romans 4:1-25

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

Lessons from the case of Abraham

I. However much the most perfect of the species may have to glory of in the eye of his fellows, he has nothing to glory of before God. The apostle affirms this of Abraham, whose virtues had canonised him in the hearts of all his descendants, and who still stands forth as the embodiment of all the virtues of the older dispensation. But of his piety we have no account, till after that point which Paul assigns as the period of his justification. And whatever he had antecedently of the virtues that are useful to and call forth the praise of man, certain it is, that with every human being, prior to that great transition in his history, God is not the Being whose authority is recognised in any of these virtues, and he has nothing to glory of before God. Here we are surrounded with beings, all of whom are satisfied if they see in us their own likeness; and, should we attain the average character of society, its voice will suffer us to pass. But not till the revelation of God’s likeness is made to us do we see our deficiency from that image of unspotted holiness--to be restored to which is the great purpose of our dispensation. Job protested innocence and kindness and dignity before his friends, but when God, whom he had only before heard of by the hearing of the ear now appeared before his awakened eye, he abhorred himself and repented in dust and in ashes. This is the sore evil under which humanity labours. The magnitude of the guilt is unfelt; and therefore does man persist in a most treacherous complacency. The magnitude of the danger is unseen; and therefore does man persist in a security most ruinous.

II. This disease of nature, deadly and virulent as it is, and that beyond the suspicion of those who are touched by it, is not beyond the remedy provided in the gospel. Ungodliness is this disease; and it is here said that God justifies the ungodly. The discharge is as ample as the debt; and the grant of pardon in every way as broad and as long as is the guilt which requires it. The deed of amnesty is equivalent to the offence; and, foul as the transgression is, there is a commensurate righteousness which covers the whole deformity, and translates him whom it had made utterly loathsome in the sight of God, into a condition of full favour and acceptance before Him. Had justification been merely brought into contact with some social iniquity, this were not enough to relieve the conscience of him who feels in himself the workings of a direct and spiritual iniquity against God. It is a sense of this which festers in the stricken heart of a sinner, and often keeps by him and agonises him for many a day, like an arrow sticking fast. And there are many who keep at a distance from the overtures of mercy, till they think they have felt enough and mourned enough over their need of them. But we ought not thus to wait the progress of our emotions, while God is standing before us with a deed of justification, held out to the ungodliest of us all. To give us an interest in the saying, that God justifieth the ungodly, it is enough that we count it a faithful saying, and that we count it worthy of all acceptation.

III. While the offer of a righteousness before God is thus brought down to the lowest depth of human wickedness, and it is an offer by the acceptance of which all the past is forgiven--it is also an offer by the acceptance of which all the future is reformed. When Christ confers sight upon a blind man, he ceases to be in darkness; and when a rich individual confers wealth upon a poor, he ceases to be in poverty--and so, as surely, when justification is conferred upon the ungodly, his ungodliness is done away. His godliness is not the ground upon which the gift was awarded, any more than the sight of him who was blind is the ground upon which it was communicated, or than the wealth of him who was poor is the ground upon which it was bestowed. But just as sight and riches come out of the latter gifts, so godliness comes out of the gift of justification; and while works form in no way the consideration upon Which the righteousness that availeth is conferred upon a sinner, yet no sooner is this righteousness granted than it will set him a-working. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

A crucial case

1. St. Paul has lust shown how the gospel method of justification shuts out the usual Hebrew boast in the Mosaic law as a pathway to eternal life. But some might ask, Did it not set it aside altogether?

2. To this there were two answers possible.

3. The case of Abraham was thus, as St. Paul clearly saw, a crucial instance in which to test his doctrine of justification by faith. Abraham was not merely the first of Israelites or the greatest of them; he was all Israel in his single person. It would never do for a Jew to pretend that a principle which ruled the relations of Abraham to Jehovah could by any possibility make void the law of Moses.

4. But the example of Abraham proves fruitful for Paul’s purpose in more ways than one.

I. His controversy up to this point has involved two main positions. The first is Romans 3:28. The second, Romans 3:30. Both positions he now proceeds to illustrate and confirm by the case of Abraham.

1. It was by his faith Abraham was justified, not by his works of obedience (Romans 3:1-8). Paul finds a remarkable proof-text in Genesis 15:16.

2. Abraham was justified by his faith, not as a circumcised man, but as an uncircumcised (verses 9-16). It lies in the very idea of acceptance through faith, that God will accept the believer apart from nationality, an external rite, or church privilege, or the like. This inference Paul has been pressing on his Jewish readers, and here is a curious confirmation of it. Abraham, through whom came circumcision, etc., was taken into Divine favour previous to his circumcision. Circumcision came in simply to seal, not to constitute, his justification. And the design of such an arrangement was to make him the type and progenitor of all believers--of such believers first, as are never circumcised at all, since for thirteen years or more he was himself an uncircumcised believer; then of such also as are circumcised, indeed, yet believers. He is “the father of us all.” The only people whom his experience fails to embrace, whose “father” he really is not, are those Jews who trust in their lineage and their covenant badge, and expect to be saved for their meritorious observance of prescribed rules, but who in the free and gracious promises of Abraham’s God put no trust at all.

II. The father of believers stands out as not simply a specimen of the faith that justifies, but as the highest pattern and lesson in this grace to all his spiritual progeny (verses 17-25).

1. I spoke of three leading moments in the spiritual life of the great patriarch. In the roll of heroes in faith given in Hebrews 11:1-40, stress is laid upon the first and upon the last. Here, it is the second; and it is this proof of faith, therefore, which Paul now proceeds to examine. The particular promise was that when he was ninety-nine, and his wife ninety, a son should be born to them. On this child of promise were made to depend all the other promises--numerous descendants--the land of inheritance--a perpetual covenant--seed, in whom all earth’s families should be blessed. To believe in this explicit word was to believe substantially in the whole of God’s grace to men as far as it was then revealed. It was gospel faith so far as there was yet any gospel on earth to put faith in. Dimly and far off Abraham saw the day of Christ, and at God’s bare word he risked his spiritual life upon that hope. This was his faith.

2. Now note its characteristics. On the one side lay the improbabilities of an unheard of miracle, to be believed in before it happened; a needless miracle, too, so far as man’s reason could discern; for was not Ishmael already there? On the other side, what was there? Nothing but a word of God. Between these two conflicting grounds of expectation a weaker faith than his might have wavered. But Abraham was not weak in faith. Therefore he did not shrink from considering the physical obstacles to the birth of a son. On the contrary, he could afford to fasten his regard on these, without his confidence, in the promise suffering any diminution; since he kept as clearly in view the character of the Almighty Promiser. God is the Quickener of the dead. He can give a name and virtual existence to the yet unbegotten child. Isaac lives in God’s counsel and purpose before he has actual being. So Abraham dared to trust in the hope of paternity given him of God, and gave God glory, by honouring the truthfulness of His word and the power of His grace. Such is faith; so it always works. Without calling its eyes off from the objections and difficulties which are present to sense, it fastens itself, nevertheless, on the veracity of Him who speaks words of grace to men.

3. These things were not written for Abraham’s sake alone, but for ours. Abraham trusted in God to quicken his unborn son--by and by to raise him (if need were) from the dead. We trust Him who did raise from the dead His own Son Jesus. The gospel facts, the promises, and blessings of the new covenant in Christ are to us what the birth of Isaac was to Abraham: things all of them beyond the reach of experience or against it; resting for their evidence solely on the word of the living God. Such a faith in God is reckoned for righteousness to every man who has it, as it was to Abraham, the father of all believers. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)

No room for glorying

That workman should do ill who, having built a house with another man’s purse, should go about to set up his own name upon the front thereof; and in Justinian’s law it was decreed that no workman should set up his name within the body of that building which he made out of another’s cost. Thus Christ sets us all at work; it is He that bids us to fast, and pray, and hear, and give alms, etc.; but who is at the cost of all this? whose are all these good works? Surely God’s. Man’s poverty is so great, that he cannot reach a good thought, much less a good deed; all the materials are from God, the building is His; it is He that paid for it. Give but, therefore, the glory and the honour thereof unto God, and take all the profit to thyself. (J. Spencer.)

What saith the Scripture?--

What saith the Scripture


I. What is meant by the Scripture? Paul referred simply to the Old Testament. But we are not to suppose that the Old and New Testaments are different Scriptures. The only difference is that in the New we have a clearer explanation of that which may be found in the Old.

II. What is the authority of the Scripture? The difference between this and the best of other books is that it was written, not by man, but by God; though holy men of old wrote the Book, they wrote it as they were moved by God the Holy Ghost. This Divine authority is supported by ample evidence.

1. Historical.

2. Experimental.

III. What saith the scripture?

1. For the head. It unfolds--

2. For the heart.

(a) The love of God to each soul.

(b) His forbearance with sinners.

(c) His desire to make men happy.

(a) The sympathy of Jesus.

(b) The comfort of the Holy Ghost.

3. For our life--our way of living. It testifies--

IV. How are we to know these Scriptures? By searching them--

1. Prayerfully.

2. Daily. Conclusion: What an awful responsibility rests upon every man who does not consider what the Scripture saith! It is just as if you were walking in a dark place, not knowing your road, and someone were to offer you a light, and you were to refuse to take it. Not long ago I happened to be visiting in a great castle, situate on the top of a hill, near which there was a very steep cliff, and a rapid river running at the bottom. A person, anxious to get home from that castle late one night in the midst of a violent thunderstorm when the night was blackness itself, was asked to stop till the storm was over. She declined. She was begged to take a lantern, that she might be kept in the road, but she said she could do very well without it. She left, and, perhaps frightened by the storm, she wandered from the road and got upon the top of the cliff; she tumbled over, and the next day the lifeless body of that foolish woman was found washed ashore from the swollen river. Ah! but how many such foolish ones are there who, when the light is offered, and they have only to ask, “What saith the Scripture?” are prepared to say, “I have no need of that Book; I know right from wrong; I am not afraid; I fear not the end.” (Bp. Williers.)

What saith the Scripture


I. As a revelation. On some subjects it is the sole authority. Without it man has no light whatever, or only the dimmest light, on the nature of God, His relations to man, the method of reconciliation, immortality. On these subjects its testimony is full, clear, authoritative. How important, then, that man, a spiritual being, with an immortal destiny, should ask, “What saith the Scriptures?”

II. As a counsellor. Man is a traveller in an unknown way, and needs a guide, or the chances are he will go astray. There are many candidates for the office--many sincere, and desirous only to secure his good; many insincere, seeking their own advantage: all fallible, and liable to give the wrong advice. The Scripture alone is infallible; it displays every step of the way, so that a wayfaring man, if he accepts its guidance, though a fool, will not err. How important, then, that as regards the path of duty and the way to heaven, young and old should ask, “What saith the Scriptures?”

III. As a standard. Weights and measures in ordinary use may be right or may be wrong. Some are wrong, being too heavy or too light, too long or too short, too large or too small. So it is necessary again and again to apply the “standard” test of weight, measurement, etc. So the Churches, theological schools, etc., may be right or may be wrong in their enunciation of doctrine, and moralists in their statement of ethics. But the Scripture is the authoritative standard of faith and practice, and to it all teaching is to be referred. The Thessalonians received or rejected Paul’s doctrine without referring to the standard; the Bereans were “more noble,” in that they “searched the Scriptures whether these things were so.”

IV. As a judge. The Scripture will judge those to whom it has been given at the last day. The Books will be opened, and this amongst them. It will be in vain then for man to plead that he has consulted the Church, human opinion, etc. What will Scripture say then? “Come, ye blessed,” or, “Depart, ye cursed.” (J. W. Burn.)

The Bible alone

1. “Scripture.” means writing. Generally, when the Bible, as a volume, is spoken of, the expression “the Scriptures” is used, because it is made up of many writings. When some particular part is alluded to, then it is said “the Scripture.” For instance (John 5:39), Christ said, “Search the Scriptures,” because the whole Bible, from first to last, more or less testified to Him. But when He selects any particular part, then He says, “that Scripture” (Matthew 12:10). Now in the text Paul does not Say, “What saith the Scriptures?” speaking of the whole Bible, but “What says this particular part of Scripture which I am now quoting?”

2. From this we gather that the Bible is infallible. When Jesus quotes it, it is with a view to settle all dispute; or when Paul has proved what he has to say by the Bible, he has decided the matter which is in controversy. “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to that Word it is because they have no light in them.” Note--

I. What the text does not say. It does not say--

1. “What says reason?” Many a man says that. Appeal to their reason and they are satisfied. But what is reason? That which is reason to one man is not reason to another. Must I listen to any infidel who chooses to put the Bible aside and say, “Listen to me, I am reason”? It is true that one man has more mental faculty than another. But when we come to weigh mind against mind, who have displayed greater powers of mind than those who have believed the Bible? And am I to set aside the reason of these men, and take up the reason of other men who are immeasurably their inferiors, and be told that the Bible is not a book to be believed because it is contrary to reason? To me it is the most reasonable thing to believe in the Bible.

2. “What saith science?” Some men say they can disprove the Bible by scientific discoveries. One geologist will tell you that the Bible has false statements with regard to the antiquity of the world; but another says that science and the Book of God are in perfect harmony. Well, then, which am I to believe? Science is always changing. Until Galileo made his discovery that the earth moved round the sun, science declared that the earth stood still and the sun moved round it.

3. “What saith the Church?” “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture do we understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.” Good; that is the doctrine of all the Churches that hold the “truth as it is in Jesus.” And right that they should do so. They do not bring a man’s interpretation, creeds, decrees, and councils, and say, “Take this to be your faith.” But they all say, “What saith the Scripture?”

II. What the text does say.

1. As to doctrine, Abraham believed God, and it was “counted to him for righteousness.” There is the doctrine, then; it is salvation “by faith” alone, “without the deeds of the law.” Now many object to this, and say, “That is unreasonable; God will expect me to do something.” “No,” the Scripture saith, and with reason. If you look to the law, you must do all the works of the law, or none--“Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things in the law.” As one leak will sink a ship, so one sin will damn a soul. But is not this a dangerous doctrine? Does it not make a man neglect good works? I cannot help that. Men may abuse the doctrine, as they do other good things, but that is no valid objection against the doctrine itself.

2. As to duty. Having taught that doctrine, we proceed to say that faith will never be without works. As there will always be light and heat in the rays of the sun, so there will always be works following and accompanying faith. “Faith worketh by love.” “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” What saith the Scripture? “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour.” But there are those who speak of faith but show no works. Now, that is not the faith of God’s elect. You will find it described in James 2:20-23. This bears upon the subject. The Holy Ghost says that although Abraham was accounted righteous in the sight of God by faith, he justified his character in the sight of men by works. What, then, saith the Scripture to that man who lives as most men live; to that man who is neglectful of secret prayer, who is living in sin, serving divers lusts and pleasures, setting his affection on things below? Why, they condemn him from first to last. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” He is not a believer; his life proves it. According to the Word of God, where there is faith there will be works. (R. W. Dibdin, M. A.)

The Christian oracles

1. This question is highly characteristic of St. Paul. If a Grecian statesman like Solon had been in a difficulty, his question would have been, “What saith the oracle?” If a Roman general like Caesar, his would have been, “What say the victims?” But the Christian apostle’s is, “What saith the Scripture?”

2. Universal has been the confession of human ignorance, especially regarding the future. The numerous oracles of antiquity, of which there were twenty-two sacred to Apollo alone, are manifest acknowledgments of this. But those oracles did not arise merely out of a consciousness of human ignorance; they had their origin likewise in a reverence for the gods and a respect for their religion, such as it was.

3. This being the case, let us contrast the oracles of the heathen with the oracles of God. At Delphi was the most famous oracle. In the innermost sanctuary there was the golden statue of Apollo, and before it there burnt upon an altar an eternal fire. In the centre of this temple there was a small opening in the ground, from which an intoxicating smoke arose. Over this chasm there stood a high tripod, on which the Pythia took her seat whenever the oracle was to be consulted. The smoke rising under the tripod affected her brain in such a manner that she fell into a state of delirious intoxication, and the sounds which she uttered in this state were believed to contain the revelations of Apollo. In the long experiment of heathenism it may be truly said that men groped after God, “if haply they might find Him.” Think of them solemnly examining the entrails of a beast, or studying the intersections of a cobweb; think of them trying to discover the mind of God from dreams or the sounds of the wind among the rustling leaves; and then reflect on our greater light and privileges, for we have the oracles which holy men wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost. As we have a nobler oracle, let us consult it with a nobler curiosity and on nobler subjects than the Gentiles did. It is the boast of some natural theologians that they could do without the Bible. But in the full light of nature men acted as we have observed, and therefore something more luminous and powerful was necessary to the renovation of humanity. That one thing needful was a revelation--and that we have got; for “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” “What saith the Scripture” on--

I. The original and present state of man? It tells us we were created upright, that man is fallen and degenerate, and that we are now in a state of sin and death.

II. This present world. How are we to interpret it? Now, just as there is an intended distance for judging of a picture, so there is a right position and attitude for judging this world. A man comes close up to a masterpiece of Rubens, and pronounces it a daub. Let him stand back, and the picture will come out even to his unskilful eye. Just so with the world. You cannot judge it rightly while you are near it, amidst its fascinations. You must retire and prayerfully consult the Word of God. That is the right position and attitude for judging of the world. Many a thoughtful man asks himself, “Why has God set me down here in the world? What does He want me to do?” If he went to the Bible he would get these questions satisfactorily answered; but perhaps he comes to the easy conclusion that he ought to enjoy himself, and straightway plunges into the stream of pleasure, and basks for a little in her fitful sunshine. He is destined to experience what a million experiences fail to prove to the imprudent, that the pleasures of the world turn to acids. “What saith the Scripture?” It tells us that man is here on probation, that this is a life of discipline preparatory to another stage of existence, that this life is not our home, but that our home is in heaven.

III. The subject of happiness. It is not to be found in the world. Knowledge will not give happiness; for “he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Wealth will not give happiness. A rich man, when he was dying, cried out for his gold. It was brought to him, and he put it to his breast. “Take it away! take it away!” he shrieked; “that won’t do!” Greatness cannot give happiness. Once a friend called to salute a prime minister, and wished him a happy new year. “God grant that it may be!” said the poor great man; “for during the last year I have not known a happy day.” A real Christian is the happiest style of man. Thus saith the Scripture, “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but in Me ye shall have peace.”

IV. Of the immortality of the soul. How unsatisfactory is mere reason here! But Christ has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Conclusion:

1. We should receive the responses of God’s oracle with meekness.

2. Consider your responsibility. Shall not the heathen rise up in the judgment and condemn us? For they listened for the voice of Deity among the rustling leaves or the cooing of the doves, but many of us despise the voice that speaketh from heaven.

3. Consider the perpetuity of the Word, and tremble. Its reviler has long been in his grave; but the Word of God liveth and abideth forever. (F. Perry, M. A.)

Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.--

The faith of Abraham

1. A simple childlike dependence on the naked Word of God.

2. An acceptance of, and trust in, God’s promised Saviour.

3. A renouncing of his own works as meritorious.

4. A faith that wrought by love, making him the friend of God.

5. One that overcame the world, leading him to seek a better country.

6. One that evidenced its reality by a self-denying obedience. (T. Robinson, of Cambridge.)

The faith of Abraham,

though not the same with a faith in Christ, was analogous to it--

1. As it was a faith in unseen things (Hebrews 11:17-19).

2. As it was prior to and independent of the law (Galatians 3:17-19).

3. As it related to the promised seed in whom Christ was dimly seen. (Prof. Jowett.)

Abraham’s faith

I. Whom did he believe? God, as infinitely powerful--who could quicken the dead, and who had merely to will that beings and events should be, and they immediately came into existence (verse 17).

II. What did he believe? What God was pleased to reveal. What is mentioned here is that he should become the father of many nations; but that was only a small part of what was revealed and what he believed. He believed in effect--for this was the sum of what God revealed to him--that one of his descendants was to be the promised Saviour of men; and that both he and his spiritual seed were to be saved by faith in Him. The revelation was comparatively indistinct, but this was its purport.

III. Why did he believe this? Just because God had said it. He had no other ground for it. Everything else would have led him to doubt or disbelieve it.

IV. What were the characteristics of this faith? It was--

1. Firm faith (verse 21).

2. Hopeful faith (verse 18).

3. A faith that no seeming impossibilities could shake (verse 20). (J. Browne, D. D.)

Abraham’s faith

I. Abraham was a man of faith.

1. His faith was not--

2. It was a grand, simple trust in God. It was shown in--

3. Such a faith is personal reliance, leading to obedience and encouraged by hopeful anticipation.

4. This faith is a model faith for us. For faith is to rely upon Christ, to be loyal to Christ, to hope in Christ, and to accept the fuller revelations of truth which Christ opens up to us as Abraham accepted the Divine voices vouchsafed to him. The contents of faith wilt vary according to our light; but the spirit of it must be always the same.

II. His faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. The special point in Abraham’s character was not his holiness, but his faith. God’s favour flowed to him through this channel. It was the way through which he, imperfect and sinful as are all the sons of Adam, was called to the privileged place of a righteous man. This is recorded of him in the sacred history (Genesis 15:6), and therefore should be admitted by all Jews. The reasons for our relying on faith are--

1. Historical. Faith justified Abraham, therefore it will justify us.

2. Theological. Faith brings us into living fellowship with God, and so opens our hearts to receive the forgiveness that puts us in the position of righteous men.

3. Moral. Faith is the security for the future growth of righteousness; with the first effort of faith the first seed grace of righteousness is sown.

III. Participation in Abraham’s faith is the condition of participation in Abraham’s blessing. The Jews claimed this by birthright, but Abraham had it by faith. Only men of faith could have it. Therefore Jews who lost faith lost the blessing. But all men of faith are spiritual sons of Abraham (verse 12). The finest legacy left by the patriarch was his faith. (H. F. Adeney, M. A.)

The nature of faith as illustrated in the case of Abraham

I. Faith The Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English words hover between two meanings--

1. Trustfulness, the frame of mind which relies on another.

2. Trustworthiness, the frame of mind which can be relied upon. Not only are the two connected together grammatically, as active and passive senses of the same word, or logically, as subject and object of the same act; but there is a close moral affinity between them. Fidelity, constancy, firmness, confidence, reliance, trust, belief--these are the links which connect the two extremes, the passive with the active meaning of “faith.” Owing to these combined causes, the two senses will at times be so blended together that they can only be separated by some arbitrary distinction. When the members of the Christian brotherhood, e.g., are called “the faithful,” what is meant by this? Does it imply their constancy, their trustworthiness, or their faith, their belief? In all such cases it is better to accept the latitude, and oven the vagueness, of a word or phrase, than to attempt a rigid definition which after all can only be artificial. And indeed the loss in grammatical precision is often more than compensated by the gain in theological depth. In the case of “the faithful,” e.g., does not the one quality of heart carry the other with it, so that they who are trustful are trusty also; they who have faith in God are steadfast and immovable in the path of duty?

II. In Abraham this attitude of trustfulness was most marked. By faith he left home and kindred, and settled in a strange land; by faith he acted upon God’s promise of a race and an inheritance, though it seemed at variance with all human experience; by faith he offered up his only son, in whom alone that promise could be fulfilled. This one word “faith” sums up the lesson of his whole life. As early as the First Book of Maccabees attention is directed to this lesson (chap. 2:52), and at the time of the Christian era the passage in Genesis relating to it had become a standard text in the Jewish schools for discussion and comment, and the interest thus concentrated on it prepared the way for the fuller and more spiritual teaching of the apostles. Hence we find it quoted by both Paul and James. While the deductions drawn from it by them are at first sight diametrically opposed in terms, and as long as our range of view is confined to the apostolic writings, it seems scarcely possible to avoid the conclusion that James is attacking the teaching of Paul. But when we realise the fact that the passage in Genesis was a common thesis in the schools, that the meaning of faith was variously explained, and diverse lessons drawn from it--then the case is altered. The Gentile apostle and the Pharisaic rabbi might both maintain the supremacy of faith as the means of salvation; but faith with Paul was a very different thing from faith with Maimonides. With the one its prominent idea is a spiritual life, with the other an orthodox creed; with the one the guiding principle is the individual conscience, with the other an external rule of ordinances; with the one faith is allied to liberty, with the other to bondage. Thus, and since the circles of labour of the two apostles were not likely to intersect, St. James’s protest against reliance on faith alone is more likely to have been levelled against the Pharisaic spirit which rested satisfied with a barren orthodoxy than against the teaching of Paul. (Bp. Lightfoot.)

Abraham, the model of faith

I. The faith of Abraham was a simple faith--a faith which asked for nothing but the word of God to rest upon.

II. It was an obedient faith. It led him to do whatever God told him to do. And our faith is good for nothing unless it leads us to be like Abraham in this respect.

III. It was a conquering faith--a faith which helped him to overcome the greatest difficulties.

IV. Abraham’s faith was a comforting faith. (R. Newton, D. D.)

Difficulties overcome by faith

Bishop Hall has only overstated a fundamental fact when he says, “There is no faith where there is either means or hope:” Means and hopes may be “mixed with faith,” but undoubtedly the mightiest deliverances ever wrought have been by faith alone. Difficulties and apparent impossibilities are the food on which faith feeds.

Believing God

Abraham was the head of a wandering tribe, with probably only such small ambitions as were common to his station; a man of purer life, of higher purposes, perhaps, than his neighbour chiefs, and yet with nothing very marked to distinguish him from them. God calls this man, instructs him, leads him, and as he hears, believes, obeys, he becomes quite another man. In this is the whole source of Abraham’s greatness. It was not in his natural gifts that he was distinguished above all other men of his day; ethers may have been as intelligent and as forceful as he. Nor was it in his great opportunities that he excelled. There is nothing very wonderful in his history, if you take away from it his faith and its influence on his life. He wandered farther than many of the men of his day; but they were all wanderers. He fought his petty battles; so did they. But the one thing which raised him above them all, the thing which makes us know that there was such a man at all, is only this, that he believed God. There is nothing small in such a life, for its whole business is to follow God’s call. The same transformation is wrought today over the man who, like Abraham, believes God. It does not come from believing that God is, or believing in God, or on God, but by simply, lovingly, believing God; believing what He says, and all He says, and because He says it. It makes a man a saint if you look at him from the side of personal purity of character and life. It puts him under the holiest influence which can move a mortal man. God has said, “Without holiness no man can see the Lord,” and he believes God; and having “this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” It makes a man a hero, if you look at him from the side of his daring or endurance. He believes God. It makes no difference to him what any man, what all men say. What are men’s words against the Word of God? (Christian World Pulpit.)

Folly of self-righteousness

“By the works of the law there shall no flesh living be justified”; and in the teeth of that millions of men say, “We will be justified by the works of the law”; so, coming to God with the pretence of worshipping Him, they offer Him that which He abhors, and give the lie to Him in all His solemn declarations. If God says that by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified, and man declares, “But I will be so justified,” he maketh God a liar; whether he knoweth it or not, his sin hath that within it. Man is much like a silkworm, he is a spinner and weaver by nature. A robe of righteousness is wrought out for him, but he will not have it; he will spin for himself, and like the silkworm, he spins and spins, and he only spins himself a shroud. All the righteousness that a sinner can make will only be a shroud in which to wrap up his soul, his destroyed soul, for God will cast him away who relies upon the works of the law. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 4:4". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Romans 4:4. Of grace Of favour. Raphelius has shewn that the Greek word ΄ισθος does not only mean a reward of debt, but also a gift of favour; and that the phrase

μισθον δωρεην, occurs in Herodotus: so that a reward of grace or favour is a classical as well as theological expression.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Chapter 10


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."’

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary".

The Pulpit Commentaries


Romans 4:1-25

(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.

Romans 4:1

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).

Romans 4:2

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.

Romans 4:3

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).

Romans 4:6-8

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.

Romans 4:13-15

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.

Romans 4:18-21

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.

Romans 4:22-25

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.


Romans 4:11

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.

Romans 4:18

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."

Romans 4:20

"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.

Romans 4:21

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.


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"


Romans 4:1-25

Abraham's faith.

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.


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.


Romans 4:1-8

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., 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.

Romans 4:9-22

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.

2. Therefore the heritage is of faith, that it may be according to grace, etc.

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.

Romans 4:23-25

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. 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.


Romans 4:6-8

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.


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.


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.

Romans 4:16

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."


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.


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.


Romans 4:1-25

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 4:4". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
9:32; 11:6,35; Matthew 20:1-16
Reciprocal: Genesis 6:8 - General2 Chronicles 15:7 - your work;  Psalm 33:18 - hope;  John 6:29 - This;  Acts 20:24 - the gospel;  Galatians 3:12 - the law;  Galatians 5:4 - justified;  Colossians 3:24 - ye shall;  2 Thessalonians 2:16 - through;  Titus 2:11 - the grace;  Titus 3:7 - being

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Vincent's Word Studies

The reward ( ὁ μισθὸς )

See on 2 Peter 2:13.

Not of grace but of debt ( οὐ κατὰ χάριν ἀλλὰ κατὰ ὀφείλημα )

Lit., according to grace, etc. Not grace but debt is the regulative standard according to which his compensation is awarded. The workman for hire represents the legal method of salvation; he who does not work for hire, the gospel method; wages cannot be tendered as a gift. Grace is out of the question when wages is in question.

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Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

Now to him that worketh — All that the law requires, the reward is no favour, but an absolute debt. These two examples are selected and applied with the utmost judgment and propriety. Abraham was the most illustrious pattern of piety among the Jewish patriarchs. David was the most eminent of their kings. If then neither of these was justified by his own obedience, if they both obtained acceptance with God, not as upright beings who might claim it, but as sinful creatures who must implore it, the consequence is glaring It is such as must strike every attentive understanding, and must affect every individual person.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Faith-justification shown by Abraham’s Case to lie at the Foundation of the Jewish, as well as of the Christian, Church, Romans 4:1-25.

Abraham himself was gratuitously justified by faith, (Romans 4:1-5;) with a justification whose blessedness is attested by David, (Romans 4:6-8;) and which was conferred upon him in his Gentilism, and afterward sealed by circumcision, (Romans 4:9-11;) rendering him the father of the faithful by faith, (Romans 4:12-17,) insomuch that from that faith sprang by miraculous birth the very race of Israel, (Romans 4:18-22;) a faith identical with justifying faith in Christ, (Romans 4:23-25.)

ABRAHAM was to the Jew the most nearly divine of all human names. His venerable form, to their imagination, rose loftily from the mists of an early antiquity as the founder of their race, securing it a divine preeminence in this world, and a certain salvation in the world to come. He connected their lineal pedigree with Adam, which was yet to culminate in the Messiah. Hence, when Paul identified the Christian faith with the Abrahamic, he based Christianity on the deepest possible foundations, and showed that a great epoch in sacred history had here commenced. (Note Acts 7:2.)


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Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

4.WorkethAs a hired man, for pay. This exclusion of works as a condition means an exclusion of all merit or compensation to God. (See note on Romans 3:27.)

The rewardThe wages.

GraceNo thanks are due from the employe for his pay. But it is not necessary to its being grace that God’s grace should be irresistible, or so conferred as to secure through exact force and measure of motives that it be not resisted. Irresistible grace is a forced grace, an iron grace, which it is not pleasant to attribute to God. “The quality of mercy is not strained.” (See note on Romans 3:24-27.)

Merit of a moral nature must be distinguished from mere excellence. A clock may possess great excellence as a perfect clock, but it is no merit in the clock that it is an excellent machine. So if man with his faculties and will is equally a spiritual machine, putting forth choice, as a clock-hammer strikes, precisely according to force applied, there is no merit in his choosing right. So, also, if a man be like a false clock, a bad machine, there is no moral demerit or desert of punishment for such a badness. If he be bound by God’s decree, or the force of motives on his will so as to nullify all power of will to choose right, (unless he has brought the incapacity on himself,) he cannot be rightly punished for wrong. He may deserve no special reward, but he does deserve exemption from penalty for his wrong.

Debt—When it is debt the employer is bound to pay, and when payment is made the parties are even.


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William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation


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William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation

Verses 4-5:

Now to him that worketh the reward is not reckoned as a matter of grace, but, on the contrary, as a matter of debt. But to one not working, but believing upon the God that justifieth the ungodly,--his faith is reckoned for righteousness.

Here Paul writes two verses which every believer should commit to memory: for they state what no mind of fallen man ever imagines; for do not people naturally believe that the way to be saved is to "be good"?

To him that worketh--To a man that works for wages, the wages are due as a debt. That is a simple enough principle. But do not seek to apply it to salvation! No one ever got righteousness by work or worth! Righteousness is not by doing right, strange and impossible as that may seem.

But to him that worketh not--to him who "casts his deadly doing down"; who, seeing his guilt, and his entire inability to put it away, ceases wholly from all efforts to obtain God's favor by his own doings, or self-denyings,--even by his prayers: but believeth on the God that declareth righteous the ungodly--not the godly or the good! But, you say, God cannot do that! God cannot declare a man godly if he is really ungodly. Now God did not say "godly," but He said righteous,--"declareth righteous those ungodly who believe." God can do that! For God can reckon to an ungodly man who dares cease trying to change himself, and relies on God just as he is, a sinner,--God can and does reckon to such a one the glorious benefit of Christ's death and resurrection on behalf of sinners. And of such a believing sinner, God declares his faith is counted as righteousness.

It cannot be too much emphasized that the words, "the ungodly," in verse 5 (Romans 4:5), wholly shut out any other class from justification. If we say, God, indeed, has in some special cases justified notoriously, openly, evidently ungodly ones; while His general habit is, to justify the godly (which is what human reason demands), then we at once deny all Scripture. For God says, "There is no distinction; for all sinned; there is none righteous,--not one." And if you claim that God justifies the godly, we ask, on what ground? If you say on the ground of their godliness, you have left out the blood of Christ,--on which ground alone God can deal with sinners; and you have really denied this so-called "godly" man to be a sinner before God at all, since he is to be justified on another ground than is the openly ungodly sinner,--the shed blood of Christ.

Do you not see that all this distinction between sinners is an abomination before a holy God? What does it matter whether you are a nobleman or a knave, if God has said He declares sinners righteous by Christ's blood? What matter whether you are an honorable woman or a harlot, if God says you are a sinner (and He does!) and that the only ground of being declared righteous is the blood of His Son?

The burning question is, have you and I been so really convinced of the fact of our sinnerhood and guilt, and of our utter helplessness, and lost state, as to be able to believe on a God who can and does "declare righteous the UNgodly--those who believe, as ungodly, on Him?

A child, without Christ, is "ungodly," in this sense. "Ye were by nature children of wrath," is an awful word, but a true word,--going back to our mother's womb, who, "in sin conceived us!" We were born into a lost, guilty race,--we were born part of that race! And it was written of all of us, concerning Adam's sin: "Through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners."

We are all ungodly! And when we place our faith in the God who is in the business of declaring righteous the ungodly--who trust Him as they are,--on the sole ground of the shed blood of Christ,--then we are justified,--accounted righteous, by God.

No, it is not the regenerate, the born again man, who is declared righteous,--it is the ungodly. It is not the penitent man or the praying man, as such, but the ungodly. It is not the professing Christian who has "escaped the defilements of the world" (2 Peter 2) through certain spiritual experiences (it may be of a high order), but the ungodly, who believes, as such, on the God who declares righteous the ungodly who believe on Him--AS SUCH!

And of course it is not the "church-member,"--Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, or Plymouth Brother, as such,--but, the ungodly. This is not, either, putting a premium on ungodliness, but telling the truth! If you have not relied on God as an ungodly one, you have yet to be declared righteous; for He is the God who declares righteous the ungodly who believe on Him. [ (1)We beg the reader's permission to relate below an experience of our own, as illustrating "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that declares righteous the ungodly": Years ago in the city of St. Louis, I was holding noon meetings in the Century Theater. One day I spoke on this verse,-- Romans 4:5. After the audience had gone, I was addressed by a fine-looking man of middle age, who had been waiting alone in a box-seat for me. He immediately said, "I am Captain G--," (a man very widely known in the city). And, when I sat down to talk with him, he began: "You are speaking to the most ungodly man in St. Louis." I said, "Thank God!" "What!" he cried. "Do you mean you are glad that I am bad?" "No," I said; "but I am certainly glad to find a sinner that knows he is a sinner." "Oh, you do not know the half! I have been absolutely ungodly for years and years and years, right here in St. Louis. I own two Mississippi steamers. Everybody knows me. I am just the most ungodly man in town"‘ I could hardly get him quiet enough to ask him: "Did you hear me preach on ungodly people' today?" "Mr. Newell," he said, "I have been coming to these noon meetings for six weeks. I do not think I have missed a meeting. But I cannot tell you a word of what you said today. I did not sleep last night. I have hardly had any sleep for three weeks. I have gone to one man after another to find what to do. And I do what they say. I have read the Bible. I have prayed. I have given money away. But I am the most ungodly wretch in this town. Now what do you tell me to do? I waited here today to ask you that. I have tried everything; but I am so ungodly!" "Now," I said, "we will turn to the verse I preached on." I gave the Bible into his hands, asking him to read aloud: "To him that worketh not." "But," he cried, "how can this be for me? I am the most ungodly man in St. Louis!" "Wait," I said, "I beg you go on reading." So he read, "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly." "There!" he fairly shouted, "that's what I am,--ungodly." "Then, this verse is about you," I assured him. "But please tell me what to do, Mr. Newell. I know I am ungodly: what shall I do?" "Read the verse again, please." He read: "To him that worketh not,"--and I stopped him. "There," I said, "the verse says not to do, and you want me to tell you something to do: I cannot do that." "But there must be something to do; if not, I shall be lost forever." "Now listen with all your soul," I said. "There was something to do, but it has been done!" Then I told him how God had so loved him, all ungodly as he was, that He sent Christ to die for the ungodly. And that God's judgment had fallen on Christ, who has been forsaken of God for his, Captain G----'s, sins there on the cross. Then, I said, "God raised up Christ; and sent us preachers to beseech men, all ungodly as they are, to believe on this God who declares righteous the ungodly, on the ground of Christ's shed blood." He suddenly leaped to his feet and stretched his hand out to me. "Mr. Newell," he said, "I will accept that proposition!" and off he went, without another word. Next noonday, at the opening of the meeting, I saw him beckoning to me from the wings of the stage. I went to him, "May I say a word to these people?" he asked. I saw his shining face, and gladly brought him in. I said to the great audience, "Friends, this is Captain G----, whom most, it not all of you, know. He wants to say a word to you." "I want to tell you all of the greatest proposition I ever found," he cried: "I am a business man, and know a good proposition. But I found one yesterday that so filled me with joy, that I could not sleep a wink all night. I found out that God for Jesus Christ's sake declares righteous any ungodly man that trusts Him. I trusted Him yesterday; and you all know what an ungodly man I was. I thank you all for listening to me; but I felt I could not help but tell you of this wonderful proposition; that God should count me righteous. I have been such a great sinner." This beloved man lived many years in St. Louis, an ornament to his confession.]

So we have seen in verses four and five the working method and the believing method contrasted. What a place heaven would be if men were allowed to pay their way! They would boast all through eternity, one about this, another about that. But the works method and the grace method are mutually exclusive. Each shuts out the other. Men must cease even seeking; they must cease all works--weeping, confessing, repenting, even earnest praying, and simply believe God laid their sins, their very own sins, all of them, on Christ at the cross. There comes a moment when a man ceases from his own works, hearing that Christ finished the work, paid the ransom, at the cross. Then he rests! Such a soul believes,--knowing himself to be a sinner, and ungodly,--but he believes on God, just as he is, and knows he is welcome!

Note that Scripture does not say that God justifies the praying man, or the Bible reader, or the church member, but the ungodly. Have you yourself believed on the God that accounts righteous the ungodly? Have you ever really seen yourself in the ungodly class, a mere sinner, and as such trusted God, on only one ground, the blood of Christ?

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Newell, William. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. 1938.