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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
The main object of this chapter is to show that the doctrine of justification by faith, which the apostle was defending, was found in the Old Testament. The argument is to be regarded as addressed particularly to a Jew, to show him that no new doctrine was advanced. The argument is derived, first, from the fact that Abraham was so justified, Romans 4:1-5; Secondly, from the fact that the same thing is declared by David Romans 4:6-8.
A question might still be asked, whether this justification was not in consequence of their being circumcised, and thus grew out of conformity to the Law? To answer this, the apostle shows Romans 4:9-12 that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised, and that even his circumcision was in consequence of his being justified by faith, and a public seal or attestation of that fact.
Still further, the apostle shows that if people were to be justified by works, faith would be of no use; and the promises of God would have no effect. The Law works wrath Romans 4:13-14, but the conferring of the favor by faith is demonstration of the highest favor of God Romans 4:16. Abraham, moreover, had evinced a strong faith; he had shown what it was; he was an example to all who should follow. And he had thus shown that as he was justified before circumcision, and "before" the giving of the Law, so the same thing might occur in regard to those who had never been circumcised. In Romans 2; 3, the apostle had shown that all had failed of keeping the Law, and that there was no other way of justification but by faith. To the salvation of the pagan, the Jew would have strong objections. He supposed that none could be saved but those who had been circumcised, and who were Jews. This objection the apostle meets in this chapter by showing that Abraham was justified in the very way in which he maintained the pagan might be; that Abraham was justified by faith without being circumcised. If the father of the faithful, the ancestor on whom the Jews so much prided themselves, was thus justified, then Paul was advancing no new doctrine in maintaining that the same thing might occur now. He was keeping strictly within the spirit of their religion in maintaining that the Gentile world might also be justified by faith. This is the outline of the reasoning in this chapter. The reasoning is such as a serious Jew must feel and acknowledge. And keeping in mind the main object which the apostle had in it, there will be found little difficulty in its interpretation.
1What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
What shall we say then? - See Romans 3:1. This is rather the objection of a Jew. "How does your doctrine of justification by faith agree with what the Scriptures say of Abraham? Was the Law set aside in his case? Did he derive no advantage in justification from the rite of circumcision, and from the covenant which God made with him?" The object of the apostle now is to answer this inquiry.
That Abraham our father - Our ancestor; the father and founder of the nation; see the note at Matthew 3:9 The Jews valued themselves much on the fact that he was their father; and an argument, drawn from his example or conduct, therefore, would be especially forcible.
As pertaining to the flesh - This expression is one that has been much controverted. In the original, it may refer either to Abraham as their father "according to the flesh," that is, their natural father, or from whom they were descended; or it may be connected with "hath found." "What shall we say that Abraham our father hath found in respect to the flesh?" κατὰ σάρκα kata sarka. The latter is doubtless the proper connection. Some refer the word "flesh" to external privileges and advantages; others to his own strength or power (Calvin and Grotius); and others make it refer to circumcision. This latter I take to be the correct interpretation. It agrees best with the connection, and equally well with the usual meaning of the word. The idea is, "If people are justified by faith; if works are to have no place; if, therefore, all rites and ceremonies, all legal observances, are useless in justification; what is the advantage of circumcision? What benefit did Abraham derive from it? Why was it appointed? And why is such an importance attached to it in the history of his life." A similar question was asked in Romans 3:1.
Hath found - Hath obtained. What advantage has he derived from it?
2For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
For if Abraham ... - This is the answer of the apostle. If Abraham was justified on the ground of his own merits, he would have reason to boast, or to claim praise. He might regard himself as the author of it, and take the praise to himself; see Romans 4:4. The inquiry, therefore, was, whether in the account of the justification of Abraham, there was to be found any such statement of a reason for self-confidence and boasting.
But not before God - In the sight of God. That is, in his recorded judgment, he had no ground of boasting on account of works. To show this, the apostle appeals at once to the Scriptures, to show that there was no such record as that Abraham could boast that he was justified by his works. As God judges right in all cases, so it follows that Abraham had no just ground of boasting, and of course that he was not justified by his own works. The sense of this verse is well expressed by Calvin. "If Abraham was justified by his works, he might boast of his own merits. But he has no ground of boasting before God. Therefore he was not justified by works."
3For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
For what saith the Scripture? - The inspired account of Abraham's justification. This account was final, and was to settle the question. This account is found in Genesis 15:6.
Abraham believed God - In the Hebrew, "Abraham believed Yahweh." The sense is substantially the same, as the argument turns on the act of believing. The faith which Abraham exercised was, that his posterity should be like the stars of heaven in number. This promise was made to him when he had no child, and of course when he had no prospect of such a posterity. See the strength and nature of this faith further illustrated in Romans 4:16-21. The reason why it was counted to him for righteousness was, that it was such a strong, direct, and unwavering act of confidence in the promise of God.
And it - The word "it" here evidently refers to the act of believing It does not refer to the righteousness of another - of God, or of the Messiah; but the discussion is solely of the strong act of Abraham's faith. which in some sense was counted to him for righteousness. In what sense this was, is explained directly after. All that is material to remark here is, that the act of Abraham, the strong confidence of his mind in the promises of God, his unwavering assurance that what God had promised he would perform, was reckoned for righteousness. The same thing is more fully expressed in Romans 4:18-22. When therefore it is said that the righteousness of Christ is accounted or imputed to us; when it is said that his merits are transferred and reckoned as ours; whatever may be the truth of the doctrine, it cannot be defended by "this" passage of Scripture.
Faith is uniformly an act of the mind. It is not a created essence which is placed within the mind. It is not a substance created independently of the soul, and placed within it by almighty power. It is not a principle, for the expression a principle of faith, is as unmeaningful as a principle of joy, or a principle of sorrow, or a principle of remorse. God promises; the man believes; and this is the whole of it.
(A principle is the "element or original cause," out of which certain consequences arise, and to which they may be traced. And if faith be the root of all acceptable obedience, then certainly, in this sense, it is a principle. But whatever faith be, it is not here asserted that it is imputed for, or instead of, righteousness. See the note above.)
While the word "faith" is sometimes used to denote religious doctrine, or the system that is to be believed (Acts 6:7; Acts 15:9; Romans 1:5; Romans 10:8; Romans 16:26; Ephesians 3:17; Ephesians 4:5; 1 Timothy 2:7, etc.); yet, when it is used to denote that which is required of people, it always denotes an acting of the mind exercised in relation to some object, or some promise, or threatening, or declaration of some other being; see the note at Mark 16:16.
Was counted - ἐλογίσθη elogigisthē. The same word in Romans 4:22, is is rendered "it was imputed." The word occurs frequently in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, the verb חשׁב chaashab, which which is translated by the word λογίζομαι logizomai, means literally, "to think, to intend," or "purpose; to imagine, invent," or "devise; to reckon," or "account; to esteem; to impute," that is, to impute to a man what belongs to himself, or what "ought" to be imputed to him. It occurs only in the following places: Psalm 32:2; Psalm 35:4; Isaiah 10:7; Job 19:11; Job 33:10; Genesis 16:6; Genesis 38:15; 1 Samuel 1:13; Psalm 52:4; Jeremiah 18:18; Zechariah 7:10; Job 6:26; Job 19:16; Isaiah 13:17; 1 Kings 10:21; Numbers 18:27, Numbers 18:30; Psalm 88:4; Isaiah 40:17; Lamentations 4:2; Isaiah 40:15; Genesis 31:16. I have examined all the passages, and as the result of my examination have come to the conclusion, that there is not one in which the word is used in the sense of reckoning or imputing to a man what does not strictly belong to him; or of charging on him what ought not to be charged on him as a matter of personal right. The word is never used to denote imputing in the sense of transferring, or of charging that on one which does not properly belong to him. The same is the case in the New Testament. The word occurs about forty times (see "Schmidius' Concord)," and, in a similar signification. No doctrine of transferring, or of setting over to a man what does not properly belong to him, be it sin or holiness, can be derived, therefore, from this word. Whatever is meant by it here, it evidently is declared that the act of believing is what is intended, both by Moses and by Paul.
For righteousness - In order to justification; or to regard and treat him in connection with this as a righteous man; as one who was admitted to the favor and friendship of God. In reference to this we may remark,
(1) That it is evidently not intended that the act of believing, on the part of Abraham, was the meritorious ground of acceptance; for then it would have been a work. Faith was as much his own act, as any act of obedience to the Law.
(2) the design of the apostle was to show that by the Law, or by works, man could not be justified; Romans 3:28; Romans 4:2.
(3) faith was not what the Law required. It demanded complete and perfect obedience; and if a man was justified by faith, it was in some other way than by the Law.
(4) as the Law did not demand this; and as faith was something different from the demand of the Law; so if a man were justified by that, it was on a principle altogether different from justification by works. It was not by personal merit. It was not by complying with the Law. It was in a mode entirely different.
(5) in being justified by faith, it is meant, therefore, that we are treated as righteous; that we are forgiven; that we are admitted to the favor of God, and treated as his friends.
(6) in this act, faith, is a mere instrument, an antecedent, a "sine qua non," what God has been pleased to appoint as a condition on which men may be treated as righteous. It expresses a state of mind which is demonstrative of love to God; of affection for his cause and character; of reconciliation and friendship; and is therefore that state to which he has been graciously pleased to promise pardon and acceptance.
(7) since this is not a matter of law; since the Law could not be said to demand it; as it is on a different principle; and as the acceptance of faith, or of a believer, cannot be a matter of merit or claim, so justification is of grace, or mere favor. It is in no sense a matter of merit on our part, and thus stands distinguished entirely from justification by works, or by conformity to the Law. From beginning to end, it is, so far as we are concerned, a matter of grace. The merit by which all this is obtained, is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom this plan is proposed, and by whose atonement alone God can consistently pardon and treat as righteous those who are in themselves ungodly; see Romans 4:5. In this place we have also evidence that faith is always substantially of the same character. In the case of Abraham it was confidence in God and his promises. All faith has the same nature, whether it be confidence in the Messiah, or in any of the divine promises or truths. As this confidence evinces the same state of mind, so it was as consistent to justify Abraham by it, as it is to justify him who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ under the gospel; see Hebrews 11.
4Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
Now to him that worketh ... - This passage is not to be understood as affirming that any actually have worked out their salvation by conformity to the Law so as to be saved by their own merits; but it expresses a general truth in regard to works. On that plan, if a man were justified by his works, it would be a matter due to him. It is a general principle in regard to contracts and obligations, that where a man fulfils them he is entitled to the reward as what is due to him, and which he can claim. This is well understood in all the transactions among people. Where a man has fulfilled the terms of a contract, to pay him is not a matter of favor; he has earned it; and we are bound to pay him. So says the apostle, it would be, if a man were justified by his works. He would have a claim on God. It would be wrong not to justify him. And this is an additional reason why the doctrine cannot be true; compare Romans 11:6.
The reward - The pay, or wages. The word is commonly applied to the pay of soldiers, day-laborers, etc.; Matthew 20:8; Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18; James 5:4. It has a similar meaning here.
Reckoned - Greek, Imputed. The same word which, in Romans 4:3, is rendered "counted," and in Romans 4:22, imputed. It is used here in its strict and proper sense, to reckon that as belonging to a man which is his own, or which is due to him; see the note at Romans 4:3.
Of grace - Of favor; as a gift.
Of debt - As due; as a claim; as a fair compensation according to the contract.
5But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
But to him that worketh not - Who does not rely on his conformity to the Law for his justification; who does not depend on his works; who seeks to be justified in some other way. The reference here is to the Christian plan of justification.
But believeth - Note, Romans 3:26.
On him - On God. Thus, the connection requires; for the discussion has immediate reference to Abraham, whose faith was in the promise of God.
That justifieth the ungodly - This is a very important expression. It implies,
(1) That people are sinners, or are ungodly.
(2) that God regards them as such when they are justified. He does not justify them because he sees them to be, or regards them to be righteous; but knowing that they are in fact polluted. He does not first esteem them, contrary to fact, to be pure; but knowing that they are polluted, and that they deserve no favor, he resolves to forgive them, and to treat them as his friends.
(3) in themselves they are equally undeserving, whether they are justified or not. Their souls have been defiled by sin; and that is known when they are pardoned. God judges things as they are; and sinners who are justified, he judges not as if they were pure, or as if they had a claim; but he regards them as united by faith to the Lord Jesus; and in this relation he judges that they should be treated as his friends, though they have been, are, and always will be, personally undeserving. It is not meant that the righteousness of Christ is transferred to them, so as to become personally theirs - for moral character cannot be transferred; nor that it is infused into them, making them personally meritorious - for then they could not be spoken of as ungodly; but that Christ died in their stead, to atone for their sins, and is regarded and esteemed by God to have died; and that the results or benefits of his death are so reckoned or imputed to believers as to make it proper for God to regard and treat them as if they had themselves obeyed the Law; that is, as righteous in his sight; see the note at Romans 4:3.
6Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
Even as David - The apostle having adduced the example of Abraham to show that the doctrine which he was defending was not new, and contrary to the Old Testament, proceeds to adduce the case of David also; and to show that he understood the same doctrine of justification without works.
Describeth - Speaks of.
The blessedness - The happiness; or the desirable state or condition.
Unto whom God imputeth righteousness - Whom God treats as righteous, or as entitled to his favor in a way different from his conformity to the Law. This is found in Psalm 32:1-11. And the whole scope and design of the psalm is to show the blessedness of the man who is forgiven, and whose sins are not charged on him, but who is freed from the punishment due to his sins. Being thus pardoned, he is treated as a righteous man. And it is evidently in this sense that the apostle uses the expression "imputeth righteousness," that is, he does not impute, or charge on the man his sins; he reckons and treats him as a pardoned and righteous man; Psalm 32:2. See the note at Romans 4:3. He regards him as one who is forgiven and admitted to his favor, and who is to be treated henceforward as though he had not sinned. That is, he partakes of the benefits of Christ's atonement, so as not henceforward to be treated as a sinner, but as a friend of God.
7Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Blessed - Happy are they: they are highly favored; see the note at Matthew 5:3.
Whose sins are covered - Are concealed; or hidden from the view. On which God will no more look, and which he will no more remember. "By these words," says Calvin (in loco), "we are taught that justification with Paul is nothing else but pardon of sin." The word "cover" here has no reference to the atonement, but is expressive of hiding, or concealing that is, of forgiving sin.
8Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Will not impute sin - On whom the Lord will not charge his sins; or who shall not be reckoned or regarded as guilty. This shows clearly what the apostle meant by imputing faith without works. It is to pardon sin, and to treat with favor; not to reckon or charge a man's sin to him; but to treat him, though personally undeserving and ungodly Romans 4:5, as though the sin had not been committed. The word "impute" here is used in its natural and appropriate sense, as denoting to charge on man what properly belongs to him. See the note at Romans 4:3.
9Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
Cometh ... - The apostle has now prepared the way for an examination of the inquiry whether this came in consequence of obedience to the Law? or whether it was without obedience to the Law? Having shown that Abraham was justified by faith in accordance with the doctrine which he was defending, the only remaining inquiry was whether it was after he was circumcised or before; whether in consequence of his circumcision or not. If it was after his circumcision. the Jew might still maintain that it was by complying with the works of the Law; but if it was before, the point of the apostle would be established, that it was without the works of the Law. Still further, if he was justified by faith before he was circumcised. then here was an instance of justification and acceptance without conformity to the Jewish Law; and if the father of the Jewish nation was so justified, and reckoned as a friend of God, without being circumcised, that is, in the condition in which the pagan world then was, then it would follow that the Gentiles might be justified in a similar way now. It would not be departing, therefore, from the spirit of the Old Testament itself, to maintain, as the apostle had done Romans 3, that the Gentiles who had not been circumcised might obtain the favor of God as well as the Jew; that is, that it was independent of circumcision, and might be extended to all.
This blessedness - This happy state or condition. This state of being justified by God, and of being regarded as his friends. This is the sum of all blessedness; the only state that can be truly pronounced happy.
Upon the circumcision only - The "Jews" alone, as "they" pretended.
Or upon the uncircumcision also - The "Gentiles" who believed, as the "apostle" maintained.
For we say - We all admit. It is a conceded point. It was the doctrine of the apostle, as well as of the Jews; and as much theirs as his. With this, then, as a conceded point, what is the fair inference to be drawn from it?
10How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
How - In what circumstances, or time.
When he was in circumcision ... - Before or after he was circumcised? This was the very point of the inquiry. For if he was justified by faith after he was circumcised, the Jew might pretend that it was in virtue of his circumcision; that even his faith was acceptable, because he was circumcised. But if it was before he was circumcised, this plea could not be set up; and the argument of the apostle was confirmed by the case of Abraham, the great father and model of the Jewish people, that circumcision and the deeds of the Law did not conduce to justification; and that as Abraham was justified without those works, so might others be, and the pagan, therefore, might be admitted to similar privileges.
Not in circumcision - Not being circumcised, or after he was circumcised, but before. This was the record in the case; Genesis 15:6; Compare Genesis 17:10.
11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
And he received the sign ... - A sign is that by which any thing is shown, or represented. And circumcision thus showed that there was a covenant between Abraham and God; Genesis 17:1-10. It became the public mark or token of the relation which he sustained to God.
A seal - See the note at John 3:33. A seal is that mark of wax or other substance, which is attached to an instrument of writing, as a deed, etc., to confirm, ratify it, or to make it binding. Sometimes instruments were sealed, or made authentic by stamping on them some word, letter, or device, which had been engraved on silver, or on precious stones. The seal or stamp was often worn as an ornament on the finger; Esther 8:8; Genesis 41:42; Genesis 38:18; Exodus 28:11, Exodus 28:36; Exodus 29:6 To affix the seal, whether of wax, or otherwise, was to confirm contract or an engagement. In allusion to this, circumcision is called a seal of the covenant which God had made with Abraham. That is, he appointed this as a public attestation to the fact that he had previously approved of Abraham, and had made important promises to him.
Which he had, yet being circumcised - He believed Genesis 15:5; was accepted, or justified; was admitted to the favor of God, and favored with clear and remarkable promises Genesis 15:18-21; Genesis 17:1-9, before he was circumcised. Circumcision, therefore, could have contributed neither to his justification, nor to the premises made to him by God.
That he might be the father ... - All this was done that Abraham might be held up as an example, or a model, of the very doctrine which the apostle was defending. The word "father" here is used evidently in a spiritual sense, as denoting that he was the ancestor of all true believers; that he was their model, and example. They are regarded as his children because they are possessed of his spirit; are justified in the same way, and are imitators of his example; see the note at Matthew 1:1. In this sense the expression occurs in Luke 19:9; John 8:33; Galatians 3:7, Galatians 3:29.
Though they be not circumcised - This was stated in opposition to the opinion of the Jews that all ought to be circumcised. As the apostle had shown that Abraham enjoyed the favor of God previous to his being circumcised, that is, without circumcision; so it followed that others might on the same principle also. This instance settles the point; and there is nothing which a Jew can reply to this.
That righteousness ... - That is, in the same way, by faith without works: that they might be accepted, and treated as righteous.
12And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
And the father of circumcision - The father, that is, the ancestor, exemplar, or model of those who are circumcised, and who possess the same faith that he did. Not only the father of all believers Romans 4:11, but in a special sense the father of the Jewish people. In this, the apostle intimates that though all who believed would be saved as he was, yet the Jews had a special proprietorship in Abraham; they had special favors and privileges from the fact that he was their ancestor.
Not of the circumcision only - Who are not merely circumcised, but who possess his spirit and his faith. Mere circumcision would not avail; but circumcision connected with faith like his, showed that they were especially his descendants; see the note at Romans 2:25.
Who walk in the steps ... - Who imitate his example; who imbibe his spirit; who have his faith.
Being yet uncircumcised - Before he was circumcised. Compare Genesis 15:6, with Genesis 17.
13For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
For the promise ... - To show that the faith of Abraham, on which his justification depended, was not by the Law, the apostle proceeds to show that the promise concerning which his faith was so remarkably evinced was before the Law was given. If this was so, then it was an additional important consideration in opposition to the Jew, showing that acceptance with God depended on faith, and not on works.
That he should be heir of the world - An heir is one who succeeds, or is to succeed to an estate. In this passage, the world, or the entire earth, is regarded as the estate to which reference is made, and the promise is that the posterity of Abraham should succeed to that, or should possess it as their inheritance. The precise expression used here, "heir of the world," is not found in the promises made to Abraham Those promises were that God would make of him a great nation Genesis 12:2; that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed Genesis 12:3; that his posterity should be as the stars for multitude Genesis 15:5; and that he should be a father of many nations Genesis 17:5. As this latter promise is one to which the apostle particularly refers (see Romans 4:17), it is probable that he had this in his eye. This promise had, at first, respect to his numerous natural descendants, and to their possessing the land of Canaan. But it is also regarded in the New Testament as extending to the Messiah Galatians 3:16 as his descendant, and to all his followers as the spiritual seed of the father of the faithful. When the apostle calls him "the heir of the world," he sums up in this comprehensive expression all the promises made to Abraham, intimating that his spiritual descendants, that is, those who possess his faith, shall yet be so numerous as to possess all lands.
Or to his seed - To his posterity, or descendants.
Through the law - By the observance of the Law; or made in consequence of observing the Law; or depending on the condition that he should observe the Law. The covenant was made before the law of circumcision was given; and long before the Law of Moses (compare Galatians 3:16-18), and was independent of both.
But through ... - In consequence of or in connection with the strong confidence which he showed in the promises of God, Genesis 15:6.
14For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
For if they which are of the law - Who seek for justification and acceptance by the Law.
Faith is made void - Faith would have no place in the scheme; and consequently the strong commendations bestowed on the faith of Abraham, would be bestowed without any just cause. If people are justified by the Law, they cannot be by faith, and faith would be useless in this work.
And the promise ... - A promise looks to the future. Its design and tendency is to excite trust and confidence in him who makes it. All the promises of God have this design and tendency; and consequently, as God has given many promises, the object is to call forth the lively and constant faith of people, all going to show that in the divine estimation, faith is of inestimable value. But if people are justified by the Law; if they are rendered "acceptable" by conformity to the institutions of Moses; then they cannot depend for acceptance on any promise made to Abraham, or his seed. They cut themselves off from that promise, and stand independent of it. That promise, like all other promises, was made to excite faith. If, therefore, the Jews depended on the Law for justification, they were cut off from all the promises made to Abraham; and if they could be justified by the Law, the promise was useless. This is as true now as it was then. If people seek to be justified by their morality or their forms of religion, they cannot depend on any promise of God; for he has made no promise to any such attempt. They stand independently of any promise, covenant, or compact, and are depending on a scheme of their own; a scheme which would render his plan vain and useless; which would render his promises, and the atonement of Christ, and the work of the Spirit of no value. It is clear, therefore, that such an attempt at salvation cannot be successful.
15Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
Because the law - All law. It is the tendency of law.
Worketh wrath - Produces or causes wrath. While man is fallen, and a sinner, its tendency, so far from justifying him, and producing peace, is just the reverse. It condemns, denounces wrath, and produces suffering. The word "wrath" here is to be taken in the sense of punishment. Romans 2:8. And the meaning is, that the Law of God, demanding perfect purity, and denouncing every sin condemns the sinner, and consigns him to punishment. As the apostle had proved Romans 1; 2; 3 that all were sinners, so it followed that if any attempted to be justified by the Law, they would be involved only in condemnation and wrath.
For where no law is ... - This is a general principle; a maxim of common justice and of common sense. Law is a rule of conduct. If no such rule is given and known, there can be no crime. Law expresses what may be done, and what may not be done. If there is no command to pursue a certain course, no injunction to forbid certain conduct, actions will be innocent. The connection in which this declaration is made here, seems to imply that as the Jews had a multitude of clear laws, and as the Gentiles had the laws of nature, there could be no hope of escape from the charge of their violation. Since human nature was depraved, and people were prone to sin, the more just and reasonable the laws, the less hope was there of being justified by the Law, and the more certainty was there that the Law would produce wrath and condemnation.
16Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
Therefore - In view of the course of reasoning which has been pursued. We have come to this conclusion.
It is of faith - Justification is by faith; or the plan which God has devised of saving people is by faith, Romans 3:26.
That it might be by grace - As a matter of mere undeserved mercy. If people were justified by law, it would be by their own merits; now it is of mere unmerited favor.
To the end - For the purpose, or design.
The promise ... - Romans 4:13.
Might be sure - Might be firm, or established. On any other ground, it could not be established. If it had depended on entire conformity to the Law, the promise would never have been established, for none would have yielded such obedience. But now it may be secured to all the posterity of Abraham.
To all the seed - Romans 4:13.
Not to that only - Not to that part of his descendants alone who were Jews, or who had the Law.
But to that ... - To all who should possess the same faith as Abraham. The father of us all. Of all who believe, whether they be Jews or Gentiles.
17(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
As it is written - Genesis 17:5.
I have made thee - The word used here in the Hebrew Gen 17:5 means literally, to give, to grant; and also, to set, or constitute. This is also the meaning of the Greek word used both by the Septuagint and the apostle. The quotation is taken literally from the Septuagint. The argument of the apostle is founded in part on the fact that the past tense is used - I have made thee - and that God spoke of a thing as already done, which he had promised or purposed to do. The sense is, he had, in his mind or purpose, constituted him the father of many nations; and so certain was the fulfillment of the divine purposes, that he spoke of it as already accomplished.
Of many nations - The apostle evidently understands this promise as referring, not to his natural descendants only, but to the great multitude who should believe as he did.
Before him - In his view, or sight; that is, God regarded him as such a father.
Whom he believed - Whose promise he believed; or in whom he trusted.
Who quickeneth the dead - Who gives life to the dead, Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5. This expresses the power of God to give life. But why it is used here has been a subject of debate. I regard it as having reference to the strong natural improbability of the fulfillment of the prophecy when it was given, arising from the age of Abraham and Sarah, Romans 4:19. Abraham exercised power in the God who gives life, and who gives it as he pleases. It is one of his prerogatives to give life to the dead (νεκρους nekrous), to raise up those who are in their graves; and a power similar to that, or strongly reminding of that, was manifested in fulfilling the promise to Abraham. The giving of this promise, and its fulfillment, were such as strongly to remind us that God has power to give life to the dead.
And calleth ... - That is, those things which he foretels and promises are so certain, that he may speak of them as already in existence. Thus, in relation to Abraham, God, instead of simply promising that he would make him the father of many nations, speaks of it as already done, "I have made thee," etc. In his own mind, or purpose, he had so constituted him, and it was so certain that it would take place, that he might speak of it as already done.
18Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
Who against hope - Who against all apparent or usual ground of hope. He refers here to the prospect of a posterity; see Romans 4:19-21.
Believed in hope - Believed in what was promised to excite his hope. Hope here is put for the object of his hope - what was promised.
According to what was spoken - Genesis 15:5.
So shall thy seed be - That is, as the stars in heaven for multitude. Thy posterity shall be very numerous.
19And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:
And being not weak in faith - That is, having strong faith.
He considered not - He did not regard the fact that his body was now dead, as any obstacle to the fulfillment of the promise. He did not suffer that fact to influence him, or to produce any doubt about the fulfillment. Faith looks to the strength of God, not to second causes, or to difficulties that may appear formidable to man.
Now dead - Aged; dead as to the purpose under consideration; compare Hebrews 11:12, "As good as dead." That is, he was now at an age when it was highly improbable that he would have any children; compare Genesis 17:17.
Deadness ... - Hebrews 11:11, "When she was past age;" compare Genesis 18:11.
20He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
He staggered not - He was not moved, or agitated; he steadily and firmly believed the promise.
Giving glory to God - Giving honor to God by the firmness with which he believed his promises. His conduct was Such as to honor God; that is, to show Abraham's conviction that he was worthy of implicit confidence and trust. In this way all who believe in the promises of God do honor to him. They bear testimony to him that he is worthy of confidence. They become so many witnesses in his favor; and furnish to their fellow-men evidence that God has a claim on the credence and trust of mankind.
21And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
And being fully persuaded - Thoroughly or entirely convinced; Luke 1:1; Romans 14:5; 2 Timothy 4:5, 2 Timothy 4:17.
He was able - Compare Genesis 18:14. This was not the only time in which Abraham evinced this confidence. His faith was equally implicit and strong when he was commanded to sacrifice his promised son; Hebrews 11:19.
22And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
And therefore - His faith was so implicit, and so unwavering, that it was a demonstration that he was the firm friend of God. He was tried, and he had such confidence in God that he showed that he was supremely attached to him, and would obey and serve him. This was reckoned as a full proof of friendship; and he was recognised and treated as righteous; that is, as the friend of God. (The true sense of faith being imputed for righteousness is given in a note at the beginning of the chapter.) See the note at Romans 4:3, 5.
23Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
Now it was not written - The record of this extraordinary faith was not made on his account only; but it was made to show the way in which men may be regarded and treated as righteous by God. If Abraham was so regarded and treated, then, on the same principle, all others may be. God has but one mode of justifying people.
Imputed - Reckoned; accounted. He was regarded and treated as the friend of God.
24But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
But for us also - For our use; (compare Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11), that we might have an example of the way in which people may be accepted of God. It is recorded for our encouragement and imitation, to show that we may in a similar manner be accepted and saved.
If we believe on him ... - Abraham showed his faith in God by believing just what God revealed to him. This was his faith, and it might be as strong and implicit as could be exercised under the fullest revelation. Faith, now, is belief in God just so far as he has revealed his will to us. It is therefore the same in principle, though it may have reference to different objects. It is confidence in the same God, according to what we know of his will. Abraham showed his faith mainly in confiding in the promises of God respecting a numerous posterity. This was the leading truth made known to him, and this he believed.
(The promise made to Abraham was, "in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed," on which we have the following inspired commentary: "And the scriptures foreseeing that God would justify the pagan through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed," Galatians 3:8. It would seem, then, that this promise, like that made immediately after the fall, contained the very germ and principles of the gospel. So that after all there is not so great difference between the object of Abraham's faith, and that of ours. Indeed the object in both cases is manifestly the same.)
The main or leading truths that God has made known to us are, that he has given his Son to die; that he has raised him up; and that through him he is ready to pardon. To put confidence in these truths is to believe now. Doing this, we believe in the same God that Abraham did; we evince the same spirit; and thus show that we are the friends of the same God, and may be treated in the same manner. This is faith under the gospel (compare the notes at Mark 16:16), and shows that the faith of Abraham and of all true believers is substantially the same, and is varied only by the difference of the truths made known.
25Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
Who was delivered - To death; compare the notes at Acts 2:23.
For our offences - On account of our crimes. He was delivered up to death in order to make expiation for our sins.
And was raised again - From the dead.
For our justification - On account of our justification. In order that we may be justified. The word "justification" here seems to be used in a large sense, to denote acceptance with God; including not merely the formal act by which God pardons sins, and by which we become reconciled to him, but also the completion of the work - the treatment of us as righteous, and raising us up to a state of glory. By the death of Christ an atonement is made for sin. If it be asked how his resurrection contributes to our acceptance with God, we may answer,
(1) It rendered his work complete. His death would have been unavailing, his work would have been imperfect, if he had not been raised up from the dead. He submitted to death as a sacrifice, and it was needful that he should rise, and thus conquer death and subdue our enemies, that the work which he had undertaken might be complete.
(2) his resurrection was a proof that his work was accepted by the Father. What he had done, in order that sinners might be saved, was approved. Our justification, therefore, became sure, as it was for this that he had given himself up to death.
(3) his resurrection is the main-spring of all our hopes, and of all our efforts to be saved. Life and immortality are thus brought to light, 2 Timothy 1:10. God "hath begotten us again to a lively hope (a living, active, real hope), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," 1 Peter 1:3. Thus, the fact that he was raised becomes the ground of hope that we shall be raised and accepted of God. The fact that he was raised, and that all who love him shall be raised also, becomes one of the most efficient motives to us to seek to be justified and saved. There is no higher motive that can be presented to induce man to seek salvation than the fact that he maybe raised up from death and the grave, and made immortal. There is no satisfactory proof that man can be thus raised up, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In that resurrection we have a pledge that all his people will rise. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him," 1 Thessalonians 4:14. "Because I live," said the Redeemer, "ye shall live also," John 14:19; compare 1 Peter 1:21.