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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Romans 4

 

 

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Verse 1

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

The apostle has been all along careful to guard his readers against the supposition that he was teaching them any absolutely new doctrine. New, it might indeed be called, in respect of the flood of new light which had been thrown upon it by the work of Christ in the flesh. But it was of the utmost importance to show that God's way of justifying the ungodly had been from the first the same that it now is; not only that it had been predicted and foreshadowed under the ancient economy (Romans 1:2; Romans 3:21), but that it had been in operation from the first. That accordingly is what the apostle now proceeds to do. And as Abraham, "the father of the faithful," and David, the "man after God's own heart," were regarded as the very pillars of the ancient economy (see Matthew 1:1), he first adduces the Scripture testimony regarding the one, and then confirms this by the testimony of the other.

First: Abraham Was Justified by Faith (Romans 4:1-5)

What shall we then say that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? - or, rather, 'hath found as pertaining to the flesh;' meaning, 'by all his natural efforts or legal obedience.' [Lachmann and Tregelles put heureekenai (Greek #2147) immediately before Abraam (Greek #11), on the weighty evidence of 'Aleph (') A C D E F G, several cursives, four manuscripts of the Old Latin, the Vulgate, and some Greek fathers; while Tischendorf abides by the received order of the words-on the authority of B K L, most cursives, both Syriac versions, Chrysostom, and one or two other fathers. Perhaps internal evidence should decide in favour of the received order, as being the more difficult.]


Verse 2

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

For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God - q.d., 'If works were the ground of Abraham's justification, he would have matter for boasting; but as it is perfectly certain that he has none in the sight of God, it follows that Abraham could not have been justified by works.' So Calvin and the best expositors. And to this agree the words of Scripture.


Verse 3

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

For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it (that is, his believing) was counted unto him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Romish expositors and Arminian Protestants make this to mean that God accepted Abraham's act of believing as a substitute for complete obedience. But this is at variance with the whole spirit and letter of the apostle's teaching. Throughout this whole argument, faith is set in direct opposition to works, in the matter of justification, and even in the next two verses. The meaning, therefore, cannot possibly be that the mere act of believing-which is as much a work as any other piece of commanded duty (John 6:29; John 3:23) - was counted to Abraham for all obedience. The case of Abraham here adduced (as Meyer justly observes) is not that of a man simply trusting or having confidence in God, but of one confiding in a promise which pointed to Christ. What makes Abraham the father of all believers is something far more than the subjective state of heart implied in the general state of trust in God: it is the essential oneness of the Object of Abraham's faith with that of all Christians-implicitly apprehended and embraced by him, and explicitly by them-it is this (as Meyer, Tholuck, Philippi, and others remark) that makes the faith of Abraham, in the view of our apostle, the grand pattern case of justification by faith. Faith, in his case as in ours, is but the instrument that puts us in possession of the blessing gratuitously bestowed. Even Jowett says, '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); and

(3) as it related to the promised seed in whom Christ was dimly seen' (Galatians 3:8)


Verse 4

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.


Verse 5

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

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. The apostle in this verse expresses himself in language the most naked and emphatic, as if to preclude the possibility of either misapprehending or perverting his meaning. The faith, he says, which is counted for righteousness is the faith of "him who worketh not." But as if even this would not make it sufficiently evident that God, in justifying the believer, has no respect to any personal merit of his, He explains further what He means, by adding the words, "but believeth on Him who justifieth the ungodly;" those who have no personal merit on which the eye of God, if it required such, could fasten as a recommendation to His favour. This, says the apostle, is the faith which is counted for righteousness. So much for the case of Abraham.

Second: David sings of the same gratuitous justification (Romans 4:6-8)


Verse 6

Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

Even as David also describeth , [ legei (Greek #3004)] - 'speaketh,' 'pronounceth,'

The blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works - whom, though void of all good works, He nevertheless regards and treats as righteous.


Verse 7

Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.

[Saying], Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.


Verse 8

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. These two first verses of Psalms 32:1-11 (which are taken verbatim from the Septuagint, and exactly correspond to the Hebrew) speak in express terms only of 'transgression forgiven, sin covered, iniquity not imputed;' but as the negative blessing necessarily includes the positive, the passage is strictly in point. And here we have another proof that the "righteousness" here, and throughout this whole argument, intended by the apostle is used in a strictly judicial sense, since it is put in opposition to the imputation of sin. In any other sense the apostle's argument would be inept.

The Cast of Abraham, Further Illustrated (Romans 4:9-22)


Verse 9

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only ... , for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.


Verse 10

How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

How was it then reckoned? ... Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.


Verse 11

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 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 , [ di' (Greek #1223) akrobustias (Greek #203)]. The mode of expression here changes, [from en akrobbustias.] The precise idea intended seems to be that of 'piercing,' or 'breaking through, in order to get into a certain state;' and being used of the Gentiles, expresses their attaining to a justified state through faith, in spite of the seeming barrier of their "uncircumcision."

That righteousness might be imputed unto them also. The import of these three verses may be thus expressed: 'Say not, All the blessedness of which David sings is spoken of the circumcised, and is therefore no evidence of God's general way of justifying men; for Abraham's justification took place long before he was circumcised, and so could have no dependence upon that rite: nay, the "sign of circumcision" was given to Abraham as "a seal" (or token) of the (justifying) righteousness which he had before he was circumcised; in order that he might stand forth to every age as the parent believer-the model man of justification by faith-after whose type, as the first public example of it, all were to be moulded, whether Jew or Gentile, who should hereafter believe to life everlasting.'


Verse 12

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.

And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only. Here the same sentiment is expressed, but in a somewhat unexpected form-namely, that Abraham is the father of circumcision to all uncircumcised believers. This cannot refer to the distinctive peculiarities of the circumcised, in which uncircumcised Gentiles could of course have no share: it simply means that all that was of essential and permanent value in the standing before God of the circumcised-all that circumcision chiefly set its seal on-is shared in by the believing children of Abraham who are strangers to the circumcision of the flesh.

What had just been Said of Circumcision is Now, in the next Five Verses, Applied to the Law


Verse 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.

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world. To understand this in any local or territorial sense-of the land of Canaan, as a type of heaven (with Calvin) or of the millennial reign over the each (with Alford) - is surely away from the apostle's purpose. Nor does it seem to meet the case to view it (with Hodge) as just a general promise of blessedness. The allusion seems clearly to be to the promise, "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed." In this case Abraham is "the heir of the world" religiously rather than locally. By his Religion he may be said to rule the world. As the parent of that race from whom the world has received "the lively oracles," of whom it is said that "Salvation is of the Jews," and "of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever" - in this sublime sense is Abraham "the heir of the world." (So, substantially, Beza, Olshausen, Webster and Wilkinson, etc.) This promise, then, reasons the apostle here,

Was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law - was not given to them under the Mosaic covenant, or in virtue of their obedience to the law,

But through the righteousness of faith - in virtue simply of his faith in the divine promise.


Verse 14

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

For if they which are of the law be heirs - If the blessing is to be earned by obedience to the law,

Faith is made void - the whole divine method is subverted.


Verse 15

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

Because the law worketh wrath - has nothing to give to those who break it but condemnation and vengeance:

For where no law is, there is no transgression. It is just the law that makes transgression, in the case of those who break it; nor can the one exist without the other.


Verse 16

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,

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. We have here a general summary of the foregoing reasoning: q.d., 'Thus justification is by faith, in order that its purely gracious character may be seen, and that all who follow in the steps of Abraham's faith-whether of his natural seed or no-may be assured of the like justification with the parent-believer.'


Verse 17

(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.

(As it is written (Genesis 17:5), I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed , [ katenanti (Greek #2713) hou (Greek #3739) episteusen (Greek #4100) Theou (Greek #2316)]. This difficult construction may be resolved in two ways: either as in our version - "before God, whom he believed" [ hou (Greek #3739) being by attr. for hoo (Greek #3739) episteusen (Greek #4100)], or 'before God, before whom he believed' [ katenanti (Greek #2713) Theou (Greek #2316), katenanti (Greek #2713) hou (Greek #3739) episteusen (Greek #4100), in which case there is no attraction.] This latter construction (which Winer, Meyer, Alford, and Philippi prefer) makes perhaps the best Greek. But though critics are divided between these two views of the grammatical form, the sense is the same in both: 'Abraham is the father of us all, even of those who were not in existence in his day, in the eye of that God whom his faith apprehended.'

[Even] God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. To give life to the dead, and existence to the non-existent, is the glorious prerogative of Him on whom Abraham's faith reposed. What he was required to believe being above nature, his faith had to fasten upon God's power to surmount physical incapacity, and call into being what did not then exist. But God having made the promise, Abraham believed Him in spite of those obstacles. This is still further illustrated in what follows.


Verse 18

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.

Who against hope (when no ground for hope appeared) believed in hope - cherished the believing expectation [ par' (Greek #3844) elpida (Greek #1680) ep' (Greek #1909) elpidi (Greek #1680). Para (Greek #3844), with the accusative, 'to beside;' hence, proeter: epi (Greek #1909) with the dative, denotes actual 'superposition;' hence, the actual 'basis,' ethical 'occasion,' or 'moving principle'],

That he might become the father of many nations , [ eis (Greek #1519) to (Greek #3588) genesthai (Greek #1096), not as the matter or immediate object of his faith-for Paul never uses the verb pisteuein (Greek #4100) with eis (Greek #1519) followed by an infinitive for the object of faith-but either 'in order to his becoming,' or, better, 'with the result of his becoming,' the father of many nations].

According to that which was spoken, So (that is, 'Such as the stars of heaven,' Genesis 15:5) "shall thy seed be."


Verse 19

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:

And being not weak in faith, he considered not , [ ou (Greek #3756) katenoeesen (Greek #2657)] - reflected not on, paid no attention to, those physical obstacles, both in himself and in Sarah, which might seem to render the fulfillment hopeless, When he was about an hundred years old - he was then 99; "neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:"


Verse 20

He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;

He staggered ('hesitated') not , [ diekrithee (Greek #1252). In the New Testament, diakrinoo (Greek #1252), in middle, signifies 'to doubt,' 'hesitate,' and the same sense attaches, as here, to 1 aorist passive.]

At the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong , [ enedunamoothee (Greek #1743), 'was strengthened,' 'showed himself strong']

In faith, giving glory to God - as able to make good His word against all obstacles;


Verse 21

And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

And being fully persuaded , [ pleeroforeetheis (Greek #4135), of persons, 'fully assured;' of things, 'fully,' or 'on sure grounds, believed,' as in Luke 1:1]

That what he had promised he was able also to perform. The glory which Abraham's faith gave to God consisted in this, that, firm in the persuasion of God's ability to fulfill His promise, no difficulties shook him.


Verse 22

And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness - q.d., 'Let all then take notice that this was not because of anything meritorious in Abraham, but merely because he so believed.'

The application of this whole argument about Abraham (Romans 4:23-25)


Verse 23

Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;

Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him - `These things were not recorded as mere historical facts, but as illustrations for all time of God's method of justification by faith.'


Verse 24

But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. The only difference between the two cases is, that our faith rests on the act of God in raising up Jesus our Lord from the dead as an accomplished fact, while Abraham's faith reposed on a promise that God would raise him up a seed in whom all nations should be blessed.


Verse 25

Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

Who was delivered for our offences , [ dia (Greek #1223) ta (Greek #3588) paraptoomata (Greek #3900) heemoon (Greek #2257)] - 'on account of our offences;' that is, in order to expiate them by His blood,

And was raised again for our justification , [ dia (Greek #1223) teen (Greek #3588) dikaioosin (Greek #1347) heemoon (Greek #2257)] - 'on account of,' 'for the sake of our justification;' that is, 'in order to our being justified.' Since the resurrection of Christ was the divine assurance that He had "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" - but for which men could never have been brought to credit it-our justification is fitly made to rest on that glorious divine act.

Remarks:

(1) The doctrine of justification by works, as it generates self-exaltation, is contrary to the first principles of all true Religion (see the notes at Romans 3:21-31; Remark 5, at the close of that section.

(2) The way of a sinner's justification has been the same in all time, and the testimony of the Old Testament on this subject is one with that of the New (see the notes at Romans 3:21-31, Remark 1).

(3) Faith and works, in the matter of justification, are opposite and irreconcileable, even as grace and debt (see the note at Romans 11:6). If God "justifies the ungodly," works cannot be, in any sense or to any degree, the ground of justification. For the same reason, the first requisite, in order to justification, must be (under the conviction that we are "ungodly") to despair of it by works; and the next, to "believe in Him that justifieth the ungodly" - that hath a justifying righteousness to bestow, and is ready to bestow it, upon these who deserve none, and to embrace it accordingly.

(4) The sacraments of the Church were never intended, and are not adapted, to confer grace, or the blessings of salvation, upon men. Their proper use is to set a divine seal upon a state already existing, and so they presuppose, and do not create it. As circumcision merely "sealed" Abraham's already existing acceptance with God, so is it with the sacraments of the New Testament.

(5) As Abraham is "the heir of the world" - all nations being through his Seed Christ Jesus "blessed in him" - so the transmission of the true Religion, and all the salvation which the world will ever experience, shall yet be traced back with wonder, gratitude, and joy, to that morning dawn when "the God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, beige he dwelt in Charran" (Acts 7:2).

(6) Nothing gives more glory to God than simple faith in His word, especially when all things seem to render the fulfillment of it hopeless.

(7) All the Scripture examples of faith were recorded on purpose to beget and encourage the like faith in every succeeding age (see Romans 15:4).

(8) Justification, in this argument, cannot be taken-as Romanists and other errorists insist-to mean a change upon men's character; for besides that this is to confound it with Sanctification, which has its appropriate place in this Epistle, the whole argument of the present chapter-and nearly all its more important clauses, expressions, and words-would in that ease be unsuitable, and fitted only to mislead. Beyond all doubt it means exclusively a change upon men's state or relation to God; or, in scientific language, it is an objective, not a subjective change-a change from guilt and condemnation to acquittal and acceptance. And the best evidence that this is the key to the whole argument is, that it opens all the wards of the many-chambered lock through which we are introduced to the riches of this Epistle.

Romans 5:1-21; Romans 6:1-23; Romans 7:1-25; Romans 8:1-39 -The Fruits of Justification in Privilege and in Life

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/romans-4.html. 1871-8.

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