The Object Of This Chapter Is To Confirm This Doctrine Of Justification By Faith. It Is Divided Into Two Parts. The First, From Ver. 1 To 17 Inclusive, Contains The Argumentative Portion. The Second, Ver. 18 To 25, Is An Illustration Of The Faith Of Abraham.
Paul, from the 21st verse of the preceding chapter, had been setting forth the gospel method of salvation. That this is the true method he now proves,
1. From the fact that Abraham was justified by faith, vers. 1-5. That this was really the case he shows, first, because otherwise Abraham would have had ground of boasting, even in the sight of God, ver. 2; second, because the Scriptures expressly declare that he was justified by faith, ver. 8. Verses 4, 5, are designed to show that being justified by faith is tantamount with being justified gratuitously, and therefore all those passages which speak of the gratuitous forgiveness of sins may be fairly cited in favor of the doctrine of justification by faith.
2. On this principle he adduces Psalm 32:1, 2, as his second argument; for there David speaks not of rewarding the righteous as such, or for their righteousness, but of the free acceptance of the unworthy, vers. 6-8.
3. The third argument is designed to show that circumcision is not a necessary condition of justification, from the fact that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised, and therefore is the head and father of all believers, whether circumcised or not, vers. 9-12.
4. The fourth argument is from the nature of the covenant made with Abraham, in which the promise was made on the condition of faith, and not of legal obedience, vers. 13, 14.
5. And the fifth, from the nature of the law, vers. 15-17.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 1. What shall we then say that Abraham, our father as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? The connection of this verse with the preceding train of reasoning is obvious. Paul had taught that we are justified by faith; as well in confirmation of this doctrine, as to anticipate an objection from the Jew, he refers to the case of Abraham: 'How was it then with Abraham? How did he obtain justification?' The point in dispute was, how justification is to be attained. Paul proposes to decide the question by reference to a case about which no one could doubt. All admitted that Abraham was justified. The only question was, How? The particle οὖν, therefore, is not inferential, but simply indicates transition. What then shall we say about Abraham? In the question, however, τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν, κ.τ.λ. the τί belongs to εὑρηκέναι: 'What shall we say that Abraham hath found?' i.e. attained. The words κατὰσάρκα do not belong to πατέρα, 'our father according to the flesh,' but to the preceding infinitive, εὐρηκέναι 'what hath he attained through the flesh?' Although the question is indefinite, the connection shows that Paul meant to ask whether Abraham secured justification before God, κατὰ σάρκα through the flesh. The word flesh admits in this connection of different explanations. Calvin says it is equivalent to naturaliter, ex seipso, and Grotius much to the same effect, propriis viribus, 'through his own resources.' Not much different from this is the explanation of Meyer, Tholuck, and De Wette—nach sein menschlicher Weise — that is, after a purely human way; so that σάρξ stands opposed to the divine Πνεῦμα, (Holy Spirit). If this implies that Abraham was not justified by natural, but was justified by spiritual works, (works done after regeneration,) it contradicts the whole teaching of the apostle. This, however, though naturally suggested as the meaning of the passage as thus explained, is not the doctrine of either of the commentators just named. Paul gives his own interpretation of κατὰ σάρκα in the following verse: 'Did Abraham,' he asks, 'attain justification according to the flesh? No, for if he was justified by works, he hath whereof to boast.' It is plain that he uses the two expressions, according to the flesh and by flesh, as equivalent. This meaning of σάρξ is easily explained. Paul uses the word for what is external, as opposed to what is internal and spiritual, and thus for all external rites and ceremonial works, and then for works without limitation. See Galatians 3:3; 6:12; Philippians 3:3, 4. In this last passage Paul includes, under the flesh, not only his Hebrew descent, his circumcision, his being a Pharisee, his blameless adherence to the Jewish law, but everything comprehended under his "own righteousness," as distinguished from "the righteousness which is of God (ἐπὶ πίστει) on the condition of faith." This is clearly its sense here. It includes everything meant by "works" and "works" includes all forms of personal righteousness. This same result is reached in another way. Κατὰ σάρκα may mean, as Meyer and others say, after a human method, i.e. after the manner of men; and this may be understood to mean after the manner common among men, i.e. through works, or personal merit, which is the way that men adopt to secure favor with others. This is the explanation given by Köllner.
VERSE 2. For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God. The apostle's mode of reasoning is so concise as often to leave some of the steps of his argument to be supplied, which, however, are almost always sufficiently obvious from the context. As just remarked, a negative answer is to be supposed to the question in the first verse. Abraham did not attain the favor of God through the flesh. The force of for at the beginning of this verse, is then obvious, as introducing the reason for this answer. The passage itself is very concise, and the latter clause admits of different interpretations. 'If Abraham was justified by works, he might indeed assert his claim to the confidence and favor of his fellowmen, but he could not have any ground of boasting before God.' This view, however, introduces an idea entirely foreign from the passage, and makes the conclusion the very opposite of that to which the premises would lead. For if justified by works, he would have ground of boasting before God. The interpretation given by Calvin is altogether the most satisfactory and simple:
"Epichirema est, id est imperfecta ratiocinatio, quae in hanc fornam colligi debet. Si Abraham operibus justificatus est, potest suo merito gloriari; sed non habet unde glorietur apud Deum; ergo non ex operibus justificatus est."
If Abraham was justified by works he hath whereof to glory; but he hath not whereof to glory before God, and therefore he was not justified by works;' the very conclusion which Paul intended to establish, and which he immediately confirms by the testimony of the Scriptures. The argument thus far is founded on the assumption that no man can appear thus confidently before God, and boast of having done all that was required of him. If the doctrine of justification by works involves, as Paul shows it does, this claim to perfect obedience, it must be false. And that Abraham was not thus justified, he proves from the sacred record.
VERSE 3. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. The connection of this verse with the preceding is this: Paul had just said that Abraham had no ground of boasting with God; for, what saith the scripture? Does it refer the ground of Abraham's justification to his works? By no means. It declares he was justified by faith; which Paul immediately shows is equivalent to saying that he was justified gratuitously. The passage quoted by the apostle is Genesis 15:6, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him (i.e., imputed to him) for righteousness." This is an important passage, as the phrase "to impute faith for righteousness," occurs repeatedly in Paul's writings.
1. The primary meaning of the word λογίζομαι, here rendered to count to, or impute, is to reason, then to reckon, or number. 2 Chronicles 5:6, "Which could not be numbered for multitude;" Mark 15:28, "He was numbered with the transgressors;" see Isaiah 53:12, etc.
2. It means to esteem, or regard as something, that is, to number as belonging to a certain class of things; Genesis 31:15, "Are we not counted of him strangers?" Isaiah 40:17, etc.; compare Job 19:11, 33:10, in the Hebrew.
3. It is used in the more general sense of purposing, devising, considering, thinking, etc.
4. In strict connection with its primary meaning, it signifies to impute, to set to one's account; that is, to number among the things belonging to a man, or chargeable upon him.
It generally implies the accessory idea of 'treating one according to the nature of the thing imputed.' Thus, in the frequent phrase, to impute sin, as 2 Samuel 19:19, "Let not my Lord impute iniquity unto me," i.e., 'Let him not lay it to my charge, and treat me accordingly;' compare 1 Samuel 22:15, in the Hebrew and Septuagint; Psalm 32:2, (Septuagint, 31.) "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity," etc. And in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 6:19, "Not imputing unto men their trespasses;" 2 Timothy 4:16, "I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge," etc. These and numerous similar passages render the Scriptural idea of imputation perfectly clear. It is laying anything to one's charge, and treating him accordingly. It produces no change in the individual to whom the imputation is made; it simply alters his relation to the law. All those objections, therefore, to the doctrine expressed by this term, which are founded on the assumption that imputation alters the moral character of men; that it implies an infusion of either sin or holiness, rest on a misconception of its nature. It is, so far as the mere force of the term is concerned, a matter of perfect indifference whether the thing imputed belonged antecedently to the person to whom the imputation is made or not. It is just as common and correct to speak of laying to a man's charge what does not belong to him, as what does. That a thing can seldom be justly imputed to a person to whom it does not personally belong, is a matter of course. But that the word itself implies that the thing imputed must belong to the person concerned, is a singular misconception. These remarks have, of course, reference only to the meaning of the word. Whether the Bible actually teaches that there is an imputation of either sin or righteousness, to any to whom it does not personally belong, is another question. That the Bible does speak both of imputing to a man what does not actually belong to him, and of not imputing what does, is evident from the following, among other passages, Leviticus 17:3, 4: "What man soever killeth than ox, and bringeth it not to the door of the tabernacle," etc., "blood shall be imputed to that man;" that is, blood-guiltiness or murder, a crime of which he was not actually guilty, should be laid to his charge, and he should be put to death.
"Sanguils hic est caedes, says Rosenmüller; perinde Deo displicebit, ac si ille hominem occidisset, et mortis reus judicabitur."
"Als Blutschuld soll es angerechnet werden diesem Manne." Gesenius. On the other hand, Leviticus 7:18, if any part of a sacrifice is eaten on the third day, the offering "shall not be imputed to him that made it." Paul, speaking to Philemon of the debt of Onesimus, says, "put that on my account," i.e., impute it to me. The word used in this case is the same as that which occurs in Romans 5:13, "Sin is not imputed where there is no law;" and is in its root and usage precisely synonymous with the word employed in the passage before us, when the latter is used in reference to imputation. No less than twice also, in this very chapter, vers. 6 and 11, Paul speaks of 'imputing righteousness,' not to those to whom it personally belongs, certainly, but to the ungodly, ver. 5; to those who have no works, ver. 6.
Professor Storr, of Tübingen, De vario sensu vocis δίκαιος, etc., in Nov. Test., in his Opuscula, Vol. 1., p. 224, says,
"Since innocence or probity (expressed by the word righteousness ) does not belong to man himself, it must be ascribed or imputed to him. In this way the formula, 'righteousness which is of God,' Philippians 3:9, and especially the plainer expressions, 'to impute faith for righteousness,' Romans 4:5, and 'to impute righteousness,' are to be understood."
We readily admit, he says, that things which actually belong to a man may also be said to be imputed to him, as was the case with Phineas, etc., and then adds,
"Nevertheless, as he is said not to impute an action really performed, Leviticus 7; 2 Samuel 19, etc., who does not so regard it as to decree the fruit and punishment of it; so, on the other hand, those things can be imputed, Leviticus 17:4, which are not, in fact, found in the man, but which are so far attributed to him, that he may be hence treated as though he had performed them. Thus righteousness may be said to be imputed, Romans 4:6, 11, when not his own innocence and probity, which God determines to reward, is ascribed to the believer, but when God so ascribes and imputes righteousness, of which we are destitute, that we are treated as innocent and just."
On page 233, he says, "Verbum λογίζεσθαι monstrat gratiam, Romans 4:4, nam δικαιοσύνην nostram negat."
This idea of imputation is one of the most familiar in all the Bible, and is expressed in a multitude of cases where the term is not used. When Stephen prayed, Acts 7:60, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge," he expressed exactly the same idea that Paul did, when he said, 2 Timothy 4:16, "I pray God it may not be laid to their charge," although the latter uses the word impute (λογισθείη,) and the former does not. So the expressions, "his sin shall be upon him," "he shall bear his iniquity," which occur so often, are perfectly synonymous with the formula, "his sin shall be imputed to him;" and, of course, "to bear the sins of another," is equivalent to saying, "those sins are imputed." The objection, therefore, that the word impute does not occur in reference to the imputation of the sin or righteousness of one man to another, even if well founded, which is not the tact, is of no more force than the objections against the doctrines of the Trinity, vicarious atonement, perseverance of the saints, etc., founded on the fact that these words do not occur in the Bible. The material point surely is, Do the ideas occur? The doctrine of the "imputation of righteousness" is not the doctrine of this or that school in theology. It is the possession of the Church. It was specially the glory and power of the Reformation. Those who differed most elsewhere, were perfectly agreed here. Lutherans and Reformed, alienated from each other by the sacramentarian controversy, were of one mind on this great doctrine. The testimony of the learned Rationalist, Bretschneider, if any testimony on so notorious a fact is necessary, may be here cited. Speaking with special reference to the Lutheran Church, he says,
"The symbolical books, in the first place, contradict the scholastic representation of justification, followed by the Romish Church, that is, that it is an act of God, by which he communicates to men an inherent righteousness (justitia habitualis, infusa), i.e. renders them virtuous. They described it as a forensic or judicial act of God, that is, an act by which merely the moral relation of the man to God, not the man himself (at least not immediately,) is changed."
"Hence, justification consists of three parts:
1. The imputation of the merit of Christ.
2. The remission of punishment.
3. The restoration of the favor and the blessedness forfeited by sin."
"By the imputatio justitiae (or meriti) Christi, the symbolical books understand that judgment of God, according to which he treats us as though we had not sinned, but had fulfilled the law, or as though the merit of Christ was ours; see Apol., Art. 9, p. 226, Merita propitiatoris—aliis donantur imputatione divina, ut per ea, tanquam propriis meritis justi reputemur, ut si quis amicus pro amico solvit aes alienum, debitor alieno merito tanquam proprio liberatur"—Bretschneider's Entwickelung aller in der Dog. vorkommenden Begriffe, pp. 631, 632, etc.
But to return to the phrase, 'Faith is imputed for righteousness.' It is very common to understand faith here, to include its object, i.e., the righteousness of Christ; so that it is not faith considered as an act, which is imputed, but faith considered as including the merit which it apprehends and appropriates. Thus hope is often used for the thing hoped for, as Romans 8:24, "Hope that is seen is not hope," etc.; and faith for the things believed, Galatians 1:23, "He preacheth the faith," etc. In illustration of this idea, Gerhard, the leading authority in the Lutheran Church, during the seventeenth century, says,
"Quemadmodum annulus, cui inclusa est gemma, dicitur valere aliquot coronatis, pretiosissima ita fides, quae apprehendit Christi justitiam, dicitur nohis imputari ad justitiam, quippe cujus est organum apprehendens," Loci Tom. 7. 238.
Although there are difficulties attending this interpretation, it cannot, with any consistency, be exclaimed against by those who make faith to include the whole work of the Spirit on the heart, and its fruits in the life; as is done by the majority of those who reject this view of the passage. Besides this interpretation, there are three other explanations which deserve consideration. The first is that adopted by the Remonstrants, or Arminians. According to their view, δικαιοσύνη is to be taken in its ordinary sense of righteousness, that which constitutes a man righteous in the eye of the law. They understand the apostle, when he says, "Faith was imputed for righteousness," as teaching that faith was regarded or counted as complete obedience to the law. As men are unable to render that perfect obedience which the law given to Adam required, God, under the gospel, according to this view, is pleased to accept of faith (a fides obsequiosa, as it is called, i.e., faith including evangelical obedience), instead of the righteousness which the law demands. Faith is thus made, not the instrument, but the ground of justification. It is imputed for righteousness in the sense of being regarded and treated as though it were complete obedience to the law. It must be admitted, that so far as this single form of statement is concerned, this interpretation is natural, and consistent with usage. Thus uncircumcision is said to be imputed for circumcision, that is, the former is regarded as though it were the latter. This, however, is not the only sense the words will naturally bear, and it is utterly inconsistent with what the Scriptures elsewhere teach.
1. It contradicts all those passages in which Paul and the other sacred writers deny that the ground of justification is anything in us, or done by us. These passages are too numerous to be cited; see Romans 3:20, where it is shown that the works which are excluded from the ground of justification are not ceremonial works merely, nor works performed with a legal spirit, but all works, without exception; works of righteousness, Titus 3:5, i.e., all right or good works. But faith considered as an act, is as much a work as prayer, repentance, almsgiving, or anything of the kind. And it is as much an act of obedience to the law, as the performance of any other duty; for the law requires us to do whatever is in itself right.
2. It contradicts all those passages in which the merit of Christ, in any form, is declared to be the ground of our acceptance. Thus in Romans 3:25, it is Christ's propitiatory sacrifice; Romans 5:18, 19, it is his obedience or righteousness; in many other places it is said to be his death, his cross, his blood. Faith must either be the ground of our acceptance, or the means or instrument of our becoming interested in the true meritorious ground, viz., the righteousness of Christ. It cannot stand in both relations to our justification.
3. It is inconsistent with the of office ascribed to faith. We are said to be saved by, or through faith, but never on account of our faith, or on the ground of it. (It is always διὰ πίστεως, or ἐκ πίστεως, but never διὰ πίστιν.) The expressions, "through faith in his blood," Romans 3:25, "by faith in Jesus Christ," etc., admit of no other interpretation than 'by means of faith in the blood of Christ, or in Christ himself, as the ground of confidence.' The interpretation, therefore, under consideration is at variance with the very nature of faith, which necessarily includes the receiving and resting on Christ as the ground of acceptance with God; and, of course, implies that faith itself is not that ground.
4. We accordingly never find Paul, nor any other of the sacred writers, referring his readers to their faith, or anything in themselves, as the ground of their confidence. Even in reference to those most advanced in holiness, he directs them to what Christ has done for them, not to anything wrought in them, as the ground of their acceptance. See a beautiful passage to this effect in Neander's Gelegenheitschriften, p. 23. After stating that the believer can never rest his justification on his own spiritual life, or works, he adds,
"It would, indeed, fare badly with the Christian, if on such weak ground as this he had to build his justification, if he did not know that 'if he confesses his sins, and walks in the light, as he is in the light, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses from all sin.' Paul, therefore, refers even the redeemed, disturbed by the reproaches of conscience, amidst the conflicts and trials of life, not to the work of Christ in themselves, but to what the love of God in Christ has done for them, and which, even notwithstanding their own continued sinfulness, remains ever sure."
5. Paul, by interchanging the ambiguous phrase, 'faith is imputed for righteousness,' with the more definite expressions, 'justified through or by means of faith,' 'justified through faith in his blood,' fixes the sense in which the clause in question is to be understood. It must express the idea, that it was by means of faith that Abraham came to be treated as righteous, and not that faith was taken in lieu of perfect obedience. See this subject more fully discussed in Owen on Justification, chap. 18.
According to the second view, the word righteousness is taken in a much more limited sense, and the phrase 'to impute faith for righteousness,' is understood to mean 'faith was regarded as right, it was approved.' This interpretation also is perfectly consistent with usage. Thus, Psalm 106:31, it is said of the zeal of Phineas, "It was counted unto him for righteousness." This of course does not mean that it was regarded as complete obedience to the law, and taken in its stead as the ground of justification. It means simply that his zeal was approved of. It was regarded, says Dr. Owen, "as a just and rewardable action." "Divinitus approbatum erat," says Tuckney, Praelectiones, p. 212, "tanquam juste factum." In like manner, Deuteronomy 24:13, it is said of returning a pledge, "It shall be righteousness unto thee before the Lord thy God." Agreeably to the analogy of these passages, the meaning of this clause may be, 'his faith was regarded as right;' 'it secured the approbation of God.' How it did this, must be learned from other passages. The third interpretation agrees with the first, in taking δικαιοσύνη in its proper sense (righteousness), but gives a different force to the preposition εἰς: 'Faith was imputed to him unto righteousness,' that is, in order to his being regarded and treated as righteous. In support of this view, reference is made to such frequently recurring expressions as εἰς σωτηρίαν (unto salvation), 'that they might be saved,' Romans 10:1; εἰς μετάνοιαν (unto repentance), 'that they might repent,' Matthew 3:11. In Romans 10:10 of this epistle, the apostle says, 'With the heart man believeth unto righteousness' (εἰς δικαιοσύνην), i.e., in order to becoming righteous, or so as to become righteous. Faith secures their being righteous. According to this view of the passage, all it teaches is, that faith and not works secured Abraham's justification before God. And this is the object which the apostle has in view. The precise relation in which faith stands to justification, whether it is the instrument or the ground, however clearly taught elsewhere, this particular expression leaves undetermined. It simply asserts that Abraham was justified as a believer, and not as a worker (ἐργαζόμενος), as Paul expresses it in the next verse.
The Rationalistic theologians of modern times agree with the Sicilians in teaching that justification by faith, as distinguished from justification by works, is nothing more than the doctrine that moral character is determined more by the inward principle than by the outward act. By faith, in the case of Abraham, they understand confidence in God; a pious frame of mind, which is influenced by considerations drawn from 'the unseen and spiritual world, the region of truth and eternal principles, rather than by either mercenary feelings or outward objects. When, therefore, the Scriptures say, 'God imputed Abraham's faith for righteousness' the meaning is, God accepted him for his inward piety, for the elevated principle by which his whole life was governed. If this is what Paul means, when he speaks of Abraham being justified by faith, it is what he means when he teaches that men are now justified by faith. Then the whole gospel sinks to the level of natural religion, and Christ is in no other sense a Savior, than as by his doctrines and example he leads men to cultivate piety. It is perfectly obvious that Paul means to teach that sinners are, now justified in the same way that Abraham was. He proves that we are justified by faith, because Abraham was justified by faith. If faith means inward piety in the one case, it must have the same meaning in the other. But as it is expressly said, over and over, in so many words, that men are now justified by faith in Christ, it follows of necessity that faith in Christ was the faith by which Abraham was justified. He believed the promise of redemption, which is the promise that we embrace when we receive and rest on Christ for salvation. Hence it is one principal object of the apostle's argument in the latter part of this chapter, and in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians, to show that we are heirs of the promise made to Abraham, because we have the same faith that he had; the same, that is, both in its nature and object.
It is further to be remarked, that λογίζεσθαι εἰς δικαιοσύνην (to impute for righteousness), and δικαιοῦσθαι (to be justified), mean the same thing. Thus Calvin says,
"Tantum notemus, eos quibus justitia imputatur, justificari; quando haec duo a Paulo tanquam synonyma ponuntur."
Yet, strange to say, Olshausen asserts that they are very different. To be justified (δικαιοῦσθαι) and to have righteousness imputed, he says, differ as the Romish and the Protestant doctrines of justification differ. The former means to be made subjectively righteous, the latter simply to be regarded as righteous.
"Was Jemandem angerechnet wird, da hat er nicht, er wird aber angesehen und behandelt, als hätte er es."
What is imputed to a man, that he is not, but he is regarded and treated as though he had it. Abraham therefore was not justified, because before the coming of Christ, any true righteousness (δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ, as Olshausen says), was impossible; he was only regarded as righteous . But as what is said of Abraham is said also of believers under the gospel, since to them as well as to him righteousness is said to be imputed, it follows that believers are not really justified in this life. This is the conclusion to which he is led by two principles. The first is, that the word δικαιόω means to make righteous inwardly (es bedeutet die göttliche Thätigkeit des Hervorrufens der δικαιοσύνη), and no man is perfectly holy in this life; the second is, that God cannot regard any one as being what he is not, and therefore he cannot regard the unrighteous as righteous. The former of these assumptions is utterly unfounded, as δικαιόω always means to declare just, and never to make just. The second principle, Olshausen, in his comment on this verse, modifies so far as to say that God can only regard as just those whom he purposes to render just; and as with God there are no distinctions of time, he regards as already possessed of righteousness those whom he has purposed to render so. (This would seem to imply external justification, or at least an imputation of righteousness from eternity to all whom God has purposed to save.) Without this modification, he says, the objection of Romanists to the Protestant doctrine would be unanswerable. There is a sense, however, in which the principle in question is perfectly sound. God must see things as they are, and pronounce them to be what they are. The Protestant doctrine does not suppose that God regards any person or thing as being other than he or it really is. When he pronounces the unjust to be just, the word is taken in different senses. He does not pronounce the unholy to be holy; he simply declares that the demands of justice have been satisfied in behalf of those who have no righteousness of their own. In sin there are the two elements of guilt and pollution—the one expressing its relation to the justice, the other its relation to the holiness of God; or, what amounts to the same thing, the one expressing its relation to the penalty, and the other its relation to the precept of the law. These two elements are separable. The moral character or inward state of a man who has suffered the penalty of a crime, and thus expiated his offense, may remain unchanged. His guilt, in the eye of human law, is removed, but his pollution remains. It would be unjust to inflict any further punishment to him for that offense. Justice is satisfied, but the man is unchanged. There may therefore be guilt where there is no moral pollution, as in the case of our blessed Lord, who bore our sins; and there may be freedom from guilt, where moral pollution remains, as in the case of every justified similar. When, therefore, God justifies the ungodly, he does not regard him as being other than he really is. He only declares that justice is satisfied, and in that sense the man is just; he has a δικαιοσύνη which satisfies the demands of the law. His moral character is not the ground of that declaration, and is not affected by it. As to the distinction made by Olshausen between imputing righteousness and justifying, there is not the slightest ground for it. He himself makes them synonymous (p. 157). The two forms of expression are used synonymously in this very context. In ver. 3, it is said, 'faith is imputed for righteousness;' in ver. 5, 'God justifies the ungodly;' and in ver. 6, 'he imputes righteousness'—all in the same sense. Olshausen, although a representative man, exhibits his theology, in his commentary, in a very unsettled state. He not only retracts at times, in one volume, what he had said in another, but he modifies his doctrine from page to page. In his remarks on Romans 3:21, he himself asserts the principle (as quoted above), that "by God nothing can ever be regarded or declared righteous, which is not righteous" (p. 145); but in his comment on this verse, he pronounces the principle,
"das Gott nach seiner Wahrhaftigkeit nicht Jemanden für etwas ansehen kann, was er nicht ist—falsch und über den Heilsweg durchaus irreleitend" (p. 174).
That is, he says that the principle
"that God, in virtue of his veracity, cannot regard one as being what he is not—is false, and perverts the whole plan of salvation."
On page 157 he says,
"The passing over of the nature (Wesen) of Christ upon the sinner, is expressed by saying righteousness is imputed to him;"
whereas, on pages 173-5, he labors to show that imputing righteousness is something very different from imparting righteousness. He prevailingly teaches the doctrine of subjective justification, to which his definition and system inevitably lead; but under the stress of some direct assertion of the apostle to the contrary, he for the time brings out the opposite doctrine. He exhibits similar fluctuations on many other points.
VERSES 4, 5. Now to him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt; but to him that worketh not, etc. These verses are designed, in the first place, to vindicate the pertinency of the quotation from Scripture, made in ver. 3, by showing that the declaration 'faith was imputed for righteousness,' is a denial that works were the ground of Abraham's acceptance; and, secondly, that to justify by faith, is to justify gratuitously, and therefore all passages which speak of gratuitous acceptance are in favor of the doctrine of justification by faith.
Now to him that worketh, that is, either emphatically 'to him who does all that is required of him;' or 'to him who seeks to be accepted on account of his works.' The former explanation is the better. The words then state a general proposition, 'To him that is obedient, or who performs a stipulated work, the recompense is not regarded as a gratuity, but as a debt.' The reward, ὁ μισθός the appropriate and merited compensation.
Is not imputed, κατὰ χάριν, ἀλλὰ ὀφείλημα, not grace, but debt, which implies that a claim founded in justice is the ground and measure of remuneration. Paul's argument is founded on the principle, which is so often denied, as by Olshausen, (p. 172,) that man may have merit before God; or that God may stand in the relation of debtor to man. The apostle says expressly, that τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ, to him that works, the reward is a matter of debt. If Adam had remained faithful and rendered perfect obedience, the promised reward would have been due to him as a matter of justice; the withholding it would have been an act of injustice. When, therefore, the apostle speaks of Abraham as having a ground of boasting, if his works made him righteous, it is not to be understood simply of boasting before men. He would have had a ground of boasting in that case before God. The reward would have been to him a matter of debt.
But to him that worketh not, τῷ δὲ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ. That is, to him who has no works to plead as the ground of reward; πιστεύοντι δὲ ἐπὶ κ.τ.λ., but believeth upon, i.e. putting his trust upon. The faith which justifies is not mere assent, it is an act of trust. The believer confides upon God for justification. He believes that God will justify him, although ungodly; for the object of the faith or confidence here expressed is ὁ δικαιῶν τὸν ἀσεβῆ, he who justifies the ungodly. Faith therefore is appropriating; it is an act of confidence in reference to our own acceptance with God. To him who thus believes, faith is counted for righteousness, i.e. it is imputed in order to his becoming righteous. It lies in the nature of the faith of which Paul speaks, that he who exercises it should feel and acknowledge that he is ungodly, and consequently undeserving of the favor of God. He, of course, in relying on the mercy of God, must acknowledge that his acceptance is a matter of grace, and not of debt. The meaning of the apostle is plainly this: 'To him that worketh, the reward is a matter of debt, but to him who worketh not, but believeth simply, the reward is a matter of grace.' Instead, however, of saying 'it is a matter of grace,' he uses, as an equivalent expression, "to him faith is counted for righteousness." That is, he is justified by faith. To be justified by faith, therefore, is to be justified gratuitously, and not by works. It is thus he proves that the passage cited in ver. 3, respecting Abraham, is pertinent to his purpose as an argument against justification by works. It at the same time shows that all passages which speak of gratuitous acceptance, may be cited in proof of his doctrine of justification by faith. The way is thus opened for his second argument, which is derived from the testimony of David.
It is to be remarked, that Paul speaks of God as justifying the ungodly. The word is in the singular, τὸν ἀσεβῆ, the ungodly man, not with any special reference to Abraham, as though he was the ungodly person whom God justified, but because the singular, ἐργαζομένῳ, (to him that worketh,) πιστεύοντι, (to him that believeth,) is used in the context, and because every man must believe for himself. God does not justify communities. If every man and all men are ungodly, it follows that they are regarded and treated as righteous, not on the ground of their personal character; and it is further apparent that justification does not consist in making one inherently just or holy; for it is as ungodly that those who believe are freely justified for Christ's sake. It never was, as shown above, the doctrine of the Reformation, or of the Lutheran and Reformed divines, that the imputation of righteousness affects the moral character of those concerned. It is true, whom God justifies he also sanctifies; but justification is not sanctification, and the imputation of righteousness is not the infusion of righteousness. These are the first principles of the doctrine of the Reformers.
"The fourth grand error of the Papists in the article of justification," says an old divine, "is concerning that which we call the form thereof. For they, denying and deriding the imputation of Christ's righteousness, (without which, notwithstanding, no man can be saved,) do hold that men are justified by infusion, and not by imputation of righteousness; we, on the contrary, do hold, according to the Scriptures, that we are justified before God, only by the imputation of Christ's righteousness, and not by infusion. And our meaning, when we say that God imputeth Christ's righteousness unto us, is nothing else but this: that he graciously accepteth for us, and in our behalf, the righteousness of Christ, that is, both as to his obedience, which, in the days of his flesh, he performed for us; and passive, that is, his sufferings, which he sustained for us, as if we had in our own persons both performed and suffered the same ourselves. How be it, we confess that the Lord doth infuse righteousness into the faithful; yet not as he justifieth, but as he sanctifieth them," etc. Bishop Downame on Justification, p. 261.
Tuckney, one of the leading members of the Westminster Assembly, and principal author of the Shorter Catechism, in his Praelectiones, p. 213, says,
"Although God justifies the ungodly, Romans 4:5, i.e., him who was antecedently ungodly, and who in a measure remains, as to his inherent character, unjust after justification, yet it has its proper ground in the satisfaction of Christ," etc.
On page 220, he says,
"The Papists understand by justification, the infusion of inherent righteousness, and thus confound justification with sanctification; which, if it was the true nature and definition of justification, they might well deny that the imputation of Christ's righteousness is the cause or formal reason of this justification, i.e., of sanctification. For we are not so foolish or blasphemous as to say, or even think, that the righteousness of Christ imputed to us renders us formally or inherently righteous, so that we should be formally or inherently righteous with the righteousness of Christ. Since the righteousness of Christ is proper to himself, and is as inseparable from him, and as incommunicable to others, as any other attribute of a thing, or its essence itself."
VERSES 6-8. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness without works. Paul's first argument in favor of gratuitous justification was from the case of Abraham; his second is from the testimony of David. The immediate connection of this verse is with ver. 5. At the conclusion of that verse, it was said, to him who had no works, faith is imputed, in order to his justification, i.e., he is justified gratuitously, even as David speaks of the blessedness of him whom, although destitute of merit, God regards and treats as righteous.
Describeth the blessedness, i.e., pronounces blessed. The words are λέγει τὸν μακαρισμόν, utters the declaration of blessedness concerning the man, etc.
To whom God imputeth righteousness without works, that is, whom God regards and treats as righteous, although he is not in himself righteous. The meaning of this clause cannot be mistaken. 'To impute sin,' is to lay sin to the charge of any one, and to treat him accordingly, as is universally admitted; so 'to impute righteousness,' is to set righteousness to one's account, and to treat him accordingly. This righteousness does not, of course, belong antecedently to those to whom it is imputed, for they are ungodly, and destitute of works. Here then is an imputation to men of what does not belong to them, and to which they have in themselves no claim. To impute righteousness is the apostle's definition of the term to justify. It is not making men inherently righteous, or morally pure, but it is regarding and treating them as just. This is done, not on the ground of personal character or works, but on the ground of the righteousness of Christ. As this is dealing with men, not according to merit, but in a gracious manner, the passage cited from Psalm 32:1, 2, is precisely in point: "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." That is, blessed is the man who, although a sinner, is regarded and treated as righteous. As the remission of sin is necessarily connected with restoration to God's favor, the apostle speaks of it as the whole of justification; not that the idea of remission exhausts the whole idea of justification, but it necessarily implies the rest. In like manner, in Ephesians 1:7, it is said, "in whom we have redemption... the forgiveness of sins;" which does not imply that forgiveness is the whole of redemption, that the gift of the Spirit, the glorification of the body, and eternal life, which are so constantly spoken of as fruits of Christ's work, as parts of the purchased inheritance, are to be excluded.
Here again the doctrine of a personal, inherent righteousness, which it is the special object of the apostle to exclude, is introduced by the modern mystical or transcendental theologians. On the declaration that righteousness is imputed without works, Olshausen remarks:
"No matter how abundant or pure works may be, the ground of blessedness is not in them, but in the principle whence they flow; that is, not in man, but in God."
The whole doctrine of the apostle is made to be, that men are justified (made holy,) not by themselves, but by God; thus confounding, as Romanists do, justification with sanctification. In Psalm 32:1, 2, as quoted by Paul from the LXX., ἀφίεναι (to remit,) and ἐπικαλύπτειν (to cover,) are interchanged. Olshausen says the former expresses the New Testament idea of forgiveness (die reale Hinwegschaffung der Sunde) i.e., the real removal of sin; the latter, the Old Testament idea of non-imputation of sin—the sin remaining, but being overlooked. This view of the nature of remission, and of the difference between the Old and the New Testament, is purely Romish.
VERSE 9. Cometh this blessedness upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? etc. The apostle's third argument, commencing with this verse and continuing to the 12th, has special reference to circumcision. He had proved that Abraham was not justified on account of his works generally; he now proves that circumcision is neither the ground nor condition of his acceptance. The proof of this point is brief and conclusive. It is admitted that Abraham was justified. The only question is, was it before or after his circumcision? If before, it certainly was not on account of it. As it was before, circumcision must have had some other object.
'Cometh this blessedness.' There is nothing in the original to answer to the word cometh, although some word of the kind must be supplied. The most natural word to supply is λέγεται, David utters the declaration of the blessedness "of the man whose sins are pardoned." Concerning whom is this declaration uttered? The word rendered blessedness means, more properly, 'declaration of blessedness.' 'This declaration of blessedness, is it upon, i.e., is it about (λέγεται), is it said concerning the circumcision only?' The preposition (ἐπί) used by the apostle, often points out the direction of an action, or the subject concerning which anything is said. This question has not direct reference to the persons to whom the offers of acceptance are applicable, as though it were equivalent to asking, 'Is this blessedness confined to the Jews, or may it be extended to the Gentiles also?' because this is not the subject now in hand. It is the ground or condition of acceptance, and not the persons to whom the offer is to be made, that is now under consideration. The question therefore is, in substance, this: 'Does this declaration of blessedness relate to the circumcised, as such? Is circumcision necessary to justification?'—the blessing of which Paul is speaking. The answer obviously implied to the preceding question is, 'It is not said concerning the circumcised, as such; for we say that faith was imputed to Abraham for righteousness.' It was his faith, not his circumcision, that was the condition of his justification. The preceding verses are occupied with the testimony of David, which decided nothing as to the point of circumcision. To determine whether this rite was a necessary condition of acceptance, it was requisite to refer again to the case of Abraham. To decide the point presented in the question at the beginning of the verse, the apostle argues from the position already established. It is conceded or proved that Abraham was justified by faith; to determine whether circumcision is necessary, we have only to ask, Under what circumstances was he thus justified, before or after circumcision?
VERSE 10. How was it then reckoned? When he was in circumcision or uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. Of course, his circumcision, which was long subsequent to his justification, could not be either the ground or necessary condition of his acceptance with God.
VERSE 11. And he received the sign of circumcision, the seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised etc. As Paul had shown that circumcision was not the condition of justification, it became necessary to declare its true nature and design.
The sign of circumcision, i.e. circumcision which was a sign, (genitive of apposition;) as "the earnest of the spirit," for 'the Spirit which is an earnest,' 2 Corinthians 1:20.
The seal of the righteousness of faith, etc. The phrase, righteousness of faith, is a concise expression for 'righteousness which is attained by faith,' or, as it stands more fully in Philippians 3:9, "the righteousness of God, which is by faith." The word righteousness, in such connections, includes, with the idea of excellence or obedience, that of consequent blessedness. It is the 'state of acceptableness with God.' The circumcision of Abraham was designed to confirm to him the fact, that he was regarded and treated by God as righteous, through faith, which was the means of his becoming interested in the promise of redemption. From this passage it is evident that circumcision was not merely the seal of the covenant between God and the Hebrews as a nation. Besides the promises made to Abraham of a numerous posterity, and of the possession of the land of Canaan, there was the far higher promise, that through his seed (i.e. Christ, Galatians 3:16) all the nations of the earth should be blessed. This was the promise of redemption, as the apostle teaches us in Galatians 3:13-18:
"Christ," he says, "has redeemed us from the curse of the law—in order that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles."
The blessing promised to Abraham, in which the Gentiles participate through Jesus Christ, can he none other than redemption. As that blessing was promised to Abraham on the condition, not of works, but of faith, the apostle hence argues, that in our case also we are made partakers of that blessing by faith, and not by works. This was the covenant of which circumcision was the seal. All therefore who were circumcised, professed to embrace the covenant of grace. All the Jews were professors of the true religion, and constituted the visible Church, in which by divine appointment their children were included. This is the broad and enduring basis of infant church membership.
Abraham, says the apostle, was thus assured of his justification by faith, (εἰς τὸ εἶναι,) in order that he might be the father; or, so that he is the father, etc. The former explanation is to be preferred, not only because εἰς with the infinitive, commonly expresses design, but also because the whole context shows that the apostle intends to bring into view the purpose of God in the justification of Abraham.
The father of all them that believed though they be not circumcised, πάντων τῶν πιστευόντων δἰ ἀκροβυστίας i.e. 'of all believing, with uncircumcision.' That is, of all uncircumcised believers. The preposition, διά here, as in Romans 2:27, and elsewhere, simply marks the attendant circumstances. The word father expresses community of nature or character, and is often applied to the head or founder of any school or class of men, whose character or course is determined by the relation to the person so designated: as Genesis 4:20, 21: "Jabal... was the father of such as dwell in tents;" and, "Jubal... was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ." Hence teachers, priests, and kings are often called fathers. Believers are called the children of Abraham, because of this identity of religious nature or character, as he stands out in Scripture as the believer; and because it was with him that the covenant of grace, embracing all the children of God, whether Jews or Gentiles, was reenacted; and because they are his heirs, inheriting the blessings promised to him. As Abraham was the head and father of the theoretical people under the Old Testament, this relation was not disowned when the middle wall of partition was broken down, and the Gentiles introduced into the family of God. He still remained the father of the faithful, and we are "the sons of Abraham by faith," Galatians 3:7. The Jews were accustomed to speak in the same way of Abraham: Michlol Jophi on Malachi 2:15, by the one there mentioned, "Abraham is intended, for he was one alone, and the father of all who follow and imitate him in faith." Bechai, fol. 27, he is called "The root of faith, and father of all those who believe in one God." Jalkut Chadash, fol. 54, 4,
"On this account Abraham was not circumcised until he was ninety-nine years old, lest he should shut the door on proselytes coming in." See Schoettgen, p. 508.
That righteousness might be imputed unto them also. The connection and design of these words are not very clear, and they are variously explained. They may be considered as explanatory of the former clause, and therefore connected with the first part of the verse. The sense would then be, 'Abraham was justified, being yet uncircumcised, that he might be the father of believers, although uncircumcised, that is, that righteousness might be imputed unto them also.' This clause is most commonly regarded as a parenthesis, designed to indicate the point of resemblance between Abraham and those of whom he is called the father: 'He is the father of uncircumcised believers, since they also are justified by faith, as he was.' The words εἰς τὸ λογισθῆναι are explanatory of εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν πατέρα· 'He was justified in uncircumcision, in order that he might be the father, etc.; that is, in order that faith might be imputed to them also.' From this it appears that "to impute faith for righteousness" and "to impute righteousness," are synonymous. To Abraham righteousness was imputed; he had the (δικαιοσύνη τῆς πίστεως) righteousness of faith as truly and really as believers now have. Nothing can be more opposed to the whole tenor of apostolic teaching than the Romish and modern mystical doctrine, that the Old Testament believers were not fully justified; that their sins were pretermitted, but not remitted; that their regeneration was symbolical, but not real.
VERSE 12. And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, etc. That the preceding clause is parenthetical is plain, because the grammatical construction in this verse is continued unbroken. Father of circumcision, i.e., of the circumcised.
To them, τοῖς, This change of construction from the genitive to the dative may be accounted for either by the fact, that in the Hebrew it may be said "father to" as well as "father of;" or by assuming that τοῖς is the dative of advantage, "for them." The meaning of this verse is somewhat doubtful. According to our version, which adheres closely to the Greek, the meaning is, 'Abraham is not the father of uncircumcised believers only, as stated in ver. 11, but he is the father of the circumcised also, provided they follow the example of his faith.' According to this view, as ver. 11 presents him as the father of the believing Gentiles, this presents him as the father of the believing Jews. The only grammatical objection to this interpretation is the repetition of the article τοῖς before στοιχοῦσι, which would seem to indicate that "those who follow the steps of his faith" were a different class from the circumcised. Hence some commentators interpret the passage thus: 'He is the father of the circumcision, and not of the circumcision only, but also of those who follow his faith, which he had being yet uncircumcised.' Put this is inconsistent with the construction.
1. It overlooks the καί, at the beginning of the verse, by which it is connected with ver. 11: 'He is the father of the uncircumcised, (ver. 11,) and father of the circumcised, (ver. 12.)
2. It requires a transposition of the words τοῖς οὐ, so as to read οὐ τοῖς. What Paul says is, 'To those who are not of the circumcision only.' This interpretation makes him say, 'Not to those only who are of the circumcision.'
3. It is very unnatural to make this verse repeat what had just been said in ver. 11. There Paul had said that Abraham was the father of Gentile believers; why should he here say he was the father of the Jews, and also of the Gentiles? The former interpretation, which is adopted by the great body of commentators, is therefore to be preferred.
VERSES 13-16. contain two additional arguments in favor of the apostle's doctrine. The first, vers. 13, 14, is the same as that presented more at length in Galatians 3:18, etc., and is founded on the nature of a covenant. The promise having been made to Abraham (and his seed), on the condition of faith, cannot now, consistently with fidelity, be made to depend on obedience to the law. The second argument, vers. 15, 16, is from the nature of the law itself.
VERSE 13. For the promise, that he should be heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, etc. The word for does not connect this verse with the one immediately preceding, as a proof of the insufficiency of circumcision. It rather marks the introduction of a new argument in favor of the general proposition which the chapter is designed to establish. As Abraham was not justified for his circumcision, so neither was it on account of his obedience to the law. If, however, it be preferred to connect this verse with what immediately precedes, the argument is substantially the same. In the preceding verses Paul had said that Abraham is the father of believers; in other words, that believers are his heirs, for the promise that he should inherit the world was made on the condition of faith. The promise here spoken of is, that Abraham and his seed should be the heirs of the world. The word heir, in Scripture, frequently means secure possessor. Hebrews 1:2, 6:17, 11:7, etc. This use of the term probably arose from the fact, that among the Jews possession by inheritance was much more secure and permanent than that obtained by purchase. The promise was not to Abraham, nor to his seed, (ἢ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ,) i.e. neither to the one nor to the other. Both were included in the promise. And by his seed, is not here, as in Galatians 3:16, meant Christ, but his spiritual children. This is evident from ver. 16, where the apostle speaks of πᾶν τὸ σπέρμα, the whole seed. The clause τὸ κληρονόμον αὐτὸν εἶαι is explanatory of ἡ ἐπαγγελία. It states the contents of the promise. The article τό, attached to the infinitive, renders it more prominent or emphatic. As no such promise as that mentioned in this verse is contained, in so many words, in the Old Testament, the apostle must have designed to express what he knew to be the purport of those actually given. The expression, however, has been variously explained.
1. Some understand the world to mean the land of Canaan merely. But in the first place, this is a very unusual, if not an entirely unexampled use of the word. And, in the second place, this explanation is inconsistent with the context; for Paul has reference to a promise of which, as appears from ver. 16, believing Gentiles are to partake.
2. Others understand the apostle to refer to the promise that Abraham should be the father of many nations, Genesis 17:5, and that his posterity should be as numerous as the stars of heaven, Genesis 15:5; promises which they limit to his natural descendants, who, being widely scattered, may be said, in a limited sense, to possess the world. But this interpretation is irreconcilable with ver. 16.
3. Besides the promises already referred to, it was also said, that in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, Genesis 12:3. This, as Paul explains it, Galatians 3:16, etc., had direct reference to the blessings of redemption through Jesus Christ, who was the seed of Abraham. And here too he speaks of blessings of which all believers partake. The possession of the world, therefore, here intended, must be understood in a manner consistent with these passages. The expression is frequently taken in a general sense, as indicating general prosperity and happiness. "To be heir of the world" would then mean, to be prosperous and happy, in the best sense of the words. Reference is made, in support of this interpretation, to such passages as Matthew 5:5, Psalm 37:11, "The meek shall inherit the earth;" Psalm 25:13, "His seed shall inherit the earth." The promise then, to be the heir of the world, is a general promise of blessedness. And as the happiness promised to believers, or the pious, as such, is of course the happiness consequent on religion, and is its reward, the promise in this sense may include all the blessings of redemption. So in Galatians 3:14, Paul uses the expression "that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles," as equivalent to saying 'that all the blessings of the gospel might come upon them.'
4. Or the promises in question may have reference to the actual possession of the world by the spiritual seed of Abraham, and Christ their head. The declaration that Abraham should be the father of many nations, and that his seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude, included far more than that his natural descendants should be very numerous. If they who are of faith 'are the seed of Abraham, and heirs of the promise,' Galatians 3:9, 29, then will the promise, as stated by the apostle, have its literal accomplishment when the kingdoms of this world are given to the saints of the most high God (Daniel 7:27,) and when the uttermost parts of the earth become the possession of Christ. In this sense, the promise includes the universal prevalence of the true religion, involving of course the advent of Christ, the establishment of his kingdom, and all its consequent blessings. The Jewish writers were accustomed to represent Abraham as the heir of the world.
"Bemidbar, R. 14., fol. 202, 'The garden is the world which God gave to Abraham, to whom it is said, Thou shalt be a blessing.' 'God gave to my father Abraham the possession of heaven and earth.' Midrasch Mischle, 19. Mechila, in Exodus 14. 31, 'Abraham our father did not obtain the inheritance of this world, and the world to come, except through faith.'" Wetstein.
The promise to Abraham and his seed was not through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. That is, it was not on condition of obedience to the law, but on condition of his having that righteousness which is obtained by faith.
Through the law, is therefore equivalent to through the works of the law, as appears from its opposition to the latter clause, 'righteousness of faith.' By the law, is to be understood the whole rule of duty, as in other passages of the same kind; see Romans 3:20. In this sense it of course includes the Mosaic law, which, to the Jews, was the most prominent portion of the revealed will of God, and by obedience to which especially they hoped for the mercy of God. The parallel passage, Galatians 3:18, etc., where the law is said to have been given four hundred years after the covenant formed with Abraham, shows it was one part of the apostle's design to convince the Jews, that as Abraham was not justified by his circumcision, (ver. 11,) so also it was not in virtue of the Mosaic economy not yet established; and therefore the promise could not be made to depend on the condition of obedience to that dispensation. This idea, although included, is not to be urged to the exclusion of the more comprehensive meaning of the word law, which the usage of the apostle and the context show to be also intended. It was neither by obedience to the law generally, nor to the particular form of it, as it appeared in the Mosaic institutions, that the promise was to be secured.
VERSE 14. For if they which are of the law be heirs, etc. The original condition being faith, if another be substituted the covenant is broken, the promise violated, and the condition made of none effect. "They who are of the law (οἱ ἐκ νόμου,) sometimes, as ver. 16, means the Jews, i.e. those who have the law; compare ver. 12, "Those of circumcision," etc. But here it means legalists, those who seek justification by the works of the law; as 'those who are of faith' are believers, those who seek justification by faith; compare Galatians 3:10, "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse," i.e. as many as seek acceptance by their own works.
The apostle's meaning, therefore, obviously is, that if those who rely upon their own works are the heirs of the promise, and are accepted on the condition of obedience to the law, the whole covenant is broken, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect. "Is made void" (κεκένωται.) is rendered useless; see 1 Corinthians 1:17; "The cross of Christ is made useless," Romans 9:15, etc.; compare 1 Corinthians 15:17, "Your faith is vain," not only without foundation but of no use.
The promise is made of none effect (κατήργηται) i.e. is invalidated; see Romans 3:3, 31. It is plain from the whole design and argument of the apostle, that by law, in this whole connection, he means not specifically the law of Moses, but the law of God, however revealed as a rule of duty for man. He has reference to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. His purpose is not simply to convince his readers that obedience to the Mosaic law cannot save them, but that obedience in any form, works of any kind, are insufficient for a man's justification before God. So far, therefore, from the context requiring, as so many of the modern commentators assert, an exclusive reference in this connection to the law of Moses, it imperatively demands the reverse.
VERSE 15. For the law worketh wrath, etc. That is, it causes men to be the subjects of wrath. It brings them under condemnation. So far from imparting life, it causes death. If, therefore, the inheritance is suspended on the condition of obedience to the law, it can never be attained; for by the law no flesh living can be justified. The connection of this verse, therefore, may be with what immediately precedes. The promise fails if it be by the law, for the law worketh death. The truth here presented, however, although thus incidentally introduced, is none the less a new and substantive argument for the doctrine of justification by faith. It is the same argument as that urged in Galatians 3:10, derived from the very nature of the law. If it works wrath, if all who are under the law are under the curse, if the law condemns, it cannot justify. As, however, there are two ways in which, according to the apostle, the law works wrath, so there are two views of the meaning of this passage. First, the law works wrath, because it says, "Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them," Galatians 3:10. As the law, from its very nature, demands perfect obedience, and condemns all who are not perfect, it, by its very nature, is unsuited to give life to sinners. It can only condemn them. If there were no law, there would be no sin, and no condemnation. But as all are under the law, and all are sinners, all are under the curse. The other way in which the law works wrath is, that it excites and exasperates the evil passions of the heart; not from any defect in the law itself, but from the nature of sin. This idea the apostle presents full in the seventh chapter; where it is properly in place, as he is there treating of sanctification. Here where he is treating of justification, that idea would be inappropriate, and therefore the former interpretation is to be decidedly preferred. Calvin, Tholuck, and others, however, understand the apostle to reason thus: 'The law, instead of freeing men from sin, incidentally renders their transgressions more numerous, conspicuous, and inexcusable, and thus brings them more and more under condemnation.'
"Nam quum Lex nihil quam ultionem generet, non potest affere gratiam. Bonis quidem ac integris viam vitae monstraret; sed quatenus vitiosis ac corruptis praecipit, quid debeant, praestandi autem vires non subministrat, reos apud Dei tribunal peragit. Quae enim est naturae nostra vitiositas, quo magis docemur, quid rectum sit ac justum, eo apertius nostra iniquitas detegitur, maximeque contumacia; atque hoc modo gravius Dei judicium accersitur."
For where there is no law, there is no transgression. The interpretation given to this clause depends upon the view taken of the preceding one. It assigns the reason why the law works wrath. If the law be understood to work wrath by exasperating the evils of our corrupt nature, then the meaning of this confirmatory clause must be, that the law makes sin more inexcusable. It exalts sin into transgressions, ἀμαρτία into παράβασις. Thus again Calvin says, that the reason why the law works wrath is,
"quia cognitione justitiae Dei per legem perceptâ, eo gravius peccamus in Deum, quo minus excusationis nobis superest—non loquitur apostolus," he adds, "de simplici justitiae transgressione, a quâ nemo eximitur; sed transgressionem appellat, ubi animus edoctus, quid Deo placeat quidve displiceat, fines voce Dei sibi definitos sciens ac volens perrumpit. Atqui ut uno verbo dicam, transgressio hic non simplex delictum, sed destinatam in violandâ justitiâ contumaciam significat."
But all this belongs to the inefficacy of the law to produce holiness, and not to its impotency in the matter of justification, which is the point here under consideration. The apostle's argument here is, that the inheritance must be by faith, not by the law, for the law can only condemn. It works wrath, for without it there would be no condemnation, because there would be no transgression. Besides, Paul does not make the distinction between sin and transgression, between ἁμαρτία and παράβασις, which the former interpretation supposes. What is here said of transgression, is, in Romans 5:13, said of sin. Where there is no law, there can be no sin, because the very idea of sin is the want of conformity to a rule, to which conformity is due; so that where there is no rule or standard, there can be no want of conformity. Such being the meaning of this clause, it is plain that by law, the apostle does not intend the Mosaic law, but law as the standard to which rational creatures are bound to be conformed. If men would only acquiesce in Paul's idea of law, they could not fail to receive his doctrine concerning sin and justification. If the law is holy, just, and good; if it is spiritual, taking cognizance not only of outward acts, but of feelings, not only of active feelings, but of the inherent states of the mind whence these (ἐπιθυμίαι) spring; if it condemns all want of conformity to its own inflexible standard of complete perfection, then there must be an end to all hope of being justified by the law.
VERSE 16. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed, etc. This and the following verse contain the conclusion from the previous reasoning, and especially from the two preceding arguments: 'The inheritance promised to Abraham and his seed must be either of the law, or of faith. It cannot be of the law, for the law works wrath, therefore it is of faith.' The expression in the original is simply διὰ τοῦτο ἐκ πίστεως, therefore of faith. It matters little, so far as the sense is concerned, whether we supply the words οἱ κληρονόμοι εἱσί(therefore the heirs are of faith,) from ver. 13, or the word ἐπαγγελία (the promise,) from ver. 13, or with Luther, δικαιοσύνη, out of the general context—darum muss die Gerechtigkeit aus dem Glauben kommen. These are only different ways of saying the same thing. The connection, as stated above, is in favor of the first explanation. The inheritance is of faith, (ἵνα κατὰ χάριν,) in order that it might be a matter of grace. And it is of grace, (εἰς τὸ εἶναι βεβαίαν τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν,) in order that the promise might be sure. If salvation be in any form or to any degree dependent on the merit, the goodness, or the stability of man, it never can be sure, nay, it must be utterly unattainable. Unless we are saved by grace, we cannot be saved at all. To reject, therefore, a gratuitous salvation, is to reject the only method of salvation available for sinners. Salvation being of grace, suspended on the simple condition of faith, without regard to parentage, to national or ecclesiastical connection, it is available for all classes of men. And therefore the apostle says, 'The promise is sure (παντὶ τῷ σπέρματι) to all the seed; i.e. to all the spiritual children of Abraham. He had already shown in vers. 11, 12, that Abraham was the father of believing Gentiles as well as of believing Jews. The word σπέρμα (seed) must therefore, in this connection, be understood of believers who, in a higher sense than mere natural descendants, are the children of Abraham. Both classes of his seed are included in the promise which is sure, (οὐ τῷ ἐκ τοῦ νόμου μόνον,) not to that of the law only, i.e. not only to that portion of the seed who are of the law, that is, believing Jews, but also (τῷ ἐκ πίστεως ·Αβραάμ) to that, which is of the faith of Abraham. These formulas are indefinite, and susceptible, taken by themselves, of different interpretations; but the context renders all plain. Paul is speaking of the spiritual children of Abraham; of those who are heirs of the inheritance promised to them. Of these there are two classes; believing Jews and believing Gentiles. The former are distinguished as (ἐκ νόμου) of the law, the latter as of the faith of Abraham, because their connection with him is purely spiritual, whereas the Jewish believers were connected with him by a twofold tie—the one natural, the other spiritual.
Who is the father of us all, i.e. of all believers. The highest privilege of New Testament saints is to be partakers of the inheritance promised to Abraham. They are not exalted above him, but united with him in the blessings which flow from union with Christ.
VERSE 17. As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations, Genesis 17:5. This declaration, the apostle informs us, contains a great deal more than the assurance that the natural descendants of Abraham should be very numerous. Taken in connection with the promise, that "in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed," it refers to his spiritual as well as his natural seed, and finds its full accomplishment in the extension of the blessing promised to him, to those of all nations who are his children by faith. This clause is very properly marked as a parenthesis, as the preceding one, "who is the father of us all," must be connected immediately with the following words, before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, etc. The words κατέναντι ου ἐπίστευσεν Θεοῦ, admit of different explanations. They are commonly regarded as an example of the substantive being attracted to the case of the relative, instead of the relative to that of the substantive, Θεοῦ being in the genitive, because οὗ is. The clause may therefore be resolved thus: κατέναντι Θεοῦ ᾧ ἐπίστευσεν, before God whom he believed. To this, however, it is objected, that this form of attraction with the dative is very unusual, and therefore Winer, § 24, 2, b, and others, adopt the simple explanation κατέναντι Θεοῦ κατέναντι οὗ ἐπίστευσε, (before God, before whom he believed. The sense in either case is the same. Abraham is the father of us all, (κατέναντι,) before, in the sight of that God in whom he believed. God looked upon him as such. He stood before his omniscient eye, surrounded by many nations of children.
It is not unusual for the apostle to attach to the name of God a descriptive periphrases, bringing into view some divine attribute or characteristic suited to the subject in hand. So here, when speaking of God's promising to Abraham, a childless old man, a posterity as numerous as the stars of heaven, it was most appropriate to refer to the omnipotence of God, to whom nothing is impossible. Abraham believed, what to all human appearance never could happen, because God, who made the, promise, is he who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not, as though they were. To originate life is the prerogative of God. It requires almighty power, and is therefore in Scripture specified as one of God's peculiar works; see Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Kings 5:7; Psalm 68:20. The being who can call the dead to life, must be able to fulfill to one, although as good as dead, the promise of a numerous posterity. The other clause in this passage, (καὶ καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα) and calling things that be not, as being, is more doubtful. There are three interpretations of these words, founded on three different senses of the word (καλεῖν) to call.
1. To call, means to command, to control, to muster or dispose of. Thus the psalmist says, "The mighty God, even the Lord hath spoken, and called the earth, from the rising of the sun unto the going down there of" Psalm 50:1. Isaiah, speaking of the stars, says, "Who... bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by name, by the greatness of his might," Psalm 40:26; also Psalm 147:4; Isaiah 45:3; 48:13. This gives a sense perfectly suited to the context. God is described as controlling with equal ease things which are not, and those which are. The actual and the possible are equally subject to his command. All things are present to his view, and all are under his control. This interpretation also is suited to the peculiar form of expression, who calls (τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα,) things not being, as being. It gives ὡς its appropriate force.
2. To call, however, is often used to express the creating energy of God. See Isaiah 41:4; 48:13. Compare Psalm 29:3-9. Philo de Creat., τὰ μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι. This also gives a good sense, as the omnipotence of God cannot be more forcibly expressed than by saying, 'He calls things not existing into existence.' But the difficulty is, that ὡς ὄντα is not equivalent with εἰς τὸ εἶναι, nor with ἐσόμενα, nor with εἰς τὸ εἶναι ὡς ὄντα, as Köllner and De Wette explain it. This indeed is not an impossible meaning, inasmuch as ὄντα, as Fritzsche says, may be the accusative of the effect, as in Philippians 3:21, "He shall change our vile body (σύμμορφον) like unto his glorious body," i.e., so as to be like; see also 1 Thessalonians 3:13. As, however, the former interpretation gives so good a sense, there is no need of resorting to these constrained explanations.
3. To call, is often used to express the effectual calling of men by the Holy Spirit. Hence some understand the apostle as here saying, 'God calls to be his children those who were not children.'
But this is entirely foreign to the context. Paul is presenting the ground of Abraham's faith in God. He believed, because God was able to accomplish all things. Everything is obedient to his voice.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. If the greatest and best men of the old dispensation had to renounce entirely dependence upon their works, and to accept of the favor of God as a gratuity, justification by, works must, for all men, be impossible, vers. 2, 3.
2. No man can glory, that is, complacently rejoice in his own goodness in the sight of God. And this every man of an enlightened conscience feels. The doctrine of justification by works, therefore, is inconsistent with the inward testimony of conscience, and can never give true peace of mind, ver. 2.
3. The two methods of justification cannot be united. They are as inconsistent as wages and a free gift. If of works, it is not of grace; and if of grace, it is not of works, vers. 4, 5.
4. As God justifies the ungodly, it cannot be on the ground of their own merit, but must be by the imputation of a righteousness which does not personally belong to them, and which they received by faith, vers. 5, 6, 11.
5. The blessings of the gospel, and the method of justification which it proposes, are suited to all men; and are not to be confined by sectarian limits, or bound down to ceremonial observances, vers. 9-11.
6. The sacraments and ceremonies of the Church, although in the highest degree useful when viewed in their proper light, become ruinous when perverted into grounds of confidence. What answers well as a sign, is a miserable substitute for the thing signified. Circumcision will not serve for righteousness, nor baptism for regeneration, ver. 10.
7. As Abraham is the father of all believers, all believers are brethren. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, among them as Christians, vers. 11, 12.
8. The seed of Abraham, or true believers, with Jesus Christ their head, are the heirs of the world. To them it will ultimately belong; even the uttermost parts of the earth shall be their possession, ver. 13.
9. To speak of justification by obedience to a law which we have broken, is a solecism. That which condemns cannot justify, ver. 15.
10. Nothing is sure for sinners that is not gratuitous. A promise suspended on obedience, they could never render sure. One entirely gratuitous needs only to be accepted to become ours, ver 16.
11. It is the entire freeness of the gospel, and its requiring faith as the condition of acceptance, which renders it suited to all ages and nations, ver. 16.
12. The proper object of faith is the divine promise; or God considered as able and determined to accomplish his word, ver. 17.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. The renunciation of a legal self-righteous spirit is the first requisition of the gospel. This must be done, or the gospel cannot be accepted. 'He who works,' i.e. who trusts in his works, refuses to be saved by grace, vers. 1-5.
2. The more intimately we are acquainted with our own hearts and with the character of God, the more ready shall we be to renounce our own righteousness, and to trust in his mercy, vers. 2, 3.
3. Those only are truly happy and secure, who, under a sense of ill-desert and helplessness, cast themselves upon the grace and promise of God, vers. 7, 8.
4. Nothing is more natural, and nothing has occurred more extensively in the Christian Church, than the perversion of the means of grace into grounds of dependence. Thus it was with circumcision, and thus it is with baptism and the Lord's supper; thus too with prayer, fasting, etc. This is the rock on which millions have been shipwrecked, vers. 9-12.
5. There is no hope for those who, forsaking the grace of God, take refuge in a law which worketh wrath, ver. 15.
6. All things are ours if we are Christ's; heirs of the life that now is, and of that which is to come, ver. 13.
7. As the God in whom believers trust is he to whom all things are known, and all things are subject, they should be strong in faith, giving glory to God, ver. 17.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
The object of this section is the illustration of the faith of Abraham, and the application of his case to our instruction. With regard to Abraham's faith, the apostle states, first, its object, viz. the divine promise, ver. 18. He then illustrates its strength, by a reference to the apparent impossibility of the thing promised, vers. 19, 20. The ground of Abraham's confidence was the power and veracity of God, ver. 21. The consequence was, that he was justified by his faith, ver. 22. Hence it is to be inferred that this is the true method of justification; for the record was made to teach us this truth. We are situated as Abraham was; we are called upon to believe in the Almighty God, who, by raising up Christ from the dead, has accepted him as the propitiation for our sins, vers. 23-25.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 18. Who against hope believed in hope. Here ἐπ· ἐλπίδι may be taken adverbially, confidently: 'Against all human hope or reasonable expectation, he confidently believed.' Or it may indicate the subjective ground of his faith: he believed, because he had a hope founded on the promise of God. He believed, that he might become the father of many nations. The Greek is, εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι αὐτὸν πατέρα, κ.τ.λ., that is, according to one explanation, the object of his faith was, that he should be the father of many nations. The idea thus expressed is correct. Abraham did believe that God would make him the father of many nations. But to this it is objected that πιστεύειν εἰς, with an infinitive used as a substantive, although grammatically correct, is a construction which never occurs. Had the apostle, therefore, intended to express the object of Abraham's faith, he would probably have used ὅτι, he believed that he should be, etc. Others make εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι express the result of his faith: 'He believed.... and hence he became,' etc. The consequence of his faith was, that the promise was fulfilled. Most recent commentators assume that εἰς with the infinitive here, as it commonly does, expresses design, or intention; not however the design of Abraham, but of God: 'He believed in order that, agreeably to the purpose of God, he might become the father of many nations.' This best agrees with what is said in ver. 11, and with the context.
According to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. This is a reference to the promise which was the object of Abraham's faith. It is a quotation from Genesis 15:5. The word so refers to the stars of heaven, mentioned in the passage as it stands in the Old Testament. The promise, therefore, particularly intended by the apostle is, that Abraham should be the father of many nations, or that his seed should be as numerous as the stars. It has already been seen, however, that the apostle understood this promise as including far more than that the natural descendants of Abraham should be very numerous; see vers. 13, 17. The expression in the test is a concise allusion to the various promises made to the ancient patriarch, which had reference to all nations being blessed through him. The promise of a numerous posterity, therefore, included the promise of Christ and his redemption. This is evident,
1. Because Paul had been speaking of a promise (ver. 16), in which believing Jews and Gentiles were alike interested; see Galatians 3:14.
2. Because Paul asserts and argues that the seed promised to Abraham, and to which the promise related, was Jesus Christ, Galatians 3:16.
3. So Abraham himself understood it, according to the declaration of our Savior; John 8:56, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad."
He looked forward under the greatest discouragements to the Redeemer as yet to come. We have the easier task to look back to the same Deliverer, who has died for our sins, and risen again for our justification, ver. 25.
VERSE 19. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body, now dead, etc. The 18th verse had stated it was contrary to all appearances that Abraham believed; this verse states the circumstances which rendered the accomplishment of the promise an apparent impossibility, viz. his own advanced age, and the age and barrenness of his wife. These circumstances he did not consider, that is, he did not allow them to have weight, he did not fix his mind on the difficulties of the case. Had he been weak in faith, and allowed himself to dwell on the obstacles to the fulfillment of the divine promise, he would have staggered. This does not imply that there was no inward conflict with doubt in Abraham's mind. It only says, that his faith triumphed over all difficulties.
"The mind," says Calvin, "is never so enlightened that there are no remains of ignorance, nor the heart so established that there are no misgivings. With these evils of our nature," he adds, "faith maintains a perpetual conflict, in which conflict it is often sorely shaken and put to great stress; but still it conquers, so that believers may be said to be in ipsa infirmitate firmissimi."
Paul says Abraham was not weak, τῇ πίστει as to faith.
VERSES 20, 21. He staggered not at the promise of God; οὐ διεκρίθη. The aorist passive is here used in a middle sense, he was not in strife with himself, i.e. he did not doubt; εἰς τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν in reference to the promise of God; τῃ ἀπιστίᾳ, the dative has a causal force, through unbelief. Want of faith in God did not cause him to doubt the divine promise, ἀλλὰ, but, i.e. on the contrary; ἐνεδυναμώθη, not middle, made himself strong, but passive, he was made strong; τῃ πίστει, either by, or as to faith.
Giving glory to God; that is, the strength was manifested in his giving glory to God. To give glory to God, is to take him to be what he really is, almighty and faithful. It is to show by our conduct that we give him credit, (so to speak,) that he will and can do what he says. Therefore the apostle adds, καὶ πληροφορηθείς, and being fully persuaded; that is, he gave glory to God by being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform.
"Quod addit," says Calvin, "dedisse gloriam Deo, in eo notandum est, non posse Deo plus honoris deferri quam dum fide obsignamus ejus veritatem; sicuti rursus nulla ei gravior contumelia inuri potest quam dum respuitur oblata ab ipso gratia, vel ejus verbo derogatur auctoritas. Quare hoc in ejus cultu praecipuum est caput, promissiones ejus obedienter amplecti: vera religio a fide ineipit."
It is therefore a very great error for men to suppose that to doubt is an evidence of humility. On the contrary, to doubt God's promise, or his love, is to dishonor him, because it is to question his word. Multitudes refuse to accept his grace, because they do not regard themselves as worthy, as though their worthiness were the ground on which that grace is offered. The thing to be believed is, that God accepts the unworthy; that for Christ's sake, he justifies the unjust. Many find it far harder to believe that God can love them, notwithstanding their sinfulness, than the hundred-years-old patriarch did to believe that he should be the father of many nations. Confidence in God's word, a full persuasion that he can do what seems to us impossible, is as necessary in the one case as in the other. The sinner honors God, in trusting his grace as much as Abraham did in trusting his power.
VERSE 22. Therefore also it was imputed to him for righteousness. That is, the faith of Abraham was imputed to him for righteousness. He was accepted as righteous on account of his faith; not that faith itself was the ground, but the condition of his justification. he believed, and God accepted him as righteous; just as now we believe, and are accepted as righteous, not on account of any merit in our faith, but simply on the ground of the righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to us when we believe; that is, it is given to us, whenever we are willing to receive and rest upon it.
"Nihil plus conferre fides nobis potest, quam a verbo acceperit. Quare non protinus justus erit, qui generali tantam confusaque notitia imbutus Deum veracem esse statuet, nisi in promissione gratiae quiescat."
Faith justifies by appropriating to ourselves the divine promise. But if that promise does not refer to our justification, faith cannot make us righteous. The object of justifying or saving faith, that is, of those acts of faith which secure our acceptance with God, is not the divine veracity in general, nor the divine authority of the Scriptures, but the specific promise of gratuitous acceptance through the mediation and merit of the Lord Jesus Christ.
VERSES 23, 24. Now, it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him. The record concerning the faith and consequent justification of Abraham, was not made with the simple intention of giving a correct history of that patriarch. It had a much higher purpose. Abraham was a representative person. What was true of him, was true of all others who stood in the same relation to God. The method in which he was justified, is the method in which other sinners must be justified. That he was justified by faith, is recorded in the Scriptures to be a perpetual testimony as to the true method of justification before God. The apostle therefore adds, that it was δἰ ἡμᾶς, on our account. That is, on account of those to whom it shall be imputed; οἱς μέλλει λογίζεσθαι to whom it is appointed to be imputed; in case they should believe. As all men are sinners, the method in which one was certainly justified is the method by which others may secure the same blessing. If Abraham was justified by faith, we may be justified by faith. If the object of Abraham's faith was the promise of redemption, the same must be the object of our faith. He believed in God as quickening the dead, that is, as able to raise up from one as good as dead, the promised Redeemer. Therefore those to whom faith shall now be imputed for righteousness are described as those who believe that God hath raised up Jesus from the dead. By thus raising him from the dead, he declared him to be his Son, and the seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed. The object of the Christian's faith, therefore, is the same as the object of the faith of Abraham. Both believe the promise of redemption through the promised seed, which is Christ. When we are said to believe in God, who raised up Christ, it of course implies that we believe that Christ was thus raised up. As the resurrection of Christ was the great decisive evidence of the divinity of his mission, and the validity of all his claims, to believe that he rose from the dead, is to believe he was the Son of God, the propitiation for our sins, the Redeemer and the Lord of men; that he was all he claimed to be, and had accomplished all he purposed to effect. Compare Romans 10:9; Acts 1:22; 4:33; 1 Corinthians 15, and other passages, in which the resurrection of Christ is spoken of as the corner-stone of the gospel, as the great fact to be proved, and which, being proved, involves all the rest.
VERSE 25. Who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification. This verse is a comprehensive statement of the gospel. Christ was delivered unto death for our offenses, i.e., on account of them, and for their expiation; see Isaiah 53:5, 6; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:21. This delivering of Christ is ascribed to God, Romans 8:32; Galatians 1:4, and elsewhere; and to himself, Titus 2:14; Galatians 2:20. It was by the divine purpose and counsel he suffered for the expiation of sin; and he gave himself willingly to death. "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." Christ is said to have been delivered unto death, διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν, and to have been raised, διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν; that is, he was delivered in order that our sins might be expiated, and he was raised in order that we might be justified. His death and his resurrection were alike necessary; his death, as a satisfaction to divine justice. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree. That is, he bore the punishment of our sins.
"Significant ergo Paulus," says Calvin, "satisfactionem pro peccatis nostris in cruce fuisse peractam. Nam ut Christus nos in gratiam Patris restitueret reatum nostrum ab ipso aboleri oportuit; quod fieri non poterat, nisi poenam, cui solvendae pares non eramus, nostro nomine lueret."
His resurrection was no less necessary, first, as a proof that his death had been accepted as an expiation for our sins. Had he not risen, it would have been evident that he was not what he claimed to be. We should be yet in our sins, 1 Corinthians 15:17, and therefore still under condemnation. Our ransom, in that case, instead of being publicly accepted, had been rejected. And secondly, in order to secure the continued application of the merits of his sacrifice, he rose from the dead, and ascended on high, there to appear before God for us. He stands at the right hand of God, ever to make intercession for his people, thereby securing for them the benefits of his redemption. With a dead Savior, a Savior over whom death had triumphed and held captive, our justification had been for ever impossible. As it was necessary that the high priest, under the old economy, should not only slay the victim at the altar, but carry the blood into the most holy place, and sprinkle it upon the mercy-seat; so it was necessary not only that our great High Priest should suffer in the outer court, but that he should pass into heaven, to present his righteousness before God for our justification. Both, therefore, as the evidence of the acceptance of his satisfaction on our behalf, and as a necessary step to secure the application of the merits of his sacrifice, the resurrection of Christ was absolutely essential, even for our justification. Its relation to inward spiritual life and eternal blessedness is not here brought into view; for Paul is not here speaking of our sanctification. That δικαίωσις means justification, and not the act of makind holy, need hardly be remarked. That follows of necessity, not only from the signification of the word, but from the whole scope of this part of the epistle. It is only by those who make justification identical with regeneration, that this is called into question.
"Pervertunt autem," says Calovius, "sententiam Apostoli Papistae, cum id eum velle contendunt, mortem Christi exemplar fuisse mortis peccatorum, resurrectionem autem exemplar renovationis et regenerationis internae per quam in novitate vitae ambulamus, quia hic non agitur vel de morte peccatorum, vel de renovatione et novitate vitae; de quibus, cap. vi., demum agere incipit Apostolus; sed de non imputatione vel remissione peccatorum, et imputatione justitiae vel justificatione."
Olshausen agrees substantially with the Romish interpretation of this passage, as he gives δικαίωσις an impossible sense, viz. (die den neuen Menschen schaffende Thätigkeit), the regenerating activity of God. It will be observed, that the theology of Olshausen, and of the mystical school to which he belongs, has far greater affinity for the Romish than for the Protestant system.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
4. The resurrection of Christ, as an historical fact, established by the most satisfactory evidence (see 1 Corinthians 15), authenticates the whole gospel. As surely as Christ has risen, so surely shall believers be saved, ver. 25.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. The true way to have our faith strengthened is not to consider the difficulties in the way of the thing promised, but the character and resources of God, who has made the promise, ver. 19.
2. It is as possible for faith to be strong when the thing promised is most improbable, as when it is probable. Abraham's faith should serve as an example and admonition to us. He believed that a Savior would be born from his family, when his having a son was an apparent impossibility. We are only called upon to believe that the Savior has been born, has suffered, and risen again from the dead—facts established on the strongest historical, miraculous, and spiritual evidence, vers. 20, 24, 25.
4. All that is written in the Scriptures is for our instruction. What is promised, commanded, or threatened (unless of a strictly personal nature although addressed originally to individuals), belongs to them only as representatives of classes of men, and is designed for all of similar character, and in similar circumstances ver. 23.
5. The two great truths of the gospel are, that Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins, and that he rose again for our justification. Whosoever, from the heart, believes these truths, shall be saved, ver 25; Romans 10:9.
6. The denial of the propitiatory death of Christ, or of his resurrection from the dead, is a denial of the gospel. It is a refusing to be saved according to the method which God has appointed, ver. 25.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans