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Abraham and David, in Whom the Jews Specially Gloried, Accounted Righteous by Faith, not by Law or Works. Verses 1-8.
Righteousness is also Apart from Ordinances (as Circumcision). Verses 9-12.
Abraham’s “Heirship of the World,” not at All by Law but by Promise; and So, Only, Believers Are All Made Certain of its Blessings. Verses 13-17.
The Way and Walk of faith Wondrously Exemplified in Abraham the Father of All Believers. Verses 18-22.
The Connection of Our Justification with Christ’s Resurrection. Verses 23-25.
1 What then shall we say that Abraham our forefather according to the flesh hath found? 2 For if Abraham was justified on the principle of works, he hath whereof to boast. 3 But [we find] he is unable to boast before God: For what saith the Scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it [his faith] was reckoned unto him as righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh the reward is not reckoned as of grace but, on the contrary, as a matter of debt. 5 But to one not working, but believing upon the God that justifieth the ungodly,—his faith is reckoned for righteousness.
THE JEWS ESPECIALLY gloried in Abraham and David,—just as we all naturally glory in the assumed personal righteousness of great saints, as the ground of God’s favor to them. But whatever blessing, says Paul, Abraham obtained, Scripture forbade the thought that he could glory before God; because he simply believed what God told him, that his seed should be in number like the stars of heaven. (Read Gen. 15:6) Abraham gave God His proper glory as the God of truth. We cannot conceive of Abraham as boasting before his house and before the Hittites that he had performed an act creditable to himself in believing God!
Paul now answers Jewish objectors to the doctrine of justification by simple faith; and he uses as examples those two great men of faith whose names were constantly on Jewish tongues,—Abraham and David.
The question about Abraham, What has Abraham our fleshly forefather found? is practically the same as in Chapter Three, “What advantage, then, hath the Jew?” We do well, while standing absolutely with Paul, to understand with sympathy the state of mind of the Jew, who had the Old Testament Scriptures, and a national history of marvelous Divine instruction and providence, and also remarkable religious prominence everywhere, in Paul’s day. “To Israel pertained the fathers” (Rom. 9:5); Paul here in Romans 4:1, places himself, therefore, among the Israelites, and says, “Abraham our forefather according to the flesh.”8282The doctrine of Abraham as being the “father of all that believe,” has yet to be announced,—as is done later in this same chapter.
Verses 2, 3: Now argues Paul,
if Abraham had been declared righteous before God on the
works principle, he would indeed have had something to boast of! But the Scripture
record showed there was nothing of which he could boast before God. For concerning
Abraham more definitely and directly than of any other human being, God’s word was
specific: Abraham believed God, and it [his faith] was reckoned8383 (1)“It was reckoned unto him as righteousness”; here the word
“reckoned” is logidzomai, a great word with Paul, used 41 times in the New Testament,
35 of which are in Paul’s epistles, 11 of these here in Chapter Four. Where it is
used as in verse 3, here, of God, it is always a court word, God acting as Judge
and accounting or holding as righteous those who, as Abraham, believe in Him; or
the contrary, as is implied in verse 8; “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will
not reckon sin,”—implying that there are those to whom He will reckon sin and its
In Chapter 4:5, we see what is reckoned by God as righteousness: “his faith is reckoned as righteousness,” This does not mean that faith is a meritorious act, as indeed it could not be,—being simply extending credence to One who cannot lie! Therefore, without being itself righteousness, it is reckoned as righteousness; the ground of such reckoning being of course the work of Christ on the cross. (Compare on this (Compare on this word the note on Chapter 5:11) to him as righteousness.
To discover that the greatest saints have no other standing than the weakest saints, is a lesson that is difficult for all of us! So now for the Jew to find that great Abraham has nothing in the flesh, but must be justified by simple faith, like any sinner, is a great shock. There was no honor, no “merit,” in Abraham’s believing the faithful God, who cannot lie. The honor was God’s. When Abraham believed God, he did the one thing that a man can do without doing anything! God made the statement, the promise; and God undertook to fulfill it. Abraham believed in his heart that God told the truth. There was no effort here. Abraham’s faith was not an act, but an attitude. His heart was turned completely away from himself to God and His promise. This left God free to fulfill that promise. Faith was neither a meritorious act by Abraham, nor a change of character or nature, in Abraham: he simply believed God would accomplish what He had promised: “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).
Verses 4 and 5: Now to him that worketh the reward is not reckoned as a matter of grace, but, on the contrary, as a matter of debt. But to one not working, but believing upon the God that justifieth the ungodly,—his faith is reckoned for righteousness.
Here Paul writes two verses which every believer should commit to memory: for they state what no mind of fallen man ever imagines; for do not people naturally believe that the way to be saved is to “be good”?
To him that worketh—To a man that works for wages, the wages are due as a debt. That is a simple enough principle. But do not seek to apply it to salvation! No one ever got righteousness by work or worth! Righteousness is not by doing right, strange and impossible as that may seem.
But to him that worketh not—to him who “casts his deadly doing down”; who, seeing his guilt, and his entire inability to put it away, ceases wholly from all efforts to obtain God’s favor by his own doings, or self-denyings,—even by his prayers: but believeth on the God that declareth righteous the ungodly—not the godly or the good! But, you say, God cannot do that! God cannot declare a man godly if he is really ungodly. Now God did not say “godly,” but He said righteous,—“declareth righteous those ungodly who believe.” God can do that! For God can reckon to an ungodly man who dares cease trying to change himself, and relies on God just as he is, a sinner,—God can and does reckon to such a one the glorious benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection on behalf of sinners. And of such a believing sinner, God declares his faith is counted as righteousness.
It cannot be too much emphasized that the words, “the ungodly,” in verse 5, wholly shut out any other class from justification. If we say, God, indeed, has in some special cases justified notoriously, openly, evidently ungodly ones; while His general habit is, to justify the godly (which is what human reason demands), then we at once deny all Scripture. For God says, “There is no distinction; for all sinned; there is none righteous,—not one.” And if you claim that God justifies the godly, we ask, on what ground? If you say on the ground of their godliness, you have left out the blood of Christ,—on which ground alone God can deal with sinners; and you have really denied this so-called “godly” man to be a sinner before God at all, since he is to be justified on another ground than is the openly ungodly sinner,—the shed blood of Christ.
Do you not see that all this distinction between sinners is an abomination before a holy God? What does it matter whether you are a nobleman or a knave, if God has said He declares sinners righteous by Christ’s blood? What matter whether you are an honorable woman or a harlot, if God says you are a sinner (and He does!) and that the only ground of being declared righteous is the blood of His Son?
The burning question is, have you and I been so really convinced of the fact of our sinnerhood and guilt, and of our utter helplessness, and lost state, as to be able to believe on a God who can and does “declare righteous the UNgodly—those who believe, as ungodly, on Him?
A child, without Christ, is “ungodly,” in this sense. “Ye were by nature children of wrath,” is an awful word, but a true word,—going back to our mother’s womb, who, “in sin conceived us!” We were born into a lost, guilty race,—we were born part of that race! And it was written of all of us, concerning Adam’s sin: “Through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.”
We are all ungodly! And when we place our faith in the God who is in the business of declaring righteous the ungodly—who trust Him as they are,—on the sole ground of the shed blood of Christ,—then we are justified,—accounted righteous, by God.
No, it is not the regenerate, the born again man, who is declared righteous,—it is the ungodly. It is not the penitent man or the praying man, as such, but the ungodly. It is not the professing Christian who has “escaped the defilements of the world” (II Peter 2) through certain spiritual experiences (it may be of a high order), but the ungodly, who believes, as such, on the God who declares righteous the ungodly who believe on Him—AS SUCH!
And of course it is not the “church-member,”—Baptist, Methodist,
Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, or Plymouth Brother, as such,—but,
the ungodly. This is not, either, putting a premium on ungodliness, but telling
the truth! If you have not relied on God as an ungodly one, you have yet to be declared
righteous; for He is the God who declares righteous the ungodly who believe on Him.8484 (1)We beg the reader’s permission to relate below an experience
of our own, as illustrating “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that
declares righteous the ungodly”:
Years ago in the city of St. Louis, I was holding noon meetings in the Century Theater. One day I spoke on this verse,—Romans 4:5. After the audience had gone, I was addressed by a fine-looking man of middle age, who had been waiting alone in a box-seat for me.
He immediately said, “I am Captain G—,” (a man very widely known in the city). And, when I sat down to talk with him, he began: “You are speaking to the most ungodly man in St. Louis.”
I said, “Thank God!”
“What!” he cried. “Do you mean you are glad that I am bad?”
“No,” I said; “but I am certainly glad to find a sinner that knows he is a sinner.”
“Oh, you do not know the half! I have been absolutely ungodly for years and years and years, right here in St. Louis. I own two Mississippi steamers. Everybody knows me. I am just the most ungodly man in town”’
I could hardly get him quiet enough to ask him: “Did you hear me preach on ‘ungodly people’ today?”
“Mr. Newell,” he said, “I have been coming to these noon meetings for six weeks. I do not think I have missed a meeting. But I cannot tell you a word of what you said today. I did not sleep last night. I have hardly had any sleep for three weeks. I have gone to one man after another to find what to do. And I do what they say. I have read the Bible. I have prayed. I have given money away. But I am the most ungodly wretch in this town. Now what do you tell me to do? I waited here today to ask you that. I have tried everything; but I am so ungodly!”
“Now,” I said, “we will turn to the verse I preached on.” I gave the Bible into his hands, asking him to read aloud: “To him that worketh not.”
“But,” he cried, “how can this be for me? I am the most ungodly man in St. Louis!”
“Wait,” I said, “I beg you go on reading.”
So he read, “To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly.”
“There!” he fairly shouted, “that’s what I am,—ungodly.” “Then, this verse is about you,” I assured him.
“But please tell me what to do, Mr. Newell. I know I am ungodly: what shall I do?”
“Read the verse again, please.”
He read: “To him that worketh not,”—and I stopped him. “There,” I said, “the verse says not to do, and you want me to tell you something to do: I cannot do that.”
“But there must be something to do; if not, I shall be lost forever.” “Now listen with all your soul,” I said. “There was something to do, but it has been done!”
Then I told him how God had so loved him, all ungodly as he was, that He sent Christ to die for the ungodly. And that God’s judgment had fallen on Christ, who has been forsaken of God for his, Captain G——’s, sins there on the cross.
Then, I said, “God raised up Christ; and sent us preachers to beseech men, all ungodly as they are, to believe on this God who declares righteous the ungodly, on the ground of Christ’s shed blood.”
He suddenly leaped to his feet and stretched his hand out to me. “Mr. Newell,” he said, “I will accept that proposition!” and off he went, without another word.
Next noonday, at the opening of the meeting, I saw him beckoning to me from the wings of the stage. I went to him,
“May I say a word to these people?” he asked.
I saw his shining face, and gladly brought him in.
I said to the great audience, “Friends, this is Captain G——, whom most, it not all of you, know. He wants to say a word to you.”
“I want to tell you all of the greatest proposition I ever found,” he cried: “I am a business man, and know a good proposition. But I found one yesterday that so filled me with joy, that I could not sleep a wink all night. I found out that God for Jesus Christ’s sake declares righteous any ungodly man that trusts Him. I trusted Him yesterday; and you all know what an ungodly man I was. I thank you all for listening to me; but I felt I could not help but tell you of this wonderful proposition; that God should count me righteous. I have been such a great sinner.”
This beloved man lived many years in St. Louis, an ornament to his confession.
So we have seen in verses four and five the working method and the believing method contrasted. What a place heaven would be if men were allowed to pay their way! They would boast all through eternity, one about this, another about that. But the works method and the grace method are mutually exclusive. Each shuts out the other. Men must cease even seeking; they must cease all works—weeping, confessing, repenting, even earnest praying, and simply believe God laid their sins, their very own sins, all of them, on Christ at the cross. There comes a moment when a man ceases from his own works, hearing that Christ finished the work, paid the ransom, at the cross. Then he rests! Such a soul believes,—knowing himself to be a sinner, and ungodly,—but he ‘believes on God, just as he is, and knows he is welcome!
Note that Scripture does not say that God justifies the praying man, or the Bible reader, or the church member, but the ungodly. Have you yourself believed on the God that accounts righteous the ungodly? Have you ever really seen yourself in the ungodly class, a mere sinner, and as such trusted God, on only one ground, the blood of Christ?
6 Even as David also pronounceth blessing upon the man, unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works [saying], 7 Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, And whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin.
First, of the man whose iniquities are forgiven—Forgiveness is more than mere remitting of penalty. Even a hard-hearted judge might remit a man’s fine if it were paid by someone else, but forgiveness involves the heart of the forgiver. God’s forgiveness is the going forth of God’s infinite tenderness toward the object of His mercy. It is God folding the sinner, as the returning prodigal was folded, to His bosom. Such a one is blessed indeed!
Then, whose sins are covered—“Covered” is the Old Testament word, (Heb. kaphar); for those sacrifices could never “take away” sins, but only “cover” from sight. “In those sacrifices there is a remembrance made [not a removal] of sins year by year” (Heb. 10:11, 3). There was a type of Christ’s coming work, but the sins were yet there before God till Christ took them away on the cross. If then, one like David could pronounce blessed the man whose sins were “covered,” out of God’s sight in His mercy (though not yet removed), much more should we rejoice to know that Christ has been manifested “to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”! (Heb. 9:26).
Verse 8: The third element David here describes, in “righteousness without works,” is the inflexible purpose of God never to bring up again the sin of the “blessed” man: Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin. (Again the Hebrew repeats “Oh, the blessednesses!”—Ps 32:2). Many believers indeed, like David and Peter, have sinned deeply. But, as Nathan said to David on the very occasion of the announcement of both the King’s sin and its being “put away,” celebrated in this Psalm 32: “Jehovah hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” So have many been forgiven. High offences were David’s indeed: adultery, hypocrisy and murder. But they were not “reckoned” against David. True, the king was chastened: “The sword shall never depart from thy house.” At Nathan’s parable David’s indignation (how righteously indignant we can become at our own sins when we see them in others!) called for a four-fold payment by the rich man who took the poor man’s lamb (II Sam 12:5, 6). And God allowed four sons of David’s to be smitten: the child of Uriah’s wife, then his first-born, Amnon; then fair Absalom; and, last, goodly Adonijah. Nevertheless, God had not “reckoned” the guilt against him! No wonder he pronounces blessed the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works!8585 This world hates the God of David, because it hates grace. The world rather likes David’s taking Uriah’s wife (for that is the world’s manner of life!). But for Jehovah not to reckon this sin as damning guilt, and freely to forgive David,—and that so fully as to give “her that had been the wife of Uriah” another son, and bestow His special love on him (Solomon) to the extent of giving him a personal name, Jedidiah “for Jehovah’s sake” (II Sam. 12:24, 25) and placing this woman Bathsheba in the official genealogy of Christ (Matt. 1:6); and, above all, for God to call David a man “after His own heart,”—all this rouses the ire of a vile, self-righteous, neighbor-judging, blind, grace-ignorant, impenitent world,—a world that has neither repented, nor means to repent, of the very sins, into which David fell, and of which he repented most deeply. God’s record of David is “a man that will do all my purposes” (Acts 13:22, margin). How about it, critic of David’s God? Have you repented? Do you desire to do all God’s purposes? If not,—well, you will shortly meet the God of whom your false mouth has prated!
Next we have the fact that even Divine ordinances like circumcision have nothing to do with righteousness,—any more than have good works; that even Abraham’s circumcision was merely a seal of the righteousness of a faith he before had.
9 Is this blessing [of righteousness without works] pronounced upon the circumcision, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say, To Abraham [a circumcised man] his faith was reckoned as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances, then, was it reckoned? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but, on the contrary, in uncircumcision! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision: that he might be the father of ALL them that believe, though they be in uncircumcision,—that righteousness might be reckoned unto them; 12 and the father of circumcision to them who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had in uncircumcision.
Verses 9 and 10: Paul had to have Jews in mind, just as we today have to have “professing Christians” in mind. The Jew relied upon and boasted in the outward mark of circumcision (which God, in Genesis 17, prescribed to Abraham and his fleshly seed), entirely forgetting that God, fourteen or fifteen years before circumcision (Gen. 15:6), had accounted Abraham righteous wholly apart from circumcision.8686“Paul has turned the Jew’s boast upside down. It is not the Gentile who must come to the Jew’s circumcision for salvation; it is the Jew who must come to a Gentile faith, such faith as Abraham had long before he was circumcised . . . When Isaac was saved, he was not saved by his circumcision any more than was his father before him. God never promised salvation except to faith. He never promised a perpetual nationality except to circumcised men who believe”—Stifler. Circumcision was an outward sign or symbol, both to Abraham and to the world about him: to Abraham, that God was his God; to the world, that Abraham was separated from the world unto God. Just so baptism today is an outward sign that we are Christ’s in faith and identification, and that we no longer belong to the world: but how deadly is the delusion that baptism in itself amounts to anything before God!8787“The sacraments and ceremonies of the Church, 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”—Hodge.
After the same manner with the Jews, the vast majority of those calling themselves Christians place reliance, alas, today, on some ordinance (or, as it is called, “sacrament”), saying, “Christ told us to repent and be baptized, did He not? Christ commanded us to take the Lord’s supper.” But remember that God justifies NOT those observing ordinances, but the ungodly who believe. If you are still regarding baptism, or the Lord’s supper, or “the mass,” or “christening,” or “confirmation,” as having anything whatever to do with God’s declaring you righteous, you do not understand being declared righteous as an ungodly one. And in the gospel, since the cross, you are not told first to cease being ungodly, and then believe; but, as ungodly, to believe!
Neither baptism nor the Lord’s supper (upon both of which, in distorted form, thousands have rested, as “sacraments” commending them unto God), has power to give any standing whatever before a righteous God: that belongs only to the shed blood of the Redeemer of guilty and hopeless ones such as are we all!
Note that here, first, human works are set aside as a ground of righteousness; and then Divine ordinances also are just as fully set aside. Circumcision had been commanded to the Jew. The Jew trusted in it, and became utterly blind to the fact that even Abraham, “the father of circumcision,” had been declared righteous on another principle,—by simple faith, years before his circumcision! Uncircumcised, then, a common sinner (a “Gentile”—if there had been at that time “Jews”), Abraham just believed God: gave Him the honor of being a God of truth. And be it so that God saw that one day He would make Abraham as righteous in glory as He in that past day reckoned him in grace; yet it remains that God reckoned him what he was not, as yet, in experience; and that Abraham stood before God thus righteous the moment he believed! And not what Abraham would become, but what Christ would do on the cross for him was the ground of God’s reckoning!
Each year I live I become more impressed with the solitary grandeur of this great friend of God. Behold him! Late come from the very home of idolatry, he walks among the Hittites as a “Prince of God”—their name for him (Gen. 23:6). Behold him, to whom “the God of glory” had appeared in his old place, Ur of the Chaldees; and to which blessed God he is so drawn by the cords of trust and love, that his whole life is as God’s friend—walking with Him, ever learning of Him more and more; taking a mark of absolute separation to Him; ever building altars to Him, and calling on His name. Behold him, called to part with Isaac, his only son, readily giving him up to God!
Verses 11 and 12: It was in order to become
the father of ALL them that
believe that Abraham received the sign of circumcision: that is, he would have been
the father of uncircumcised believers apart from his own circumcision (for he himself
believed while uncircumcised); but God desired a circumcised separate nation, and
so would have Abraham also the father of circumcision to those who not only had
circumcision, but also (rare thing among the Jews!) should walk in the steps of
that faith of their father Abraham which he had—while yet uncircumcised.8888 These “steps of faith” of the uncircumcised Abraham would embrace
all Abraham’s story from his “call” in Genesis 12 to his circumcision in Genesis
17,—when he was 99 years old: (1) The revelation of the God of glory to Abraham,
while yet in Ur of the Chaldees, and his evident turning from idols to Him. (2)
Obedience to the command to get out of his country, from his kindred, and from his
father’s house (Ge 12:1-4); tarrying indeed at Haran on his
way until his father died (Acts 7:4; Gen. 11:31). (3) The altar-worship
of Jehovah in Canaan (Gen. 12:7, 8). (4) Choosing his portion
with God: Lot’s separation from Abraham (Gen. 13), and Abraham’s
arrival at Hebron (“fellowship”). (5) The victory over the kings (Gen. 14),
(6) Accepting through Melchizedek the new revelation of “God Most High, Possessor
of Heaven and Earth,” and the rejection of riches from men (Gen. 14). (7) Believing
God’s bare word concerning his seed, and being thus “accounted righteous” (Gen.
“Notice that in the seventh of these steps, there is the peculiar element of counting on God, as God, to do the impossible. On the God who calleth the things not being, as being!
No doubt, there were further walkings and testings until the offering of Isaac in Chapter 22, after which we find no more testings: Abraham’s faith had become perfected. So James writes (see above), “The Scripture was fulfilled that saith, Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.” This word “fulfilled” is deeply significant. There was and always is, the prophetic, as well as the declarative element in justification, (that is, in God’s accounting a sinner righteous). It is “the God who calleth the things that are not as though they were,” (Rom. 4:17) who acts in justification. The moment He declares sinners righteous, they are so, having immediately the standing of being in Christ before Him. But they will also be manifested, by and by, and be glorified with Christ. “Glorified” they are already in God’s mind (8:30). What James insists on is that there will be a living walk, fulfilling the Divine declaration that the man is righteous.
This living walk also is before Him whom we believe, even God (4:17). It has no reference whatever to men. The explanation by some that Abraham was “justified by faith before God and by works before men” is trivial! Both in Gen. 15:6, when God accounted him righteous, and in 22:15 to 18, Abraham was alone with his God. When James says, “By works was faith made perfect,” he is expanding the statement, “Faith wrought with his works.” Paul has almost the same Phrase: “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Of course saving faith is a living, acting thing, as against mere opinion or profession; and this again is what James is insisting on. Works are the result of a true faith; but they are not, like faith itself, a condition of salvation. What “works” did the dying thief perform? You say. None: he cast himself on Christ as he was. Good. So must you and I: only that! How few Jewish teachers or preachers can challenge Gentiles with the freedom and truth of the apostle Paul; “I beseech you, brethren, become as I, for I also am as ye” (Gal. 4:12). The Galatians were raw Gentiles, “without law.” Paul cries, “I am as ye are: I have no reliance on circumcision; if ye Gentiles receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing!”
The blessing of righteousness, then, comes not only without works, but also without ordinances, whether Jewish or Christian. And we see that only those Jews are really accounted circumcised in God’s sight, who have heart-belief, as mere sinners, in the Redeemer. Faith, like true circumcision, is “that of the heart” (Rom. 2:29 and 10:10). According to this, there are very few real Jews on earth; yea, and relatively few true Christians, also; if righteousness be wholly by faith, apart from works, and apart from ordinances.
13 For not through law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world, but, on the contrary, through righteousness of faith. 14 For if they which are of law be heirs, faith is made empty, and the promise is made useless: 15 for law works out wrath [to sinful man]; but where there is not law [to transgress], there is no transgression [of it]. 16 On this account the inheritance is on the principle of faith, in order that it may be according to grace: so that the promise [which could not be broken], might be made sure to all the seed [of Abraham]: not to that which was of the Law only, but also to that which [although not having had Moses’ Law] was yet of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of all of us [believers] 17 (as it is written, I made thee father of many nations) in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God [the God], who makes alive the dead, and calls things not existing, as existing.
Verses 13 to 17: Here the further question of Abraham’s “inheriting the world” is considered, and this again is only through the righteousness of faith: this expression not meaning that faith is a righteous, meritorious thing, but that, as explained before faith, not law, is the Divine mode of blessing.
Verse 13: For not through law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world, but, on the contrary, through righteousness of faith. “Heir of the world”: Behold, then a new order of all things! Adam had failed, and his fleshly seed were fallen. Abraham has succeeded, to become the father of spiritual seed,—“of all them that believe”: it will be a believing seed, not a natural seed. This man and that seed shall enter into the inheritance Adam forfeited for headship! What can “heir of the world”8989Dean Alford with his usual clearness says: “The inheritance of the world then is not the possession of Canaan merely, either literally, or as a type of a better possession,—but that ultimate lordship over the whole world which Abraham, as the father of the faithful in all peoples, and Christ, as the Seed of Promise, shall possess: the former figuratively indeed and only implicitly,—the latter personally and actually.” mean? Nay, what shall it not mean? “The meek shall inherit the earth.” And who are they? Not Adam’s but Abraham’s seed. Bishop Moule beautifully says: “Then and there, perhaps side by side with his Divine Friend manifested in human form, Abraham is told to count the stars under the glorious canopy, the Syrian ‘night of stars’; and he hears the promise, ’So shall thy seed be.’ It was then and there, that as a man uncovenanted, unworthy, but called upon to take what God gave, he received the promise that he should be ‘heir of the world.’ In his ‘seed,’—that childless senior was to be a King of Men, Monarch of continents and oceans. ‘All nations,’ ‘all the kindreds of the earth’ were to be blessed in him, as their patriarchal Chief, their Head, in covenant with God.”
How hardly do we banish the thought of human “merit” in God’s
great saints! (“Merit” is a Romish term: away with it!) Faith is the ground of God’s
blessing. Abraham was a blessed man, indeed, but he became heir of the world on
another principle entirely—simple faith.9090 2.Now Paul completely shuts out the legalists from heirship with
Abraham’s seed. Because, as Weiss says, “If those persons were the possessors of
the promise, who on the basis of a law had entered upon this inheritance of their
father Abraham, (on the ground that it had been offered to them as a reward for
the fulfillment of this law), then faith, which according to its essence is a confidence
in the attainment of salvation, would be rendered void, and the promise, which has
full assurance of that which is promised, would be made of no effect. For the law,
in view of the sinful condition that prevails, can be completely fulfilled by none,
and necessarily produces wrath. But the bestowal of that which is promised pre
supposes the continuation of the graciousness of Him who made the promise; and this
graciousness becomes equally impossible, as does the believing confidence—if law
must be fulfilled to secure it!”
When law comes in, it conditions everything upon obedience to it. It had to be “disannulled” when a better hope was brought in! (Heb. 7:18, 19)
Verse 14: For if they which are of law be heirs,
faith is made empty, and the promise is annulled—Here Paul enlarges, that for God
to bless the merit-folks,9191 The reason God hates your trust in your “good works” is, that
you offer them to Him instead of resting on the all-glorious work of His Son for
you at the cross.
1. What it cost God to give Christ.
2. What it cost Christ to put away sin,—your sin, at the cross.
3. What honor God has given Him “because of the suffering of death.”
4. What plans for the future God has arranged through Christ’s having made peace by the blood of His cross, to reconcile “things upon the earth and things in the heavens, unto Himself.”
Now, by that uneasiness of conscience on account of which you keep doing “dead works,” you neglect all God is, has done, and desires, for you; and substitute your own uncertain, fearful, trifling notions of “works that shall please God.” You would make God come to your terms, instead of gladly accepting His great salvation and resting in the finished work of Christ.
It is ominously bold presumption, when God is calling all to behold His Lamb, to be found asking God to behold your goodness, your works! would make God’s promise-method impossible, and so our faith in His promises, empty and void.9292Greek, katargeo, from kata, “down from”; and ergon, “work”; literally, therefore, to put out of work, or out of business, to render ineffective; a word often used by Paul, and most important in his exposition. Its uses in Romans are seen in Chapters 3:3, 31; 4:14; 6:6; 7:2, 6. It occurs in his epistles 26 times, and elsewhere only once, but that once is illuminative: “Cut it down: why doth it also cumber (katargei) the ground?” (Luke 13:7). The ground was unchanged, but rendered wholly unproductive through the shade of, and the use of all the moisture by, the fig tree. This is the exact meaning: a result otherwise to be expected is by some hindering power annulled. Remember this word! Faith and law are contradictory principles, the apostle shows: absolutely diverse means of blessing.
Verse 15: Law, Paul explains, given to sinners, simply brings forth God’s wrath,—for sinners in the nature of the case will transgress. Law gives no life, and has no power over the flesh. So Paul calls law a “ministration of death and condemnation” (II Cor. 3:7, 9). Alford well says, “From its very nature, law excludes promise,—which is an act of grace, and faith, which is an attribute of confidence.” Where law is not, neither is there transgression. This brings out several things: First, that it takes law to bring forth transgression of it,—though sin may be present. There can be no transgression of a law which exists not. The absence of law is the absence of transgression. The entrance of law (in the case of a fallen being) is the entrance of transgression. Second that there may be Divine dispensations where law is not the principle of relationship with God. Third, that to come into a spiritual place where there will be “no transgression,” men must be removed completely from under the principle of law. (This will appear in Chapters Six and Seven. God indeed has an entirely different manner of life for those in Christ than being under the principle of law!) Fourth, that only the place of freedom from law is the place of the inheritance.
Verse 16: Here we see anew God’s great kindness. He desired that all the seed of Abraham, whether Jewish or Gentile believers, might have security,—that the promise might be sure to all the seed. Now if you introduce man’s works (for man always says, “I must do my part”), you introduce an element of insecurity and uncertainty. For no man, trying to “do his part,” is ever certain that he has done, or will do, his “part.” Salvation is of God, not of man. It is of faith, and so, of grace; and thus, of God. For faith is unmixed with the vain promises and hopes of man to accomplish “his part”; but looks to what God has done, in sending His Son, to do a finished work on the cross; and to the fact that God has raised up Christ; and that Christ is our unfailing High Priest in heaven.
Abraham is declared to be “the father of us all,”—of all who believe. Believers will come from all nations of the earth, and Abraham is called “the heir of the world”; which he will be openly seen to be in the millennial kingdom that is shortly coming: “Ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28).
Verse 17: (as it is written, I made thee father of many nations) in the sight, of Him whom he believed, even God [the God], who makes alive the dead, and calls things not existing, as existing. The words “Abraham, who is the father of us all” in verse 16, are to be connected with “before Him whom he believed” in verse 17, the intervening words being a parenthesis. There is a great household of faith! Whether believers realize it or not, they are sharing Abraham’s inheritance. The mighty promises of God to Abraham and to His Seed, Christ (Gal. 3:16), should be studied deeply and often by all Christians. “For if ye are Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29). God lodged the promises in Abraham: Christ fulfilled the conditions (of redemption), and we share the benefits! Abraham got us by promise; Christ bought us by blood. Abraham is the “father of all them that believe,” whether his earthly seed, Israel; or his heavenly seed, the Church; or any who shall ever believe. As to our regeneration, of course, God is the Father of all believers. But as to our relation in the household of faith, Abraham is our father: Abraham believed for us all. That is, he believed a promise that included us all.
Believers may indeed be said to have a three-fold fatherhood: (1) that of Abraham, of the whole household of faith; (2) that of the teacher of the gospel who was used to win them to Christ (“For though ye have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel”—I Cor. 4:15); (3) that of God, who is our actual Father, who begat us by the Holy Spirit through His Word. The first two fatherhoods, of course, are fatherhoods of relationship, so to speak; the last only is of life and reality. Yet the first two fatherhoods are also real, and should be recognized, —especially that of Abraham.
Let us hold fast in our hearts the great revelation about God which closes verse 17: “God, who makes alive the dead, and calls the things not existing as existing.” The translation in both the King James and the Revision Version surely comes short of the meaning here. The Greek literally is, God making alive dead ones, and calling things not being, being! It is as when God spoke to the darkness, back in Genesis One (Hebrew), the creative word, “Let light be!—and light was.” It shone, too, “out of darkness”—not a ray that was projected from already existing light! His word was a creative fiat; and, answering it, “out of darkness” sprang the heretofore nonexistent, now created, light!
Note that it is the God who makes alive9393This remarkable compound word (zoē, life, plus poieō, make) is translated in the King James Version by the poor word “quicken.” The Revised Version is right. The King James Version uses the same feeble word, “quicken” to translate the mighty word of Ephesians 2:5, a marvelous word of three components: a preposition, (“together with,”—sun)—plus our compound word, “make-alive,” of Romans 4:17, above,—the whole really meaning, “made-alive-together-along-with”—Christ’ God enlifes us in Him,—us who once were in the other Adam, dead in sins! “Quicken” is not only pitiful, but lamentable in such a verse, as it hides the fundamental truth of a believer’s union with Christ in life and position. dead ones;—not those with some faint and feeble existence, but actually dead ones, those utterly gone! It is the God who calls non-existent things existent,—not, “as though” they existed, a translation which, not reaching the Divine view, really involves doubt. “Not being, being,” is what the text reads. It is as when God says of His words, “I make all things new,”—“they are come to pass!” (Rev. 21:5, 6). This is the God whose word Abraham trusted. It was in this character, that of Life-Giver to the dead, and the Caller of not-things existent, that he trusted Him. Thus Abraham was nothing (but dead), and the seed, non-existent! Yet Abraham believed God’s word that he should be “Father of a multitude”; and obediently changed his own name from Abram to Abraham!
Therefore the actual process and progress of Abraham’s life of faith in such a God, is vividly set before us as our pattern. We should study it over and over. The character of faith will be the same, with this consideration: Abraham believed on God in view of what He said He would do; we believe on Him who has raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.
So, in His counsels and reckoning the believer, in Chapter Eight, is seen already glorified! Of course, in counting things not being as being, God is committed to bring into outward actuality all that He reckons; thus the believing ungodly not only is accounted righteous, but will one day be publicly manifested as the very “righteousness of God”! Indeed, justification involves God’s giving him life, as see 5:18. But that is not the ground of his being reckoned righteous—that some day he will be in experience as righteous as he is now reckoned—any more than that he is accounted righteous on the ground of his own good works. For justification is a sovereign, judicial—not creative-act of God, based wholly upon the death and resurrection of Christ. When a sinner is to be justified, then, righteous is that which he is not! But, he believing, God counts him, holds him as righteous. He has no more righteousness (as a quality) than when he a moment ago, believed. But he stands in all Christ’s acceptance by the act of God, the Judge! Though we have said, God will make this standing good in glorious manifestation, yet no degree of sanctification or glorification is the basis of his being declared righteous, but the blood of Christ only, and His resurrection,—the sacrifice of Christ and God’s sovereign act in view of it.
For God to call the things not being as being; to extend to a man the complete value of Christ’s atoning work and “reckon” him justified and glorified in His sight, although not yet so in manifestation, is God’s own business. Let us praise Him for His grace!
18 Who against hope in hope kept on believing, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to what was spoken: So shall thy seed be! 19 And not at all weakened in his faith, he took full account of his own body, as in a dead condition (he being about a hundred years old), and also the deadness of Sarah’s womb, 20 but, looking unto God’s promise, he wavered not through unbelief, but on the contrary became inwardly strengthened through faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being full of assurance that what He had promised. He was able to perform. 22 Therefore also it [his faith] was reckoned to him as righteousness. 23 Now this was not written for his sake only, that it [his faith] was thus reckoned to him: 24 but for our sakes likewise; for it [our faith] will be reckoned [for righteousness] to us also who are believing on Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justifying.
Here, then, in verses 18 to 25 we have the difficult, though blessed and glorious, yea, and God-glorifying path of faith, exemplified in Abraham. He kept on in hope, believing contrary to all human hopes! There were many trials to his faith, the essence of the difficulty, however, always being to “look unto the promise of God” alone, and not to circumstances, or to the impossibility, according to the flesh, of the promise’s being fulfilled.
We inherit what Abraham believed for and received. Mark down two points, naming the first “A” for Abraham; and the second, “C” for Christ. Now draw a line from “A” to “C” and then onward, and let that line represent the line of God’s blessing. The promises of blessing were lodged in Abraham, and all conditions of blessing were fulfilled by Christ; and you and I merely step into the line of blessing from Abraham through Christ. It is good to be born into a good family on earth; how blessed to be in the great family of faith, the family of God, along with Abraham!
Satan hates active faith in a believer’s heart, and opposes it with all his power. The world, of course, is unbelieving, and despises those who claim only “the righteousness of faith.” The example of professing Christians generally is also against the path of simple faith. Among the “seven abominations” that Bunyan said he still found in his heart, was “a secret inclining to unbelief.” “Against hope,” against reason, against “feeling,” against opinions of others, against all human possibilities whatever, we are to keep believing.
This is the very article and essence of faith,9494 1. I cannot refrain from quoting John Bunyan’s Come and Welcome
to Jesus Christ, in his contrasts of faith and unbelief:
“Let me here give the Christian reader a more particular description of the Qualities of unbelief, by opposing faith unto it, in these particulars:
1. Faith believeth the Word of God, but unbelief questioneth the certainty of the same.
2. Faith believeth the word, because it is true, but unbelief doubteth thereof, because it is true.
3. Faith sees more in a promise of God to help than in all other things to hinder; but unbelief, notwithstanding God’s promise, saith. How can these things be?
4. Faith will make thee see love in the heart of Christ when with His mouth He giveth reproofs, but unbelief will imagine wrath in His heart when with His mouth and word He saith He loves us.
5. Faith will help the soul to wait, though God defers to give, but unbelief will snuff and throw up all, if God makes any tarrying.
6. Faith will give comfort in the midst of fears, but unbelief causeth fears in the midst of comforts.
7. Faith will suck sweetness out of God’s rod, but unbelief can find no comfort in the greatest mercies.
8. Faith maketh great burdens light, but unbelief maketh light ones intolerably heavy.
9. Faith helpeth us when we are down, but unbelief throws us down when we are up,
10. Faith bringeth us near to God when we are far from Him, but unbelief puts us far from God when we are near to Him.
11. Faith putteth a man under grace, but unbelief holdeth him under wrath.
12. Faith purifieth the heart, but unbelief keepeth it polluted and impure.
13. Faith maketh our work acceptable to God through Christ, but whatsoever is of unbelief is sin, for without faith it is impossible to please Him,
14. Faith giveth us peace and comfort in our souls, but unbelief worketh trouble and tossings like the restless waves of the sea.
15. Faith maketh us see preciousness in Christ, but unbelief sees no form, beauty, or comeliness in Him.
16. By faith we have our life in Christ’s fulness, but by unbelief we starve and pine away.
17. Faith gives us the victory over the law, sin, death, the devil, and all evils; but unbelief layeth us obnoxious to them all.
18. Faith will show us more excellency in things not seen than in them that are, but unbelief sees more of things that are than in things that will be hereafter.
19. Faith makes the ways of God pleasant and admirable, but unbelief makes them heavy and hard.
20. By faith Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob possessed the land of promise; but because of unbelief neither Aaron, nor Moses, nor Miriam could get thither.
21. By faith the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea, but by unbelief the generality of them perished in the wilderness.
22. By faith Gideon did more with three hundred men and a few empty pitchers than all the twelve tribes could do, because they believed not God.
23. By faith Peter walked on the water, but by unbelief he began to sink. thus might many more be added, which, for brevity’s sake, I omit, beseeching every one that thinketh he hath a soul to save or be damned to take heed of unbelief lest, seeing there is a promise left us of entering into His rest, any of us by unbelief should indeed come short of it.” that it reckons as God does,—that is, upon God as described here, giving life not to the feeble, but to the dead, to those who cannot be “recovered” or “helped” or so wrought upon or patched up as to become something that they were not before; but who are absolutely hopeless, dead!
That God should call the things that are not as being, is what faith rejoices in! Only God could call things thus. Abraham becomes before our eyes the particular shining example of this.
Verse 19: His own body as in a dead condition—“he considered”9595The King James Version along with certain commentators reads “considered not.” William Kelly says: “There is excellent and perhaps adequate authority of every kind (mss., versions and ancient citations) for dropping the negative particle.” It is remarkable in this nineteenth verse that whichever reading we adopt, the resultant statement is not inconsistent with the context, though the two readings are opposite as can be. it, and knew it to be thus, and was therefore wholly hopeless in himself. Moreover, Abraham knew Sarah was “past age,” unable to bear a child. He had before him, then, himself as dead, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. But he also had before him the promise of God: “Thou shalt become a father of many nations”; “So shall thy seed be.”
Verse 20: It was plainly and only a question of the veracity
of God, and of His ability to carry out what He had promised. Abraham, therefore,
believed9696 1.The moral grandeur, yea, sublimity, of Abraham’s position cannot
be put into human description.
Alone (except for Melchizedek) in a world that had left God, Abraham became by his faith, the silver thread that bound his seed to the God the world had deserted! Out from Eden man had gone, and then away from God’s presence, to found, in Cain’s city, a state of human affairs with God left out. Condemned and judged by the Deluge, they had built their proud Babel-tower. Scattered, again by Divine judgment, over the earth, they set up wood and stone “gods,” and sacrificed to demons, glorifying the very lusts of their degradation: such was man’s state, without God and without hope, in the world.
Walking by a principle the world could not know, direct faith in God as He is,—as He reveals Himself step by step to this friend of His, Abraham comes quietly, but how wondrously, upon the scene. Even the Hittites, though they said of him, “Thou art a prince of God among us,” yet knew him not,—neither Abraham, nor his blessed God.
Faith in God cannot be understood, nor those who have it known, except by the men of faith. And because real faith in God enters into all the walk and ways of a trusting soul, such a one becomes, like Abraham, a “stranger and pilgrim on earth.”
The Lots, the Ishmaels, one by one, withdraw from Abraham. He dwelt at “Hebron,” which word means “communion.” Lot, though saved at last, walked as a worldling,—“by sight.” Ishmael, as after him Esau, knew nothing of God.
But Abraham knew, and progressed steadily in knowledge of his God, even to the ready offering of Isaac upon the altar.
There was a seven-fold revelation of God to Abraham: First, it was as “the God of glory” that He appeared first in Ur of the Chaldees (Acts 7:2). Second, He revealed Himself to him as Jehovah (Gen. 12:8; 14:22; 15:2, 8),—although not opening to him, as afterwards to Moses in Israel the meaning of that Name (Ex. 3:15); third, as El Elyon, God Most High, “Possessor of heaven and earth”: and the Disposer of lands, and kings: (Gen. 14:19 to 22; Dan 3:26; 4.2; 5:18, 21); fourth, as Lord (Adonai, Jehovah—15:2, 8); fifth, as El Shaddai, the Almighty God (17:1); sixth, as “the Everlasting God” (21:33); and seventh, as Jehova-Jireh” (22:14): The God who will Provide,—Especially, a Lamb for sacrifice (22:8).
Christ, in His ministry on earth, said “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad!” And, finally, Paul tells us in Hebrews 11 that this great man of faith “looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose Architect and Maker is God” (Heb. 11:10),—that is, the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21; 22. Thus Abraham was taken into God’s complete confidence—as he himself had had complete confidence in God! “The Friend of God”—what a title! No angel or seraph had that name! in Jehovah (Gen. 15:5, 6); and he wavered not through unbelief, but became inwardly strengthened through faith, giving glory to God; and also even Sarah herself “counted Him faithful who had promised; and received power to conceive seed.”
We find in Genesis 17:17 that Abraham not only
considered the natural deadness of his body, but also brought up the question before
the Lord: “Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall
Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” But, Jehovah having answered his objection
with a definite promise, Abraham thereafter refused to have his faith weakened by
any natural thought of himself and Sarah, but set God’s promise only before his
mind, without wavering,9797 The word translated “wavered” (Rom. 4:20),
originally means to discriminate; then to learn or decide by discrimination; then
to dispute or contend inwardly; then to be at variance with oneself, to hesitate,
doubt. See Thayer’s Lexicon, where he finally translates: “Abraham did not hesitate
through want of faith.”
Uncertainty, inward balancings and strugglings of faith with unbelief (as the father of the demoniac cried, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”) such was not the state of Abraham’s soul. Having committed himself to God’s promise, which was wholly beyond human possibility, he went steadily forward. This had the double result of giving glory to the God whom he believed, and of making Abraham himself stronger and stronger in faith.
Two travelers on their way home came to a river frozen over, but evidently not as yet with thick ice. One said, “I am afraid that ice will not bear my weight,” and he sat down in the cold. The other said, “I am going home,” and strode forward over the ice with steady step. He had committed himself! He refused to look at circumstances; and every step strengthened his resolve to go ahead. He reached the other bank, and eventually his home. The other man stayed back in the cold.
Mr. Moody used to say, “Unbelief sees something in God’s hand, and says, I wish I had that. Faith sees it, and says, I will have it!—and gets it.” As one has said: “The steps of faith fall upon the seeming void,
And find the rock beneath!” as “double-minded” people, in their doubting, do (James 1:6-8, R.V.). Indeed, his constancy was such that it evidently wrought upon the doubting Sarah, who learned that He was “faithful who had promised.”9898God let Abraham wait many years, over thirteen at least (compare Gen. 16:16 with Gen. 17:1) before He began to let him realize the promises in the birth of Isaac. Sarah’s incredulous but eager laugh (Gen. 18:12, 13, 15) Jehovah charged her sternly with; for He had before when Abraham laughed (Gen. 17:16-19), named the son whom she was to bear “Isaac”—which means laughter! Thus both Abraham and Sarah thought this thing “too good to be true”; but God in faithfulness brought it to pass. And we remember the happy laughter into which Sarah finally entered: “Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh; every one that heareth will laugh with me” (Gen. 21:5-7). Every time she spoke the name “Isaac” she could remember her doubt, and how gracious Jehovah had been to her.
Verse 21: Being full of assurance that what He had promised. He was able to perform. What a blessed assurance of faith, resting wholly upon God’s performance of what He had promised,—how that puts us to shame! Since Abraham’s day we have the written Word; and Christ has come Yet how often we doubt!9999“We have also a precious suggestion of some reasons (if we may say so) why God prescribes Faith as the condition of the justification of a sinner. Faith, we see, is an act of the soul which looks wholly away from ‘self (as regards both merit and demerit), and honours the Almighty and All-graciousin a way not indeed in the least meritorious (because merely reasonable, after all), but yet such as to ‘touch the hem of His garment.’ It brings His creatures to Him in the one right attitude—complete submission and confidence. We thus see, in part, why faith, and only faith, is the way to reach and touch the Merit (value and power) of the Propitiation”—Moule.
Verse 22: Now God tells us that His word concerning Abraham, that “his faith was reckoned as righteousness,” was written not for him only, but for us, also,—for all Abraham’s children. There is no more striking description of the principle and process of faith than in this passage. Look at the “also” of verse 22: Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him as righteousness. That evidently looks toward Genesis 22; at the end of Abraham’s testing time, when he offered up Isaac. Let us see what is here:
(1) We are not told that Abraham was reckoned righteous because of the vision of the God of glory that was vouchsafed to him in Ur of the Chaldees (Acts 7:2). Nor do we read that he was reckoned righteous because he forsook his own land and was brought to the land of Canaan, nor because he built altars to Jehovah and worshipped him; nor because he had such high courage as to slaughter the kings and deliver Lot. All these things occurred before the amazing scene of Genesis 15: where God proposed to him something absolutely impossible of accomplishment, except in God Himself.
(2) Abraham was reckoned righteous when he “believed in Jehovah,” in His word, to bring about concerning Abraham something that could not humanly be—that he should be a “father of nations.” God came to him years after this (Genesis 17), commanding him to change his name from Abram, “high father” (but desolate, like a lonely peak), to Abraham, “father of a multitude.” And Abraham obeyed, and changed his name thus; although God had just rejected Ishmael, the only offspring he had in sight, from being the seed of promise and covenant!
(3) Abraham “gave glory to God,” because he counted on God’s bringing
to pass His word, about that which only His glorious power could effect; a thing
completely outside human possibility, but which all God’s faithfulness and truth
were pledged to accomplish. Thus Abraham let God in upon the scene, to act according
to His own truth and power. Probably at that time he was the only man on earth who
was giving God His due praise as the God of truth, who has “magnified His Word above
all His Name” (Ps. 138:2). Our reason, yea, and our conscience
also, keep telling us that right living is essentially better than right believing;
but both conscience and reason are wrong!100100 Ernest Gordon in the Sunday School Times says, “A French Unitarian
preacher, M. Lauriol, in speaking at the recent synod of Agen, said, ‘Purity of
heart and life is more important than correctness of opinion,’ to which Dean Doumergue
answers shrewdly, ‘Healing is more important than the remedy, but without the remedy,
there would be no healing.’”
Faith is the only faculty by which we can lay hold of God. “Let him take hold of My strength,” is God’s command (Isa. 27:5). But we cannot reach His greatness—we are dust. We cannot look upon His face, for He dwelleth in light unapproachable. We cannot apprehend His wisdom, for it is infinite, incomprehensible ,—“reasonings of the wise, (regarding God) are vain,” Then how shall we lay hold of God at all? By believing Him! The weakest of men can believe what God tells him! Praise be to His Name! Faith, simple faith, connects us with the Mighty One! Paul says, “The faith of God’s elect” involves “the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness” (Titus 1:1). “Purity of heart and life” without the correct, accurate, constant teaching of doctrine,—“the doctrine which is according to godliness” (I Tim. 6:3)—is simply a philosopher’s speculation or a Romanist’s lie, or a “Modernist’s” imagination.
(4) Jehovah reckoned Abraham righteous not because he was either righteous or holy, but acting absolutely, and entirely according to Himself—who “giveth life to the dead” (Abraham was dead: he could beget no seed); and “calleth the things that are not” (Abraham was a sinner, not righteous in himself) “as though they were.”
(5) The purpose, then, of God concerning Abraham, Abraham thus allowed God to fulfil. Some day you will see Abraham just as righteous and holy in character and in evident fact, as His God, in that far day, reckoned him. It was not however, on the ground of what God would make him in the future that He reckoned Abraham righteous when he believed Him. The ground, as we see plainly in 3:25, was Christ set forth as a propitiation,—through faith in Christ’s blood. For “God set Him forth as a propitiation . . . because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime” (that is, by Abraham and by all who lived before Christ’s death).
God had His own foreknown ground, Christ, as the Lamb “without blemish and without spot,” foreknown “before the foundation of the world” (I Pet. 1:19, 20). We keep repeating these things because of the continual tendency of our wretched hearts to find some cause in ourselves, or in our own faithfulness, for God’s reckoning us righteous.
(6) Verses 23 and 24: Now it was not written for his sake only, that it was reckoned unto him, but for our sakes likewise, for it [our faith] will be reckoned [as righteousness] to us also who are believing on Him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. This is a blessed and sweet revelation for believers, that we, like Abraham, have righteousness reckoned to us; and that the story in Genesis was “written for our sake.” The Old Testament is a living book for God’s real saints!
But we must remember that God’s methods with faith are always the same. Abraham’s faith was tried: are not we also told to expect the trial of our faith?101101Satan, our deadly foe, has one target at which he constantly aims,—the faith of a believer. We believe that Satan’s whole effort is engaged directly against faith in Christ. Millions of demons—unclean spirits, dumb spirits, lying spirits—swarm the air of this earth to carry on, together with those angelic principalities and powers who fell with Satan, the terrible program, with its “lusts of the flesh” and “of the eyes,” and “the vainglory of life,” called in Ephesians 2:2 “the course of this world” (literally,—the aion of this cosmos, that is, the present stage of this world-order). But Satan himself, filled with hellish jealousy against the Son of Man who came and spoiled the strong man’s house (in the wilderness temptation); and triumphed over all Satan’s baits at Calvary, when He put away the sin of the world from God’s sight (a fact which is true already, as Satan, and instructed saints, well know, and which will be made good openly soon, in the new heavens and new earth),—Satan himself, we say, is at present chiefly occupied blinding men to the redemption and glory that are in Christ, and in preventing and hindering the progress of every believer. Every one who confesses the Lord Jesus is openly challenged by the prince of this world. It is well that “the God of peace shall bruise Satan under our feet shortly!” But God meanwhile says, “Whom resist, steadfast in your faith!”
There is also a beautiful message in the literal rendering of verse 24, that can scarcely be supplied in English: It was on account of us also, unto whom it [righteousness] is about to be reckoned, to those who believe—as if God were eager (as indeed He is) to write down righteous those who believe His testimony concerning His Son!
Note two things here: First, it is upon God we believe. The very God who was, in the opening chapters of the Epistle, bringing all of us under His judgment, without righteousness and helpless to attain it, is here believed on; as our Lord Jesus indeed said in John 12:44: “He that believeth on Me, believeth not on Me, but on Him that sent Me.”
But, second, it is upon Him as having raised Jesus our Lord from the dead that we believe on God in verse 24. It is not merely on the God who set forth Christ to be a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, but it is on the God who has set a public seal to the truth of our Lord’s last words, “It is finished,” by raising Him from the dead. “He is not here, but is risen,” was the angel’s word that thrilled those saints early at His tomb. And since then He has been received up in glory, and the Holy Spirit has come, witnessing to the amazing fact that the One who hung on a Roman cross, numbered with transgressors by men, and forsaken of God in the just judgment of our sins, was raised and glorified by the same God who forsook Him on Calvary. This glorious fact should be held fast by our hearts. For not only does God’s raising up Christ prove our sins to have been put away; but a Risen Christ becomes a new place for us! We were justified from all things by His blood; we are now set by God in Christ Risen!
And thus we are prepared for the last great verse in this blessed chapter.
Verse 25: Who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justifying. Here we have Jesus our Lord delivered up for our offences. Now the Greek word for “delivered up” occurs again in Chapter 8:32: “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” The meaning is evident: on account of our trespasses, of what you and I have done, our Lord was delivered up by a holy God to bear our sin, with its guilt and penalty, even to God’s forsaking His Son: for He must otherwise have forsaken us forever!—yea, to His smiting our Substitute instead of smiting us: “He was bruised for our iniquities.”
And was raised for our justifying—This must be the sense here: for we are not justified till we believe. Furthermore, if Christ’s resurrection was merely to prove that we had been justified (as some teach), a verb-construction would have been used, which would signify, on account of our having been justified. But God uses the noun-construction (dikaiōsis) meaning, “the act of justifying”; showing that Christ’s resurrection was for the purpose of justifying us, positively, in a Risen Christ, (Compare 5:10)
Matthew Henry says: “In Christ’s death He paid our debt; in His resurrection, He took out our acquittance.” But Scripture goes much further in this matter of justification than the satisfaction of all claims of God’s justice against us. We are set in a new place of acceptance, the Risen Christ, that has nothing to do with our old place. God will now go on to “create us in Christ Jesus.” It will be “justification of life,” as we shall see in Chapter Five.
Only, we repeat, let us always remember that we are justified as ungodly, and now we are “new creatures in Christ Jesus.’ Here, indeed, is a great mystery. God does not declare us righteous as connected with the old Adam—old creatures, we might say. Nor does He declare us righteous because we are new creatures. But God that calleth the things not existing as existing, acts in justification, declaring the ungodly who believe on Him, righteous: not because of any process of His operation upon the creature, but by His own fiat, reckoning to the beliving one the whole work of Christ on his behalf. This involves God’s giving this ungodly believing one a standing in Christ Risen; and God will go on by an act of creation, to cause him to share Christ’s risen life, which is justification of life. But it is as ungodly that he is declared righteous. We must hold fast to this, the first point of the gospel (I Cor. 15:3).
We are indeed said to be justified by or in His blood (5:9), but if there had been no resurrection, His death would have availed us nothing. So Paul says that both Peter and he were “justified in Christ” (Gal. 2:17): that is, in the Risen Christ, in view, of course, of His finished work on the cross. When our Lord said, “It is finished,” He announced the penalty paid for every believer that shall be. But He lay under the power of death for three days and nights, His body in Joseph’s tomb and His spirit in Paradise.
Now justification involves not only, negatively, the putting away of our guilt; but, positively, a new place and standing. For the old Adam was utterly condemned, as his history, and the law, and finally the cross, fully showed. If I am a sinner, and my sins are transferred to the head of Christ my Substitute, and He bears the penalty of them in death, then where am I, if Christ be not raised? His death and resurrection are one and inseparable as regards justification. Christ being raised up, God announces to me, “Not only were your sins put away by Christ’s blood, so that you are justified from all things; but I have also raised up Christ; and you shall have your standing in Him. I have given you this faith in a Risen Christ, and announce to you that in Him alone now is your place and standing. Judgment is forever past for you, both as concerns your sin, and as concerns My demand that you have a standing of holiness and righteousness of your own before Me. All this is past. Christ is now your standing! He is your life and your righteousness; and you need nothing of your own forever. I made Christ to become sin on your ‘behalf, identified Him with all that you were, in order that you might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
I must here quote the vigorous, triumphant words of Martin Luther, from his commentary on Galatians, touching these words, “delivered up for OUR trespasses”: “Christ verily is the innocent, as concerning His own person, and the unspotted and undefiled Lamb of God, and therefore He ought not to have been hanged upon a tree: but because, according to the law of Moses, every thief and malefactor ought to be hanged, therefore Christ also, according to the law, ought to be hanged. For He sustained the person of a sinner and of a thief: not of one, but of all sinners and thieves. For He being made a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, is not now an innocent person, but a sinner which hath and carrieth the sin of Paul, who was a blasphemer, an oppressor, a persecutor; of Peter, who denied Christ; of David, who was an adulterer and a murderer; and, briefly, Christ, who hath and beareth the sin of all men in His own body, not that He Himself committed them, but for that He received them, being committed or done of us, and laid upon His own body, that He might make satisfaction for them with His own blood. Therefore whatsoever sins I, thou, and we all have done and shall do, hereafter, they are Christ’s own sins, as verily as if He Himself had done them. To be brief, our sin must needs become Christ’s own sin, or else we shall perish forever.
“Also learn this definition diligently (‘Who was delivered for OUR trespasses’), that this one syllable being believed, may swallow up all thy sins: that thou mayest know assuredly, that Christ hath taken away the sins, not of certain men only, but also of thee. Then let thy sins be not sins only, but even thy own sins indeed.
“Thus may we be able to answer the devil accusing us, saying, Thou art a sinner, thou shalt be damned. No, say I, for I flee unto Christ who hath given Himself for my sins. Therefore, Satan, thou shalt not prevail against me in that thou goest about to terrify me, in setting forth the greatness of my sins, and so to bring me into heaviness, distrust, despair, hatred, contempt, and blaspheming of God. Yea, rather, in that thou sayest, I am a sinner, thou givest me armour and weapons against thyself, that with thine own sword I may cut thy throat, and tread thee under my feet; for Christ died for sinners! Moreover, Satan, thou thyself preachest unto me the glory of God; for thou puttest me in mind of God’s fatherly love toward me, wretched and damned sinner: ‘Who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). And as often as thou objectest that I am a sinner, so often thou callest me to remembrance of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer, upon whose shoulders, and not upon mine, lay all my sins; for the Lord hath laid all our iniquity upon Him’ (Isa. 53:6). Again, ‘For the transgressions of His people was He smitten’ (53:8). Wherefore, when thou sayest I am a sinner, thou dost not terrify me, but comfortest me above measure.”
So Paul closes his setting forth of this great resurrection side of our salvation, saying, He was raised for our justifying. Doubtless other and eternal ends were in view in God’s raising up Christ; but lay fast hold of this, that in your case it was for the purpose of declaring you who believe righteous, that God raised Christ. And further, of giving you a hitherto unheard of place, to be in Christ, one with Him before God forever, loved as Christ is loved, seen in all the perfectness and beauty of Christ Himself, glorified with Him, associated with Him as companions, that He might be the First-born among many brethren!
There is no limit to God’s favor toward those in Christ!
I. What It Is Not
1. It is not regeneration, the impartation of life in Christ; for although it is “justification of life”—meaning God will give life to the justified, he is justified as ungodly.
2. It is not “a new heart,” or “change of heart,”—indefinite expressions at best, but having in them no proper definition of justification.
3. It is not “making an unjust man just,” in his life and behavior. The English word justified, as we all know, comes from the Latin word meaning to make just or righteous; but this is exactly what justification is not, in Scripture.
4. It is not to be confused with sanctification; which is the state of those placed in Christ,—“sanctified in Christ Jesus”; and consequently the manner of their walk in the Spirit.
II What It Is
1. It is a declaration by God in heaven concerning a man, that he stands righteous in God’s sight.
2. God justifies a man, on the basis or ground of the “redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24). See 5:6: We are “justified by [or in] His blood”;—the blood the procuring ground, or means; God the acting Person.
3. God who has already acted judicially, in pronouncing the whole world guilty (Rom. 3:19), now again acts judicially concerning that sinner who becomes convinced of his guilt and helplessness, and believes that God’s Word concerning Christ’s expiatory sacrifice applies to himself; and thus becomes “of faith in Jesus” (3:26,RSV, margin): God’s judicial102102”Wherefore as condemnation is not the infusing of a habit of wickedness into him that is condemned, nor the making of him to be inherently wicked who was before righteous, but the passing of a sentence upon a man with respect to his wickedness; no more is justification the change of a person from inherent unrighteousness by the infusion of a principle of grace, but a sentential declaration of him to be righteous” (i.e., in his standing before God)—John Owen. pronouncement now is, that such a believing one stands righteous in His sight.
4. Justification, or declaring-righteous, therefore, is the reckoning by God to a believing sinner of the whole value of the infiinte work of Christ on the cross; and, further, His connecting this believing sinner with the Risen Christ in glory, giving him the same acceptance before Himself as has Christ: so that the believer is now “the righteousness of God in Him” (Christ).
Negatively, then, God in justifying a sinner reckons to him the putting away of sin by Christ’s blood. Positively, He places him in Christ: he is one with Christ forever before God!
Wondrous prize of our high calling!
Speed we on to this,
Past the cities of the angels,—
Farther into bliss;
On into the depths eternal
Of the love and song,
Where in God the Father’s glory
Christ has waited long;
There to find that none beside Him
God’s delight can be:
Not BESIDE HIM, NAY, BUT IN HIM,
O BELOVED ARE WE!
—C. P. C., in Hymns of Ter Steegen.
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