THIS chapter beautifully connects with all that precedes it. In the first chapter the Apostle had announced that ‘the righteousness of God’ was revealed in the Gospel, which is on that account the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. He had shown at great length that this way of salvation was necessary for man, proving by an appeal to fact, and then to Scripture, that both Jews and Gentiles were guilty before God, and that, consequently, no one could be justified by his own obedience. He had afterwards reverted to this righteousness which God had provided in His Son. In this fourth chapter he strikingly illustrates these truths, by first obviating the objection that might be offered by the Jews respecting their great progenitor Abraham, whose character they held in such veneration. This would lead them to suppose that he must be an exception to the Apostle’s doctrine, by furnishing an example of one justified by works. Having refuted this objection in the particular case of Abraham, and confirmed the truth of what he had advanced by the testimony of David, Paul makes use of the history of Abraham himself to prove what he had previously asserted, and to show that in the matter of justification before God there was no exception, and no difference between Jews and Gentiles.
The chapter consists of four parts. In the first, the Apostle, by referring, as has just been observed, to the history of Abraham and the authority of David, illustrates his doctrine of justification by faith. Nothing could be so well calculated to convince both Jewish and Gentile believers, especially the former, how vain is the expectation of those who look for justification by their own works. Abraham was a patriarch eminently holy, the head of the nation of Israel, the friend of God, the father of all who believe, in whose seed all the nations of the world were to be blessed. David was a man according to God’s own heart, the progenitor of the Messiah, His great personal type, and a chosen and anointed king of Israel. If, then, Abraham had not been justified by his works, but by the righteousness of God imputed to him through faith, and David, speaking by the Spirit of God, had declared that the only way in which a man can receive justification is by his sin being covered by the imputation of that righteousness, who could suppose that it was to be obtained by any other means? By these two references, the Apostle likewise shows that the way of justification was the same from the beginning, both under the old and the new dispensation. This he had before intimated, in saying that both the law and the Prophets bore witness to the righteousness of God, which is now manifested, and which is upon all them that believe.
In the other three parts of this chapter, Paul shows, first, that circumcision, to which the Jews ascribed so much efficacy, contributed nothing to Abraham’s justification, and that the righteousness imputed to him was bestowed before his circumcision, with the express intention of proving that righteousness should be imputed to all who believe though they be not circumcised. In the next place, he proves that the promise of the inheritance made to Abraham was not through obedience to law, but through that righteousness which is received by faith; and that the whole plan of justification was arranged in this manner, in order that the blessing conveyed through faith by the free favor of God might be made sure to all the seed of Abraham, — that is, to ‘the children of the promise,’ Romans 9:8, whether Jews or Gentiles. And, lastly Paul describes Abraham’s faith, and states the benefit resulting from its exhibition to believers, for whose sake chiefly his faith was recorded. It is particularly to be noticed that not a word is said respecting Abraham’s sanctification, although his whole history, after leaving his own country, furnishes so remarkable an example of a holy walk and conversation. All that is brought into view is his faith. It is thus shown that neither moral nor ceremonial, neither evangelical nor legal works, are of any account whatever in the act of justification, or contribute in any degree to procure that blessing. The whole of this chapter is particularly calculated to make a deep impression on the Jews; and no doubt the day is approaching, and probably near at hand, when they will read it with much interest, and derive from it signal benefit.
In the third chapter the Apostle had replied to the objections which might be offered to what he had before advanced respecting the Jews. First, it might be inquired if, as appeared from his doctrine, the Jew could not be saved by their distinguished privileges connected with the law, or by observing the rite of circumcision, what advantage did they possess over others, and what profit had they from circumcision? Second, on the supposition of their being transgressors, it was asked, if their sin was the means of condemning the righteousness of God, was it not unjust to punish them as sinners? Lastly, if all that had been said was true, what were they better than others? After obviating all these objections, and proving from the character of the Jews, and of all other men as delineated in the Scriptures, the impossibility of their justification by the works of law, Paul had exhibited the only way in which sinners could be justified before God, and had shown that it was effected in such a way that all boasting on the part of man is excluded. Another objection might now naturally present itself to the Jews in connection with the case of Abraham, who had received the ordinance of circumcision from God Himself, and whose eminent piety they held in such veneration. It might be asked what, according to the Apostle’s doctrine, could be said regarding him: what had he found, or obtained? Did not he obtain justification in these ways? Such is the objection which the Apostle introduces in this and the following verse, and answers fully in both its parts. Abraham our father. — In the course of this chapter Abraham is again and again denominated, in a spiritual sense, the father of all believers; but in this place, in which the argument from his circumcision and holy character refers chiefly to the Jews, to whom much of what is said in the preceding chapter relates, it appears that he is here spoken of as the natural progenitor of the Jewish nation. The expression our is therefore to be considered as referring to the Jews, with whom, as being a Jew, the Apostle here classes himself, and not to believers generally, whether Jews or Gentiles, as in other verses of this chapter. That it is thus to be understood does not appear, however, from the expression pertaining to the, flesh, since it is not joined with that of father in the original. The order there is, ‘Abraham our father hath found as pertaining to the flesh.’ As pertaining to the flesh. — That is, by circumcision, of which the Apostle had spoken, ch. 2; or by any work or privilege, Philippians 3:4.
The expression, to the flesh, should rather be translated by the flesh, as the word here translated as pertaining to, is rendered, ch. 2:7, and in many other passages. Circumcision especially was the token of the covenant which contained all the promises that God had made to Abraham, saying, ‘My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.’ Could it be supposed that this rite, so solemnly enjoined and collected with such privileges, and his other good works, had no procuring influence in Abraham’s justification? Such is the objection which it is supposed in this first verse would occur to the Jews, and is therefore stated by the Apostle, which he fully answers in the sequel.
The term ‘works’ is here explanatory of the word flesh in the first verse, signifying any works, whether moral or ceremonial. If Abraham were justified on account of his works, as the Jews believed, it must be admitted that he had something to boast of, contrary to what the Apostle had just before declared, that all boasting on such grounds is excluded, whose doctrine, consequently, must be set aside. Than this, no objection that could be offered would appear to the Jews more forcible; it was therefore important to advert to it. Being, however, entirely groundless, the Apostle at once repels it, and replies to the question previously proposed, respecting circumcision, or any work or privilege, in that prompt and brief manner of which we see an example at the end of the 8th verse of the former chapter. He answers, But not before God. Abraham had no ground of boasting before God, not having been justified either by the observance of the rite of circumcision, or by any other work of obedience which he had performed; and this Paul fully proves in the sequel.
Ver. 3. — For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was covered unto him for righteousness.
Having denied in the foregoing verse that Abraham was justified, or had any ground of boasting, either on account of his circumcision or his obedience, Paul next supports his denial by an appeal to Scripture, which was calculated to carry stronger conviction to the Jews than all things else he could have alleged. His proof is drawn from the historical records of the Old Testament, and thus he sets his seal to its complete verbal inspiration, quoting what is there recorded as the decision of God; yet some who profess to receive the Bible as the word of God, deny that portion of it to be inspired! His meaning, then, by the question, What saith the Scripture? is, that God Himself, by His own word, has decided this matter; for the fact is there declared that Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. This quotation is taken from Genesis 15:6, where the promise to Abraham is recorded that his seed should be innumerable as the stars of heaven, being the renewal of the promise, Genesis 12:2, when he was called out of his own country. It thus comprehended the truth announced to him at different times, that all the nations of the world should be blessed in his seed, that is, in the Messiah, Galatians 3:16.
That promise referred to the one made to our first parents after the fall, in which was included the hope of redemption to be accomplished by the Deliverer of mankind, who was to spring from him, as God declared to Abraham. The above passage, then, according to Paul, proves that the righteousness of God is received by faith, and is an example of the testimony that is rendered to it by the law. It refutes the opinion of those who, misunderstanding the manner in which the Apostle James expresses himself, affirm that a man is first justified only by faith, but afterwards by works which flow from faith. And it was counted to him for righteousness, rather, unto righteousness. — It is not instead of righteousness, as this translation for righteousness has led many to suppose. By faith a man becomes truly righteous. Faith is the recipient of that righteousness by which we are justified. Unto righteousness is the literal rendering, as the same word in the original is so often translated in this discussion, as where it is said, ch. 1:16, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation; and ch. 3:22, even the righteousness of God which is unto all; and so in innumerable other places, but especially in a passage precisely parallel to the one before us, ch. 10:10, ‘For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.’ This is the signification of the phrase in the verse before us, which ought to have been translated in the same way. The expression ‘unto righteousness’ is elliptical, and signifies unto the receiving of righteousness. In the different French translations, the meaning of the original is properly expressed ‡ justice;’ that is, to, or unto righteousness; and in the same way in the Vulgate, ‘ad justitiam,’ to righteousness; and in this meaning is fixed down definitely by the verses immediately succeeding, where the Apostle introduces a passage from the Psalm in illustration of the manner in which Abraham and his spiritual seed are justified.
That faith is not itself the justifying righteousness, is demonstrably evident from the phraseology of many passages that speak of faith and righteousness in the same place. ‘Even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe.’ Here righteousness is supposed to be one thing, and faith to be another. Can language more expressly show that righteousness and faith are two different things, for two different purposes, though always found united in the same persons, and both equally necessary? Righteousness is what we want in order to justification; faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as testified in the Gospel, is the means through which we receive this righteousness.
Believing, then, is not the righteousness, but it is the means through which we become righteous. In like manner, in Romans 10:10, above quoted, the Apostle says, ‘For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.’
Here it is necessarily implied that faith is not righteousness, but that it in the means through which we receive righteousness. Nothing, then, can be a greater corruption of the truth than to represent faith itself as accepted instead of righteousness, or to be the righteousness that saves the sinner.
Faith is not righteousness. Righteousness is the fulfilling of the law.
This verse, connected with the following, proves, like the 28th verse of the foregoing chapter, that faith is opposed to works, and not considered as a work in the matter of justification. Yet many speak of the excellence of Abraham’s faith in such a way as to represent the patriarch to be saved by faith as a work — as the most excellent of all works. Mr. Tholuck advances many observations on this subject that are altogether unscriptural, discovering most erroneous views of the Gospel. He quotes various passages from Philo, which he calls ‘beautiful,’ in which Philo extols faith as ‘the queen of virtues,’ ‘the price of every blessing;’ and adds, ‘and well is it said that faith was counted to him (Abraham) for righteousness.’ Here Philo exhibits faith as the righteousness by which Abraham was justified — the price of that blessing. Mr. Tholuck says, ‘ Dikaiosu>nh (righteousness) denotes here subjective holiness. God looked upon Abraham’s childlike submission as if it were real holiness, and attached value to it alone.’ A greater perversion of Scripture, or a sentiment more directly opposed to the meaning of the passage and to all the Apostle is proving in the context, and has been laboring to prove throughout the whole of his previous discussion from the 16th verse of the first chapter, as well as subversive of the grand doctrine of justification, cannot be imagined. If Abraham was justified by faith as a ‘price, ’ or ‘as righteousness,’ — an expression which Mr. Tholuck employs again and again, — then he was justified by faith as a work, ‘as if it were real holiness,’ and God is thus represented as attaching a value to faith which does not belong to it! In opposition to such unscriptural and fallacious statements, which at once make void the law and the Gospel, we are here taught that Abraham was not justified by faith, either as a price, or as a virtue, or as if it were really righteousness, but as the appointed medium of receiving righteousness, even the righteousness of God. This fundamental error of Mr. Tholuck and Mr. Stuart, and long ago of Socinus, that faith, although it is really not righteousness, is reckoned by God as righteousness, is most dishonorable to the character of God, and derogatory to His holy law. That law, which is a transcript of His own unchangeable nature, can acknowledge nothing as its fulfillment but perfect conformity to all its requirements. Nor did the Gospel come to pour dishonor upon it by modifying its demands, or to substitute another law for it, making faith meritorious. And besides, the nature of faith will not admit of this, for it excludes boasting. It implies a fleeing out of one’s self, and our own performances, — it consists in looking to another as the bestower of eternal salvation.
Dr. Macknight has a long note on this verse, which is also directly opposed to the Apostle’s doctrine of justification. ‘In judging Abraham,’ he says, ‘God will place on the one side of the account his duties, and on the other his performances . And on the side of his performances he will place his faith, and by mere favor will value it as equal to a complete performance of his duties, and reward him as if he were a righteous person.
But neither here, nor in Galatians 3:6, is it said that Christ’s righteousness was counted to Abraham. In both passages the expression is, Abraham believed God, and it, viz., his believing God, was counted to him for righteousness. — Further, as it is nowhere said in Scripture that Christ’s righteousness was imputed to Abraham, so neither is it said anywhere that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers.’ These statements, affirming that God, in judging Abraham, will place on the one side of the account his duties, and on the other his performances, and by mere favor will value faith as equal to a complete performance of his duties, argue most deplorable ignorance of the whole plan of salvation. The assertion, that it is nowhere said in Scripture that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers, is directly contrary to fact. It is contradicted by the whole strain of Scripture relating to the subject, and expressly by the Apostle Peter, in his address to them that have obtained like precious faith with us, in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, <610101> Peter 1:1. (This is the literal rendering.) And also by the Prophet Jeremiah 23:6, by whom Jesus Christ is called the Lord our righteousness. But by such groundless assertions does Dr. Macknight misrepresent the character of God, and labors to banish from the Bible the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, without which, consistently with the perfections of God and the demands of the law, there could be no salvation. He misunderstands, too, the meaning of the expression, for righteousness.
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.
Ver. 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. — This is entirely misunderstood by Dr.
Macknight and Mr. Stuart, as if it meant, according to Dr. Macknight, ‘one who does not work all that he is bound to do;’ or according to Mr. Stuart, ‘the sinner who has not exhibited perfect obedience.’ It means, however, what it literally expresses, namely, that the person who is justified does not work at all for his justification. It is not that he does not perform all the works that he ought, but that for justification he does nothing. It is true that he works, but not for justification. Mr. Tholuck, who likewise misunderstands in this place the whole of the Apostle’s argument, seems to think that the case of Abraham is only an analogy, and not an example of justification by faith. But Abraham’s faith respected the Messiah, whose day he saw afar off, and by His righteousness he was justified. Justifieth the ungodly. — If the expression, ‘to him that worketh not,’ needed any explanation, this term — the ungodly — would place its meaning beyond all doubt. The term ungodly is applied throughout the Scriptures to wicked men, Romans 5:6; 1 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 4:18; 2 Peter 2:5, 3:7; Jude 4, 15. Men are ungodly in themselves, though, as soon as they are justified, they cease to be ungodly. They are ungodly till they believe; but in the moment that they receive the gift of faith, they are thereby united to the Savior, and are instantly invested with the robe of righteousness, and also partake, according to the measure of their faith, of all those other graces that are received out of His fullness.
They then pass from death to life, — a transition in which there is no medium; they are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; for till then, being without Christ, they are the children of the devil. They cannot at the same time be both dead and alive — under the power of God, and under the power of the devil; they must in every instant of their existence be either under the one or the other. In that moment, then, in which they believe, they are justified; and to justify, signifies not to treat men as if they were just or righteous, though they are not so, but because they are in truth righteous by imputation, really righteous, the law having been fulfilled in them, ch. 8:4. In this Professors Tholuck and Stuart most grossly err. To justify, with them, is not to acquit as being perfectly righteous, but to hold men to be righteous when they are not righteous. The expression, justifieth the ungodly, Dr.
Macknight says, ‘does not imply that Abraham was an ungodly person when he was justified; the Apostle’s meaning is, justifieth Him who had been ungodly.’ This is making, not explaining Scripture. It entirely sets aside the Apostle’s declaration.
It is much to be regretted that it should be necessary to introduce the name of Mr. Scott in connection with such writers as Macknight, Stuart, and Tholuck. As an expositor of Scripture, he deserves to be spoken of in terms very different from any of them; but an impartial regard for the interest of truth requires that his very erroneous remarks on the passage last referred to should not pass unnoticed. Mr. Scott’s note, in his Commentary on this expression, ‘justifieth the ungodly,’ is incorrect, and his ideas on the subject are confused, Contrary to the Apostle, he asserts that a man is not ‘absolutely ungodly at the time of his justification.’ It is true, as has been observed, that the moment a man is justified, he is godly; but the question is, if he be godly or ungodly in the moment which precedes his justification? If he be godly before, then the words of the Apostle are false; and the contrary, that God justifies the godly, would be true. But Mr. Scott’s views on this point are very erroneous, as appears from his remarks on Cornelius, in his note preceding the verse before us.
He says, ‘Even the proposition, Good works are the fruits of faith, and follow after faith, in Christ, though a general truth, may admit of some exception, in such cases as that of Cornelius.’ This contradicts the 12th and 13th articles of his church, to which he appears to refer; but what is of more consequence, his statement explicitly contradicts the whole tenor of the Holy Scriptures, and of the plan of redemption. The case of Cornelius forms no exception, nor does it contain even the shadow of an exception to the truth declared in the verse we are considering. Mr. Scott closes his note on Acts 10:1,2, by remarking, ‘Perhaps these observations may assist the reader in understanding this instructing chapter, which cannot easily be made to accord with the exactness of systematically writers on these subjects.’ Now there is not the smallest difficulty in showing that all which that chapter contains is in exact accordance with every other part of Scripture.
Mr. Scott, after some further remarks on the justification of the ungodly, says, ‘Nay, the justified believer, whatever his holiness or diligence may be, never works for this purpose, and he still comes before God as ungodly in this respect.’ This is incorrect. He always comes as a sinner; that is, as one who is daily, hourly, and every moment sinning. And when he comes so, he comes as he is; for this is truth. But he is not ungodly after he believes, which is a character belonging only to the enemies of God. The Christian, then, cannot in any respect come in such a character, for he cannot come in a character that is no longer his. There is an essential difference between coming to God as a sinner, and coming to Him as ungodly. ‘Abraham,’ Mr. Scott subjoins, ‘several years before, by faith obeyed the call and command of God, and therefore could not be, strictly speaking, altogether ungodly, when it was said, “He believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness;” so that the example of Abraham alone is a full and clear refutation of the construction by some put upon this text, that men are altogether and in every sense ungodly and unregenerate at the time when God justifies them, — a sentiment of most dangerous tendency.’ The assertion of the Apostle is, that God justifies the ungodly, which can have no other meaning than that men are ungodly in the moment that precedes their justification. It is truly astonishing that the example of Abraham should be referred to as a full and clear refutation of the plain and obvious construction of this assertion of the Apostle, which it never can be of dangerous tendency implicitly to believe. The danger lies in not receiving it, and in raising difficulties and objections which obscure and neutralize a declaration, the meaning of which is so clear and manifest. This must always have the effect, as in the case before us, of leading into most palpable error, inconsistency, and misrepresentation of the Divine testimony. If Abraham was godly before the time when it was recorded that he believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness, he was also a believer before that time, and justified before that time, although his justification was then first recorded. The limitations, therefore, ‘strictly speaking,’ and ‘altogether ungodly,’ which Mr. Scott introduces, are entirely misplaced. He was not ungodly at all.
To intimate, as Mr. Scott does, that Abraham was not a justified believer till the period when it is recorded that his faith was counted to him for righteousness, is to say that a man may exercise strong faith, and obey God, and walk in communion with Him, long before he is justified, which is to overturn the doctrine of justification. But no such confusion and discrepancies are to be found in the Scriptures. When, in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, the Apostle illustrates his declaration in the end of the tenth chapter, that the just shall live by faith, he affirms that ‘By faith, Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place, which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed.’ If, then, faith justifies, as the Apostle is there showing, Abraham was justified by faith when he ‘departed as the Lord had spoken to him,’ Genesis 12:4, many years before the time of the declaration recorded in Genesis 15:6. On the whole, there is not a spark of godliness in any man before he is united to Christ; and the moment he is united to Him, he is for ever justified.
In the 4th and 5th verses before us, the distinction between receiving a reward for works, and receiving it through faith, is clearly established. In the first case, a man receives what is due to him as his wages; in the second, all comes in the way of favor. Here also faith and works are directly opposed to each other. To preserve the doctrine of these verses from abuse, it is only necessary to recollect that works are denied as having anything to do in justification, but that they are absolutely necessary in the life of the believer. ‘Works,’ says Luther, ‘are not taken into consideration when the question respects justification. But true faith will no more fail to produce them than the sun can cease to give light. But it is not on account of works that God justifies us.’ ‘We offer nothing to God,’ says Calvin; ‘but we are prevented by His grace altogether free, without His having any respect to our works.’
Men are prone to magnify one part of the Divine counsel, by disparaging or denying another, which to their wisdom appears to stand in opposition to it. Some speak of faith in such a manner as to disparage works; others are so zealous for works as to disparage faith; while some, in order to honor both, confound them together. The Apostle Paul gives every truth its proper value and its proper place. In this Epistle he establishes the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and speaks not of the fruits of faith till the fifth chapter. But these fruits he shows to be the necessary result of that faith which justifies.
Ver. 6. — Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.
As the blessing of the pardon of sin cannot be separated from our being viewed as perfectly righteous in the sight of God, Paul further confirms his doctrine by a reference to the <193201> 32nd Psalm, which gives the meaning of David’s words. In this manner one part of Scripture is employed to open and explain what is said in another part. Imputeth. — The same word in the original, which in verses 3, 4, 5, is rendered counted or reckoned, is here rendered imputed. All of them bear the same meaning, of placing to the believer’s account the righteousness of Jesus Christ, called in ch. 5:19 His ‘obedience.’ ‘Here we see,’ says Calvin, ‘the mere cavil of those who limit the works of the law within ceremonial rites, since what before were denominated works of the law are now called works simply, and without an adjunct. The simple and unrestricted language occurring in this passage, which all readers must understand as applying indifferently to every kind of work, must for ever conclude the whole of this dispute.
For nothing is more inconsistent than to deprive ceremonies alone of the power of justifying, when Paul excludes works indefinitely.’
The expression ‘imputeth righteousness without works,’ is important, as it clearly ascertains that the phrase ‘for righteousness, literally unto righteousness, signifies unto the receiving of righteousness. It signifies receiving righteousness itself, not a substitute for righteousness, nor a thing of less value than righteousness, which is accounted or accepted as righteousness. In Dr. Macknight’s note, however, on verse 3rd, already quoted, where he is laboring to prove that faith is countedFOR righteousness, or, according to Mr. Stuart and Mr. Tholuck,AS righteousness, he affirms, as has been observed, that God values faith as equal to complete performance of duty, and that it is nowhere said in Scripture that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers. The verse before us contains no explicit refutation of these unscriptural statements, which subvert not only the whole of the apostle’s reasoning on the doctrine of justification, but the whole doctrine of salvation. The righteousness here said to be imputed is that righteousness to which Paul had all along been referring, even the righteousness of God on account of the revelation of which the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and which, as has been noticed above, is by the Apostle Peter called the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, in which believers have obtained precious faith. That the apostle refers in the verse before us to this righteousness which fulfills the law, is evident, if we look back to what he says in the 21st verse of the preceding chapter, and to what he continues to say respecting it onwards to this 6th verse, and to the effect he here ascribes to it . If any one can suppose that all this is insufficient to settle the question, I shall produce an argument which is unanswerable, and which all the ingenuity of man is unable to gainsay It must be the righteousness of God (or the righteousness of Christ, which is the same) that is here spoken of BECAUSE THERE IS NO OTHER RIGHTEOUSNESS ON EARTH.
To say with the above writers, that the God of truth values anything ‘as equal to the complete performance of duty,’ which is not so in reality, is to give a most unworthy, not to say a blasphemous, representation of His character. Far different are the following sentiments of Dr. Owen in his treatise On Justification. ‘ The sinner is not accepted as if he were righteous, but because in Christ Jesus he is so. The majesty of the law is not sacrificed; its requirements are fulfilled in their exceeding breadth; its penalty is endured in all its awfulness. And thus, from the meeting of mercy and loving-kindness with justice and judgment, there shines a most excellent glory, of which the full demonstration to men, and angels, and all the rational creatures of God, shall fill up the cycles of eternity.’
Mr. Stuart comes far short of the truth when he represents the Apostle as here confirming his doctrine by the case of David, as a second example or single instance. David is appealed to by Paul, not in respect to his own justification, but as to the doctrine which he taught with respect to this subject in one of his Psalm, where he speaks as he was moved by the Holy Ghost. He is here teaching how all are justified, who ever were, or ever shall be justified. It is, then, much more than a second example. It is the declaration of God himself, who spoke by the mouth of His servant David, Acts 4:25. The effect of Mr. Stuart’s misunderstanding the expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ ch. 1:17, and 3:21, and ascribing to it the signification of ‘the justification which God bestows,’ is, in his explanation of the verse before us, as in so many other places, abundantly evident. Although compelled here to attach to the original word its proper meaning of righteousness, instead of ‘justification,’ the vagueness of the meaning he had, as above, so erroneously ascribed to it, leaves an opening for explaining it to be a fictitious righteousness belonging to faith itself, instead of a real righteousness, namely, the righteousness of Christ received by faith. ‘Here,’ he says, ‘and elsewhere in this chapter, where the same phraseology occurs, it is evident that the word is not to be understood in the sense of justification, which is the most common meaning of it in our Epistle.’ So far from this being its most common meaning, it is not even once its meaning out of no fewer than thirty-six times in which it occurs in this Epistle.
Mr. Stuart’s views on the all-important subject of justification, are not only completely erroneous and unscriptural, but such as they are, he holds them in a manner so confused and indistinct, that he alternately asserts and contradicts what he has advanced. He one while speaks of faith as ‘not of itself such an act of obedience to the Divine law, as that it will supply the place of perfect obedience.’ ‘Nor has it,’ he adds, ‘any efficacy in itself, as a meritum ex condigno to save men; it is merely the instrument of union to Christ, in order that they may receive a gratuitous salvation,’ p. 176. At other times, he speaks as if faith were accepted at a rate much above its value, and that the justification of a sinner is gratuitous because of such acceptance. ‘Their faith,’ he says, ‘was gratuitously reckoned as equivalent to the dikaiosu>nh (righteousness) demanded by the law.’ Here faith itself is made the ground of justification, and taken at a value far above its intrinsic worth. But faith is in no point of view equivalent to the obedience the law requires. It is Christ’s obedience that is taken as an equivalent to an obedience to the law; and for the best of all reasons, because it is an equivalent. The value of faith is, that by the Divine appointment it is the medium of union with Christ. If it be true that faith is ‘merely’ an instrument of union to Christ, in order that we may receive a gratuitous salvation, as, in one of these passages, Mr. Stuart asserts, how is it that faith was gratuitously reckoned as equivalent to the righteousness demanded by the law? If faith be accepted as an equivalent to righteousness, then it cannot be merely the medium of connecting us with Christ. He observes, p. 177, ‘To say, was counted (namely, their faith) for justification, would make no tolerable sense; but to say, was counted as complete obedience, would be saying just what the Apostle means to say, viz., that the believer is gratuitously justified.’ And again, he affirms that faith ‘is counted as righteousness,’ p. 172. Here and in other places the imputation of Christ’s righteousness for the justification of a sinner is excluded by Mr. Stuart, as it is by Dr. Macknight. Mr. Stuart’s self-contradictions, contained in his Commentary, are noticed in the following term sin the American theological magazine, called The Biblical Repertory, of July 1833, where it is reviewed. ‘Respected sir, you admit what you deny, and deny what you admit, in such rapid succession, your readers are bewildered.’
According, then, to these statements, righteousness, that is, the righteousness of Christ, which does indeed fulfill the demands of the law, is not imputed to the believer for justification — although this is explicitly asserted in the text, when it is said, ‘God imputeth righteousness,’ for on earth, as has been observed there is no other righteousness — while faith, which does not fulfill so much as one of its demands, is reckoned as equivalent to all its demands; and besides, righteousness is thus counted to a man as belonging to him, which ‘in reality does not belong to him.’ And this, we are told by Mr. Stuart, is ‘just what the Apostle means to say.’
Paul affirms that God is just when He justifies him that believeth. But, according to Mr. Stuart, in thus representing God as counting for a reality what is a mere figment, and counting ‘something’ to a man ‘which does not belong to him,’ not a trace of anything that has even the semblance of justice in a sinner’s justification is left. And on these grounds, salvation is asserted by him to be ‘gratuitous!’
Mr. Stuart considers that the mercy of God, for Christ’s sake, accepts believers as just, while they are not so in reality. This overturns the Gospel and the justice of the Divine character. It destroys both law and Gospel. If a man is not truly just, God cannot account him just, nor treat him as just. Why cannot Mr. Stuart see believers perfectly just in Jesus Christ, their head and substitute? But this is what might be expected from one who cannot see the human race guilty in Adam. It is quite natural, then, that he should not see believers righteous in Christ. According to Mr.
Stuart, God is not a just God in saving sinners, for He acquits as just those whom He knows to be unjust. He represents God as an unjust God in punishing the innocent, for He visits with suffering and death infants, who are supposed innocent of Adam’s sin.
According to the doctrine of the Apostle, when a sinner is justified, it is by the imputation of righteousness — not a fictitious, but a real righteousness. The believer, in his union with Christ, is viewed as perfectly righteous, because in truth he is so, for the righteousness of God is ‘upon him,’ ch. 3:22; Jehovah is his righteousness, Jeremiah 23:6.
God is therefore just in justifying him; and in the day of judgment the Great Judge will pronounce him ‘righteous,’ Matthew 25:37-46, and award to him ‘a crowd of righteousness,’ according to the strictest justice.
The gift of this righteousness, with the justification it brings along with it, is indeed perfectly gratuitous, and the manner of bestowing it is gratuitous — freely by grace; but ‘grace reigns through righteousness,’ Romans 5:21, — in that way which meets every demand of law and justice. This last is a most important declaration, with which the Apostle closes his discussion on the doctrine of justification; but important as it is, Mr.
Stuart has altogether mistaken its meaning, and misrepresented it in the same way as he has misrepresented the corresponding expression at the opening of this discussion, ch. 1:17. Had he understood it, he would not have perverted the Apostle’s reasoning as he has done, and propounded sentiments respecting the all-important doctrine of justification which annihilate the glory of that redemption in which righteousness and peace have kissed each other, — sentiments which compromise the justice, and dishonor the character of God. ‘Faith,’ says Mr. Bell, in his View of the Covenants , p. 226, ‘rests upon Christ alone It in effect excludes itself as a work in the matter of justification. It is not a thing upon which a sinner rests; it is his resting on the Surety. Therefore, that man who would bring in his faith as a part of his justifying righteousness before God, thereby proves that he has no faith in Jesus Christ. He comes as with a lie in his right hand; for such is the absurdity, that he trusts in the act of faith, not in its object, — i.e., he believes in his faith, not in Jesus Christ. Having taken Christ, as he pretends, he would have that very act whereby he received Him sustained at the Divine tribunal as his righteousness. Thus Christ is bid to stand at a distance, and the sinner’s own act is by himself bid to come near in the case of justification. This is nothing else but works under another name. It is not faith, for that necessarily establishes grace.’
This verse, in connection with the preceding, shows that sins are not forgiven, except in a way in which righteousness is imputed. Anciently, the high priest was appointed to bless the people, Numbers 6:24, as the type of Jesus Christ, who, as the Great High Priest, imparts a real blessedness. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.’ In Him it was promised that all nations should be blessed. When about to ascend into heaven, He lifted up His hands and blessed His disciples; and at the last day He will, from the throne of His glory, pronounce all His people the blessed of His Father. On that day, and not till then, shall any of them be able fully to comprehend all that is implied in this term in the verse before us. Blessed are they. — ’ Blessed is he’ (the man), says David ‘whose transgression is forgiven.’ David speaks of one person, but Paul speaks of many. This alteration which the Apostle makes should not be overlooked.
The work of redemption being now finished, the Apostle is commissioned by the Holy Ghost, who dictated the words, thus to include for their encouragement the whole mystical body of Christ, — all that are His, whether Jews or Gentiles. Covered — This appears to be in allusion to the mercy-seat, which covered the law. Sins must be covered before they can be forgiven. There must be a way in which this is done according to justice. This way is by the blood of Christ; and he that is dead with Him is justified from sin, Romans 6:7. His sins are for ever covered, as being cast into the depths of the sea, Micah 7:19. They are blotted out with the, Savior’s blood. ‘I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins,’ Isaiah 43:25. He is saved from the guilt of sin immediately on his believing. The righteousness of the Savior being imputed to the sinner, none of his own unrighteousness can attach to him; the imputation of both cannot take place. There is a full remission of his past sins, and none which he shall afterwards commit shall be judicially laid to his charge, Romans 8:33. Being stripped of the filthy garments, and clothed with a change of raiment, Zechariah 3:4, as certain as God is unchangeable, it shall never be taken off him. ‘He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation; He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,’ Isaiah 61:10. ‘I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more,’ Jeremiah 31:34. ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us, <19A312> Psalm 103:12. ‘Wearied at length,’ says Luther, ‘with your own righteousness, rejoice and confide in the righteousness of Christ. Learn, my dear brother, to know Christ, and Christ crucified, and learn to despair of thyself and to the Lord this song: — Lord Jesus! Thou art my righteousness, but I am Thy sin. Thou hast taken what belonged to me; Thou hast given me what was Thine. Thou becamest what Thou wert not in order that I was not myself.’
Righteousness is imputed when sin is not imputed, for we here see that the man to whom sin is not imputed is blessed. As Jesus was accursed, Galatians 3:13, when the sins of His people were imputed to Him, so they are blessed when His righteousness is imputed to them. Justification, or the judgment of God by which He renders us ‘blessed,’ consists of two acts, by one of which He pardons our sins, by the other He gives us the kingdom. This appears in the sequel of this chapter, where we see that the justification of Abraham includes the promise of making him heir of the world, ver. 13; and this truth the Apostle establishes not only in the person of Abraham, but also extends it to all the people of God, ver. 16. In the eighth chapter of this Epistle, where Paul joins together the Divine calling and justification, he also connects justification and glorification.
Afterwards he adds, ‘What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things’ The expression, God is for us, marks the effect of justification.
It is not said, God is not against us, as should be said if justification was only the pardon of sin; but God is for us, — which signifies that He not only pardons but blesses us, giving us a right to the kingdom. He not only delivers us from being children of wrath, but adopts us into His family, and makes us His own children. When He discharges us from the pains of the second death, He destines us to the glory of heaven. The words that follow, respecting the delivering up of His Son, and freely giving us all things, clearly import these two great acts of pardon and blessing. The same is also declared by the Prophet Malachi 3:17, ‘And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son.’ Justification, then, corresponds to the righteousness of God, by the imputation of which it is received. By that righteousness the penalty of the law is fulfilled, which secures the pardon of sin, and also the precept on account of which the inheritance is awarded.
Ver. 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.
The Apostle having fully established the truth, that a man is justified by faith without works, now reverts to the allusion made to circumcision at the beginning of this chapter, in demanding what Abraham had obtained as pertaining to the flesh. He now shows, in the most decisive manner, that Abraham had not obtained justification by means of circumcision, since he was justified before he was circumcised. And, proceeding to prove what he had affirmed, ch. 3:30, that justification is not confined to the Jews, he asks if the blessedness he had spoken of comes only to those who are circumcised, or to the uncircumcised also. It was the more necessary to decide this question, because the Jews not only believed that justification depended, at least in part, on their works, but that the privileges of the people of God were inseparably connected with circumcision. In the sequel Paul shows that justification has no necessary connection with, or dependence on, circumcision. For we say. — This is not the language of an objector, as Mr. Stuart supposes; it is the position which the Apostle lays down for the purpose of establishing his conclusion. The fact that faith was counted to Abraham unto righteousness, is the groundwork on which he builds.
Ver. 10. — How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
How was it? or in what circumstances was righteousness counted to him? — This question, with the affirmation which follows, determines that Abraham’s justification by faith was previous to circumcision, and therefore circumcision could not be its cause. If righteousness was imputed to him before he was circumcised, then circumcision is not necessary to justification. It may come on Gentiles as well as on Jews. This is founded on the history of Abraham, recorded in the Old Testament, who was in a state of justification before Ishmael’s birth, many years antecedent to the appointment of circumcision.
Ver. 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 . f24 If, then, Abraham was justified in uncircumcision, for what purpose, it might be asked, was he circumcised? It is replied, that he received circumcision, which was appointed as a figure or sign of his paternity, literally with respect to a numerous seed, and spiritually of all believers. It intimated that He in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, was to spring from Abraham. This blessedness is described by David as consisting, in the imputation of righteousness without works. But this was not all: circumcision was not only a sign, but a seal of that righteousness which was imputed to Abraham through faith while he was uncircumcised.
This does not mean, as is generally understood, that it was a seal of Abraham’s faith. This is not said. It is said that it was a seal of the ‘righteousness’ of the faith which he had; that is, a seal of that righteousness itself, namely, the righteousness of God, which he had received by his faith. It was a seal, assurance, or pledge that the righteousness , by the imputation of which, through his faith, he was justified, although not then in existence, should in its appointed period be brought in . Circumcision, then, being such a seal or pledge, and as the appointment of Abraham as the father of Christ, by whom this righteousness was to be introduced, included his being the father of the line from which Christ was to spring, it was to be affixed to his posterity, and not to cease to be so till the thing signified was accomplished. Here, it would appear, we learn the reason why this seal was to be affixed on the eighth day after birth. On the eighth day, the first day of the week, when Jesus, the seed of Abraham, arose from the dead, that righteousness, of which circumcision was a seal or pledge, was accomplished. In reference to this, and to the change respecting the Sabbath from the seventh to the eighth day, in consequence of His resurrection, when our Lord brought in the everlasting righteousness, and entered into His rest, the eighth day is in many ways distinguished throughout the Old Testament. That he might be the father , etc. — In order to his being the father. This, mark, then, was a sign of Abraham’s being the father of all believers, both Jews and Gentiles, to all of whom this righteousness was to be imputed. As it was a seal of the righteousness which he had received by the faith which he had in a state of uncircumcision, it implied that righteousness would be imputed to believers in the same state.
Ver. 12. — And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but unto also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had, being yet uncircumcised.
This implies that there is a sense in which Abraham is a father of some of his descendants, in which he is not a father to others. To those of them who walk in the steps of his faith, he is a spiritual father. While all Abraham’s children were circumcised, he was not equally the father of them all. It was only to such of them as had his faith that he was a father in what is spiritually represented by circumcision. As it is said, ‘They are not all Israel which are of Israel; neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children; but in Isaac shall thy seed be called; that is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed,’ Romans 9:6.
This is also established by our Lord Himself, who denied that the unbelieving Jews were the children of Abraham, John 8:39. He was, however, not only the father of his believing children, who were circumcised, but of all, in every nation, who walk in the steps of his faith.
Ver. 13. — For the promise, that he should be the heir of the word, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Paul here continues to prove that the blessing of justification is received through faith, and not in any other way. Heir of the world — The promise to Abraham included three things, — 1. That the promised seed of the woman should descend from him; 2. That all nations should be blessed in that seed; 3. That, as a pledge of all this, he and his seed should inherit the land of Canaan. ‘And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession.’ Canaan, however, was but an emblem of the heavenly country, of which last only Abraham could have an everlasting possession; for he was a stranger on the earth, and Canaan was to him ‘a strange country,’ Hebrews 11:9.
This he understood it to be, and accordingly to the former he looked forward as what was substantially promised, Hebrews 11:13,16. This was ‘that world,’ as it is designated by our Lord, Luke 20:35, — a possession so often called an inheritance, Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4, of which not only Abraham, but also his spiritual posterity, were constituted heirs. They were to inherit all things, Revelation 21:7; and although the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain, yet all things are theirs, 1 Corinthians 3:21-23. Abraham, however, being the father or first heir according to that promise, he might properly, by way of distinction, be called ‘the heir,’ and on the same ground, the father of many nations, being the father of all God’s people; as is likewise promised in the covenant, which is so often referred to in this chapter.
The expression ‘heir’ has a manifest relation to the title of children, which is given to the people of God in their adoption. It is on this account that Paul joins them together, — ’If children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ,’ Romans 8:17; by which he teaches that they have not only a right to the good things that God confers, but that they have right in virtue of their adoption, and not of their works. The birthright of a child, which gives him a right to the good things of his father, and distinguishes him from those who may gain them by their services, resembles the privilege conferred by the free and gratuitous adoption of God of His children. In conferring the right in this way, every pretension to merit is excluded; and as God, in the law, had rendered inheritances inalienable, such also is the inviolable stability of the inheritance which God confers. The grandeur of this inheritance is represented in Scripture by the appellations of a kingdom, Luke 12:32; of a crown, 2 Timothy 4:8; and of a throne, Revelation 3:21. Or to his seed — The covenant, in all its promises, and in its fullest extent, in reference to spiritual blessings, was established in Christ, who was emphatically and eminently Abraham’s seed, Galatians 3:16; and in Him, with all His members, who are the spiritual seed of Abraham, of whom the natural seed were typical, as the land of Canaan was typical of the heavenly inheritance. The promise to the seed was, that all nations should be blessed in Him, and this promise was made to Abraham also, as it implied that the Messiah was to be Abraham’s seed. The promise to Christ included all the children that God had given Him, who are in Him, and one with Him. These are all ‘joint heirs with Jesus Christ,’ Romans 8:17.
Many are spoken of before Abraham as the children of God; but we do not read that the first promise respecting the seed, Genesis 3, was repeated to any of them. Though, in the time of Enos, men began to call themselves by the name of the Lord; though Enoch walked with God; though Noah was an heir of the righteousness which is by faith; though Jehovah was the God of Shem — it is not said that the promise of the seed was renewed to them. But to Abraham it was expressly renewed; and hence we see the reason why he is so frequently alluded to in the New Testament, and spoken of as the father of believers. Through the law. — Literally through law without the article. The Apostle had shown above that the blessing of righteousness came upon Abraham before he was circumcised, and here he shows that the promise that he should be the heir of the world was not made to him on account of any works of law, but through the righteousness received by faith. In this way Paul follows out his argument in proof that justification and the blessings connected with it were not the consequence either of circumcision or of personal obedience, but were received through faith. But through the righteousness of faith. — The righteousness of faith is an elliptical expression, meaning the righteousness which is received by faith.
This is the only way in which the promise, in order to prove effectual, could be given. ‘If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law; but the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.’ It was therefore to receive its accomplishment only by virtue of, and through the communication of, the righteousness received by faith. This is that righteousness which was counted or imputed to Abraham, when, upon the promise being made to him of a numerous seed, he believed in the Lord, Genesis 15:6. The inheritance comes solely in virtue of this righteousness to those who by it are ‘made righteous. ’ ‘They shall be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified,’ Isaiah 61:3. ‘Thy people shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever,’ Isaiah 60:21.
Ver. 14. — For if they which are of law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
When it is said, ‘If they which are of law,’ that is, who by obeying the law of God be heirs, the case is supposed, as in ch. 2:13, 26, 27, though not admitted, which would be contrary to the whole train of the Apostle’s argument. If, however, possession of the inheritance come by obedience to law, then the obtaining it by faith is set aside, and consequently, as by works of law no man can be justified, the promise is made of none effect.
This is entirely consistent with all the Apostle had said before respecting the manner in which the blessedness of Abraham had come upon him, solely by the imputation of righteousness received by faith, irrespective of any works of his. For the law worketh wrath. — It is indeed the nature of every law to afford opportunity of transgression. But this does not make it work wrath. It is law which is transgressed that works wrath. The Apostle had shown that by obedience to law no man can be justified, since all men are transgressors, and that the wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness; and this is what here he again declares. Such is the state of human nature, that the law of God, which all men transgress, so far from justifying them, can only work wrath, or punishment; for no law makes provision for the exercise of mercy, but requires perfect obedience to all its commands, and when this is not yielded, denounces wrath on every transgressor. For where no law is, there is no transgression. — This is the reason why the law works wrath. It gives occasion to transgress, and transgression brings wrath. And this, the Apostle asserts, is the nature of law in general. Where there is law, there is occasion or room for transgression. Where there is no law, there can be no breach of law. If a man could be placed in a situation without law, he would not be exposed to wrath as guilty; for as sin is the transgression of the law, so no transgression could be charged on him. This assertion, then, is equivalent to affirming that, considering the character of man, where law is there must be transgression, and only where there is no law there is no transgression, as it is said, ch. 5:13, ‘Sin is not imputed where there is no law.’ From all this it follows, that if the fulfillment of the promise was dependent on man’s obedience to the law, the obtaining of the inheritance by faith would be made void, and so the promise would become of no effect; thus the possibility of obtaining the inheritance would be destroyed altogether.
Ver. 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, Having affirmed, in the end of the 13th verse, that the promise of the inheritance was not through obedience to law, but through the righteousness received by faith, and having in the 14th and 15th verses shown that it would not be obtained through obedience to law, Paul here proceeds to state why faith was appointed to be the way through which it should be carried into effect. Therefore it is of faith, that is might be by grace. — Since, then, the promise of the inheritance, that is, of eternal salvation, could not be fulfilled through obedience to law, it was appointed that it should be fulfilled through faith, because in this way it is effected by grace. A reward must be reckoned either of grace, or of debt, on account of works performed; and these cannot be combined. For ‘if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace; but if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work,’ Romans 11:6. As the reward, then, could not be bestowed through the works of the law, of which every man is a transgressor, and which, therefore, could only work wrath to him, it must be conferred by grace through faith, which can in nowise be considered as meritorious, but is the gift of God, and simply receives His righteousness, opposed through the whole of this discussion to the works of man of every description. In this way, then, the promise is bestowed by grace. This accords with the whole plan of salvation, that regards man as a sinner, and according to which, as had been shown, ch. 3:27, boasting is excluded, and he is saved, not of works, but by grace through faith, Ephesians 2:8. In no other way, then, but through faith, could salvation have been by grace. Had it been bestowed in part or in whole as the reward of one good thought, it would not have been by grace.
Paul had before declared that they who have obtained the righteousness of God by faith are justified freely by His grace; and now he affirms that salvation is through faith, for this very purpose, that it might be by grace. To the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed. — The fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and to his seed not being grounded on obedience to law, which, in the case of every man, would have made it void, and as its fulfillment was determined by God, He has rested its accomplishment wholly on grace — His own gratuitous favor, which cannot be frustrated. Grace selects its objects, and its only motive is in God Himself The way, then, in which the promise was to be accomplished, depending on the sovereign will of God, who hath said, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’ Isaiah 46:10, and whose gifts and calling are without repentance, was rendered secure, and the promise could not be made void by the unworthiness or mutability of man. Not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham. — The promise, then, was made sure by the grace of God, through faith, to all Abraham’s spiritual seed, not only to such as were ‘of the law,’ namely, his natural offspring under the legal dispensation, denominated in verses 9 and 12 the circumcision, but also to all of every nation who, though uncircumcised, possess his faith. To himself and to all of them it is accomplished through the righteousness of faith. Here it is worthy of observation, that none are supposed to be Abraham’s spiritual seed, or heirs as his seed, except believers, whether they ‘be his descendants or Gentiles. Who is the father of us all. — That is, the spiritual father both of Jewish and Gentile believers. He is equally in this sense the father of all believers. It is only by faith that he is the spiritual father of any.
Ver. 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, I have made thee a father of many nations, — According to the Apostle’s interpretation of this promise, it imports a numerous spiritual offspring, as well as a numerous natural posterity. It is not by way of what is called accommodation that this is said; it is the real interpretation of the promise, whether Abraham himself understood it so or not. This interpretation of the Apostle is a key to all that is said on this subject. It shows that Abraham had a double seed, that the promise had a double meaning, and both are distinctly verified. Thus, each of the three promises made to Abraham had a double fulfillment: — Of a numerous posterity; of God being a God to his seed; and of the earthly and heavenly country. Before Him. — At that moment, when he stood in the presence of God whom he believed, Genesis 17:4, he was made the father of all his natural and spiritual posterity; and though he was not then actually a father, yet, being so in the purpose of God, it was made as sure to him as if it had already taken place. God now willed it, and the result would follow as surely as creation followed His word. Quickeneth the dead. — Does this refer to the literal general fact of bringing the dead to life, or to Abraham’s body now dead, and Sarah’s incapacity of having children at her advanced age, or to the raising of Isaac had he been sacrificed? The first appears to be the meaning, and includes the others; and the belief of it is the ground on which the others rest. Faith in God’s power, as raising the dead, is a proper ground of believing any other work of power which God engages to perform, or which is necessary to be performed, in order to fulfill His word. If God raises the dead, why should Abraham look with distrust on his own body, or consider Sarah’s natural incapacity to bear children? Why should he doubt that God will fulfill His promise as to his numerous seed by Isaac, even though Isaac shall be slain? God could raise him from the dead. Calleth those things which be not as though they were. — This does not say that God calls into existence the things that exist not, as He calls into existence the things that are. But God speaks of the things that exist not, in the same way as He speaks of the things that exist; that is, He speaks of them as existing, though they do not then actually exist.
And this is the way He spoke of Abraham as the father of many nations. I have made thee. — God calls him now a father, though he was not actually a father of many nations, because, before God, or in God’s counsel, he was such a father.
Ver. 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.
Against hope, or beyond hope. — The thing was utterly beyond all that could be expected according to natural principles. In hope, or upon hope; that is, he believed the thing that was an object of hope. He believed the promise. Belief respects anything that is testified, whether desirable or otherwise. But the thing testified to Abraham was an object of hope, therefore he is said beyond hope to believe in hope. That he might become. — This is explained by some as importing that Abraham believed that he should become, etc.; that is, his becoming the father of many nations was the object of his belief. Others explain it, that he believed the promise in order that he might become; that is, his faith was the means through which the promise was to be made good to him. Both of these are true, but the last appears to be most agreeable to the expression, and is the more important sense. He was made such a father through faith. Had he not believed the promise, he would not have been made such a father. According to that which was spoken. — This shows that Abraham’s expectation rested solely on the Divine promise. He had no ground to hope for so numerous a posterity, or any posterity at all, except on the warrant of the promise of God. This he received in its true and obvious meaning, and did not, like many, explain away, modify, or fritter it down into something less wonderful. He hoped for the very thing which the words of the promise intimated, and to the very utmost extent of the meaning of these words, So shall thy seed be.
Ver. 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.
Not weak in faith. — This is a usual way of expressing the opposite, implying that his faith was peculiarly strong Faith is the substance of things hoped for, inasmuch as we believe that we shall in due time be put in possession of them. It is the evidence of things not seen, as thereby we are persuaded of the truth of all the unseen things declared in Scripture.
Faith thus makes future things present, and unseen things evident. He considered not his own body. — This is an example which ought ever to direct our faith. There are always obstacles and difficulties in the way of faith. We should give them no more weight than if they did not exist, reflecting that it is God who has to remove them. Nothing can be a difficulty in the way of the fulfillment of God’s own word. This ought to encourage us, not only with respect to ourselves, but with respect to the cause of God in the world. The government rests on the shoulders of Emmanuel. His own body now dead, etc. — Had Abraham looked on any natural means, he would have staggered; but he looked only to the power of Him who promised.
Ver. 20. — He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.
He staggered not. — This well expresses the meaning, the word signifying to doubt or hesitate. Dr. Macknight’s translation is bad, — ’He did not dispute.’ He might have hesitated or doubted, though he did not dispute. At the promise, or with respect to the promise, Abraham was not staggered by the difficulties or seeming impossibilities that stood in the way, but believed the promise of God, and trusted that it would be fulfilled. He would not listen to the suggestions of carnal reasonings; they were all set aside; he rested entirely on the fidelity of the promise. And all are bound to imitate this; for the Apostle says that the history of Abraham’s faith stands on record in Scripture, not for his sake only, but for us also, that we, after his example, may be encouraged to believe in Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. But was strong in faith. — In the foregoing verse, Abraham is said not to have been weak in faith; here it is affirmed that he was strong in faith. This imports that there are degrees in faith, — a doctrine which some deny, but a doctrine which Scripture, in many places, most clearly establishes. Our Lord charges His disciples in general, and at another time Peter particularly, Matthew 6:30, 14:31, as having little faith: they had faith; but, unlike to Abraham’s, it was deficient in strength. Our Lord, too, speaks of the comparatively strong faith of the centurion, Matthew 8:10. He had not found so great faith in Israel. The Apostles, also, addressing Jesus, pray, ‘Lord, increase our faith,’ Luke 17:5. In the same manner, the Apostle Paul speaks of the ‘measure of faith,’ Romans 12:3, importing that believers were endowed with different degrees of this gift. With such a profusion of instruction as the Scriptures afford on this point, it is strange that the love of theory should induce any to assert that faith is equal in all Christians. Giving glory to God. — How did he give glory to God? By believing that He would do what He promised, although nothing less than almighty power could effect what was promised. This is an important thought, that we glorify God by ascribing to Him His attributes, and believing that He will act according to them, notwithstanding many present appearances to the contrary. But how often is the opposite of this exemplified among many who profess to have the faith of Abraham, who, when unable to trace Divine wisdom, are apt to hesitate in yielding submission to Divine authority. Nothing, however, to countenance this is found in Scripture. On the contrary, no human action is more applauded than that of Abraham offering up Isaac in obedience to the command of God, in which he certainly could not then discover either the reason or the wisdom from which it proceeded.
Without disregarding it for a moment, he yielded to the Divine authority.
He was strong in faith, giving glory to God; that is, he gave full credit for the propriety of what was enjoined, and a ready acknowledgment of that implicit submission which on his part was due.
Fully persuaded, or fully assured, being strongly convinced. — This is the explanation of the way in which he gave glory to God. We might suppose that every one who professes to believe in the attributes of God, would judge as Abraham did; yet experience shows the contrary. Even Christians do not act up to their principles on this point. The Israelites believed in God’s power and favor to them; but in time of trial they failed in giving Him glory by confiding in Him. In like manner, Christians, in their own individual cases, do not generally manifest that confidence in God which their principles would lead to expect. Also, that is, He was as able to perform as to promise. And therefore. — Because he believed God, notwithstanding all contrary appearances, his faith was imputed to him unto righteousness.
This history of the way in which Abraham received righteousness is not recorded for his sake alone, or applicable to himself only, but is equally applicable to all believers. The Apostle here guards us against supposing that this method of justification was peculiar to Abraham, and teaches that it is the pattern of the justification of all who shall ever find acceptance with God. The first recorded testimony respecting the justification of any sinner, as has been already observed, is that of Abraham. Others had been justified from the fall down to his time; but it was reserved for him to possess the high privilege and distinction of being thus the first man singled out and constituted the progenitor of the Messiah. In him all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, and consequently he was to be the father of all believers, who are all the children of Christ, Hebrews 2:13, and the heir of that inheritance on earth that typified the inheritance in heaven, which belongs to Jesus Christ, who is ‘appointed heir of all things,’ with whom all believers are joint heirs. And in Abraham we see that, in the first declaration of the nature of justification, it is held out as being conferred by the imputation of righteousness through faith only.
This passage, then, which refers to what is written, as well as those preceding it in this chapter, it must again be remarked, exhibit the character of the historical parts of Scripture as all divinely inspired, and all divinely arranged, in the wisdom of God, to apply to events the most important in the future dispensation. Every fact and every circumstance which they announce, as well as the whole narrative, was ordered and dictated by Him, to whom all His works are known from the beginning of the world, Acts 15:18.
Ver. 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.
Righteousness shall be imputed to us, as well as to Abraham, if we have his faith. If we believe on Him that raised, etc. — Here God is characterized by the fact that He raised up Christ. This, then, is not a mere circumstance, but it is in this very character that our faith must view God.
To believe for salvation, we must believe not in God absolutely, but in God as the raiser up of Jesus Christ This faith in God, as raising up our Lord, must also include a right view of Him. It must imply a belief of the Gospel, not only as to the fact of a resurrection, but also as to the person and work of Christ.
Ver. 25. — Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification . Delivered — The Father gave over the Son to death, delivering Him into the hands of wicked men. Here we must look to a higher tribunal than that of Pilate, who delivered Him into the hands of the Jews. He was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. When Herod, Pilate, and the Gentiles, with the people of Israel, were gathered together against Him, it was to do whatsoever God’s word and counsel had determined before to be done Acts 4:28. The crucifixion of Christ being the greatest of all crimes, was hateful and highly provoking in the sight of God; yet it was the will of God that it should take place, in order to bring to pass the greatest good. God decreed this event; He willed that it should come to pass, and ordered circumstances, in His providence, in such a way as gave men an opportunity to carry into effect their wicked intentions. In their sin God had no part; and His determination that the deed should be done, formed no excuse for its perpetrators, nor did it in any degree extenuate their wickedness, which the Scriptures charge upon them in the fullest manner. ‘Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,’ Acts 2:23. This was an example of the same truth declared by Joseph to his brethren, ‘As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good,’ Genesis 1:20. For our offenses or on account of our offenses. — This shows the need of Christ’s death. It was not for an example, or for a witness merely, but for our offenses. Raised again for our justification. — That is, He was raised that He might enter the holy place not made with hands, and present His own blood, that we might be made righteous, through His death for us. As the death of Christ, according to the determinate counsel of a holy and righteous God, was a demonstration of the guilt of His people, so His resurrection was their acquittal from every charge.
It is of importance to distinguish the persons to whom the Apostle refers in this and the following verses, where he says, if we believe, and speaks of righteousness being imputed to us, and of our offenses, and our justification. In the beginning of the chapter he uses the expression, ‘Abraham our father;’ but there he is introducing an objection that might be offered by the Jews, and appears to speak of Abraham as his own and their progenitor. But when, in the 12th verse, he says, ‘Our father Abraham,’ and, in the 16th, ‘the father of us all,’ he applied these expressions not to the Jews, or the natural descendants of Abraham, but to himself and those to whom he is writing, that is, to believers, to all of whom, whether Jews or Gentiles, in every age, as walking in the same steps of Abraham’s faith, they are applicable. And of the same persons he here speaks in the 24th and 25th verses, for whose offenses Jesus was delivered, and for whose justification He was raised again. They are those whom the Father had given Him, John 6:37, 17:2; Hebrews 2:13; for the effect of His death was not to depend on the contingent will of man, but was fixed by the eternal purpose of God. They are those of whom it was promised to the Redeemer, that when He should make Himself an offering for sin, He should see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied, — those who are or shall be saved, and called with an holy calling, not according to their works, but according to God’s purpose and grace which was given them in Christ Jesus before the world began, 2 Timothy 1:9, — those who have the faith of God’s elect, who are brought by Him to the acknowledgment of the truth which is after godliness, who have the hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised from eternity to their Head and Surety, Titus 1:1,2. No one, then, is entitled to consider himself among the number of those to whom the Apostle’s words are here applicable, unless he has obtained precious faith in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Yet the expression, our Savior, is often used by persons who reject God’s testimony concerning Him, and consequently have neither part nor lot in His salvation.
Having substituted Himself in the place of sinners, Jesus Christ suffered in His own person the punishment of sin, conformably to that declaration, ‘In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ He came forth from among the dead, in testimony that the threatening of God was accomplished, and as a pledge of the acceptance of His sacrifice, and that by His obedience unto death Divine justice was satisfied, the law honored and magnified, and eternal life awarded to those for whom He died, whose sins He had borne in His own body on the tree, 1 Peter 2:24. He was quickened by the Spirit, 1 Peter 3:18; by whom He was also justified, 1 Timothy 3:16, from every charge that could be alleged against Him as the Surety and Covenant-head of those whose iniquities He bore. The justification, therefore, of His people, which includes not only the pardon of their sins, but also their title to the eternal inheritance, was begun in His death, and perfected by His resurrection. He wrought their justification by His death, but its efficacy depended on His resurrection. By His death He paid their debt; in His resurrection He received their acquaintance. He arose to assure to them their right to eternal life, by fully discovering and establishing it in His own person, for all who are the members of His body.