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Ro 4:1-25. THE FOREGOING DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ILLUSTRATED FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT.
First: Abraham was justified by faith.
1-3. What shall we say then that Abraham, our father as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?--that is, (as the order in the original shows), "hath found, as pertaining to ('according to,' or 'through') the flesh"; meaning, "by all his natural efforts or legal obedience."
2. For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God--"If works were the ground of Abraham's justification, he would have matter for boasting; but as it is perfectly certain that he hath none in the sight of God, it follows that Abraham could not have been justified by works." And to this agree the words of Scripture.
3. For what saith the, Scripture? Abraham believed God, and
4, 5. Now to him that worketh--as a servant for wages.
5. But to him that worketh not--who, despairing of acceptance with
God by "working" for it the work of obedience, does not attempt it.
Second: David sings of the same justification.
6-8. David also describeth--"speaketh," "pronounceth."
7, 8. Saying, Blessed, &c.-- (Ps 32:1, 2). David here sings in express terms only of "transgression forgiven, sin covered, iniquity not imputed"; but as the negative blessing necessarily includes the positive, the passage is strictly in point.
9-12. Cometh this blessedness then, &c.--that is, "Say not, All this is spoken of the circumcised, and is therefore no evidence of God's general way of justifying men; for Abraham's justification took place long before he was circumcised, and so could have no dependence upon that rite: nay, 'the sign of circumcision' was given to Abraham as 'a seal' (or token) of the (justifying) righteousness which he had before he was circumcised; in order that he might stand forth to every age as the parent believer--the model man of justification by faith--after whose type, as the first public example of it, all were to be moulded, whether Jew or Gentile, who should thereafter believe to life everlasting."
13-15. For the promise, &c.--This is merely an enlargement of the
foregoing reasoning, applying to the law what had just been said of
15. Because the law worketh wrath--has nothing to give to those who
break is but condemnation and vengeance.
16, 17. Therefore, &c.--A general summary: "Thus justification is by faith, in order that its purely gracious character may be seen, and that all who follow in the steps of Abraham's faith--whether of his natural seed or no--may be assured of the like justification with the parent believer."
17. As it is written, &c.--
This is quoted to justify his calling Abraham the "father of us all,"
and is to be viewed as a parenthesis.
18-22. Who against hope--when no ground for hope appeared.
19. he considered not, &c.--paid no attention to those physical obstacles, both in himself and in Sarah, which might seem to render the fulfilment hopeless.
20. He staggered--hesitated
21. And being fully persuaded, &c.--that is, the glory which Abraham's faith gave to God consisted in this, that, firm in the persuasion of God's ability to fulfil his promise, no difficulties shook him.
22. And therefore it was imputed, &c.--"Let all then take notice that this was not because of anything meritorious in Abraham, but merely because he so believed."
23-25. Now, &c.--Here is the application of this whole argument about Abraham: These things were not recorded as mere historical facts, but as illustrations for all time of God's method of justification by faith.
24. to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe in him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead--in Him that hath done this, even as Abraham believed that God would raise up a seed in whom all nations should be blessed.
25. Who was delivered for--"on account of."
Note, (1) The doctrine of justification by works, as it generates self-exaltation, is contrary to the first principles of all true religion (Ro 4:2; and see on Ro 3:21-26, Note 1). (2) The way of a sinner's justification has been the same in all time, and the testimony of the Old Testament on this subject is one with that of the New (Ro 4:3, &c., and see on Ro 3:27-31, Note 1). (3) Faith and works, in the matter of justification, are opposite and irreconcilable, even as grace and debt (Ro 4:4, 5; and see on Ro 11:6). If God "justifies the ungodly," works cannot be, in any sense or to any degree, the ground of justification. For the same reason, the first requisite, in order to justification, must be (under the conviction that we are "ungodly") to despair of it by works; and the next, to "believe in Him that justifieth the ungodly"--that hath a justifying righteousness to bestow, and is ready to bestow it upon those who deserve none, and to embrace it accordingly. (4) The sacraments of the Church were never intended, and are not adapted, to confer grace, or the blessings of salvation, upon men. Their proper use is to set a divine seal upon a state already existing, and so, they presuppose, and do not create it (Ro 4:8-12). As circumcision merely "sealed" Abraham's already existing acceptance with God, so with the sacraments of the New Testament. (5) As Abraham is "the heir of the world," all nations being blessed in him, through his Seed Christ Jesus, and justified solely according to the pattern of his faith, so the transmission of the true religion and all the salvation which the world will ever experience shall yet be traced back with wonder, gratitude, and joy, to that morning dawn when "the God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran," Ac 7:2 (Ro 4:13). (6) Nothing gives more glory to God than simple faith in His word, especially when all things seem to render the fulfilment of it hopeless (Ro 4:18-21). (7) All the Scripture examples of faith were recorded on purpose to beget and encourage the like faith in every succeeding age (Ro 4:23, 24; and compare Ro 15:4). (8) Justification, in this argument, cannot be taken--as Romanists and other errorists insist--to mean a change upon men's character; for besides that this is to confound it with Sanctification, which has its appropriate place in this Epistle, the whole argument of the present chapter--and nearly all its more important clauses, expressions, and words--would in that case be unsuitable, and fitted only to mislead. Beyond all doubt it means exclusively a change upon men's state or relation to God; or, in scientific language, it is an objective, not a subjective change--a change from guilt and condemnation to acquittal and acceptance. And the best evidence that this is the key to the whole argument is, that it opens all the wards of the many-chambered lock with which the apostle has enriched us in this Epistle.