Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
ILLUSTRATED FROM THE
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
3. For what saith the, Scripture? Abraham believed God, and
was counted to him for righteousness--
Romish expositors and Arminian Protestants make this to mean that God
accepted Abraham's act of believing as a substitute for complete
obedience. But this is at variance with the whole spirit and letter of
the apostle's teaching. Throughout this whole argument, faith
is set in direct opposition to works, in the matter of
justification--and even in
Ro 4:4, 5.
The meaning, therefore, cannot possibly be that the mere act of
believing--which is as much a work as any other piece of commanded duty
--was counted to Abraham for all obedience. The meaning plainly is that
Abraham believed in the promises which embraced Christ
(Ge 12:3; 15:5,
&c.), as we believe in Christ Himself; and in both cases, faith is
merely the instrument that puts us in possession of the blessing
4, 5. Now to him that worketh--as a servant for wages.
is the reward not reckoned of grace--as a matter of favor.
but of debt--as a matter of right.
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.
but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly--casts himself upon
the mercy of Him that justifieth those who deserve only condemnation.
his faith, &c.--(See on
Second: David sings of the same justification.
6-8. David also describeth--"speaketh," "pronounceth."
the blessedness of the man unto whom the Lord imputeth righteousness
without works--whom, though void of all good works, He, nevertheless,
regards and treats as righteous.
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
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
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
that he should be the heir of the world--or, that "all the families of
the earth should be blessed in him."
was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law--in virtue of
obedience to the law.
but through the righteousness of faith--in virtue of his simple faith
in the divine promises.
14. For if they which are of the law be heirs--If the blessing is to
be earned by obedience to the law.
faith is made void--the whole divine method is subverted.
15. Because the law worketh wrath--has nothing to give to those who
break is but condemnation and vengeance.
for where there is no law, there is no transgression--It is just the
law that makes transgression, in the case of those who break it; nor can
the one exist without the other.
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
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.
before--that is, "in the reckoning of."
him whom he believed--that is, "Thus Abraham, in the reckoning of Him
whom he believed, is the father of us all, in order that all may be
assured, that doing as he did, they shall be treated as he was."
even God, quickeneth the dead--The nature and greatness of that faith
of Abraham which we are to copy is here strikingly described. What he
was required to believe being above nature, his faith had to fasten upon
God's power to surmount physical incapacity, and call into being what
did not then exist. But God having made the promise, Abraham believed
Him in spite of those obstacles. This is still further illustrated in
18-22. Who against hope--when no ground for hope appeared.
believed in hope--that is, cherished the believing expectation.
that he might become the father of many nations, according to that
which was spoken, So shall thy seed be--that is, Such "as the stars
19. he considered not, &c.--paid no attention to those physical
obstacles, both in himself and in Sarah, which might seem to render the
20. He staggered--hesitated
not . . . but was strong in faith, giving glory to God--as able to
make good His own word in spite of all obstacles.
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."
our offences--that is, in order to expiate them by His blood.
and raised again for--"on account of," that is, in order to.
our justification--As His resurrection was the divine assurance that
He had "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself," and the crowning of
His whole work, our justification is fitly connected with that glorious
Note, (1) The doctrine of justification by works, as it generates
self-exaltation, is contrary to the first principles of all true
and see on
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
&c., and see on
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
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
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,"
(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
(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;
(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