On the Epistle to the Romans 4

Romans 4  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 8
But there was yet another proof that righteousness does not come from works of the law; namely, the example of Abraham, who had the promises before the law was given or promulgated. The apostle makes use of this part of Israel's history and privileges in order to establish his main principle. " What shall we then say of Abraham? " he asks. " For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Thus the principle of justification by faith is fully established in the example of Abraham. It is not of works; were it so, then the reward would have to be regarded, not as of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, faith is reckoned for righteousness. And it was with David as with Abraham. (The apostle adduces the example of these two men, because they form the chief sources of Israel's blessing.) David also describes the blessedness of the man whom God justifies without works, saying, " Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord doth not impute sin." Acceptance in Christ goes farther, it is true; but here, with regard to man's responsibility, we have the truth expressed, that for those who believe in Christ all is accomplished. Sin is not imputed to them at all; they are free from all guilt; there is no more any charge against them forever. Of our position in Christ the apostle speaks later on. To be accepted in a new position in Christ, according to the value and acceptance of Christ before God, goes farther than justification. But this justification is perfect for us as responsible men.
But now arises the question, Is this blessing only for Israel? The example of Abraham decides this also. Faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. But when? Was it when he was in circumcision or when still in uncircumcision? In uncircumcision. We see, then, in this old decisive example of Abraham that, according to the will and declaration of God, the faith of an uncircumcised man is reckoned to him for righteousness. Circumcision was given afterward to Abraham as seal of the righteousness of faith which he had being uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all them that believe, as well of the uncircumcised (that after his example righteousness might be imputed to them also) as of the circumcised, so that he is the father of a true circumcision, not only of those who are of the circumcision, but also of all believers, who, in separation to God, walk in the footsteps of Abraham's faith which he had in uncircumcision.
Moreover, the promise that Abraham should be the heir of the world was not given through the law either to him or to his seed, but through the righteousness of faith; for the law came much later. Thus the whole history of Israel proves that it is not through the law that one participates in the blessing, but through faith. For if they which are of the law, as such, are heirs, then the promise is annulled, and faith by which Abraham received it is in vain and without result. More than this, the law worketh wrath; for where no law is, there is no transgression; sin indeed exists, but one cannot transgress what is not commanded or forbidden. But the apostle further develops from the Scriptures this fundamental principle of the blessing of believers from the Gentiles. He says, " Therefore 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" (believers of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews), " before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were " (v. 16, 17). These words contain a new truth. They point to the power of resurrection, to the power of giving life where all lies in death, to creative power. This power admitted the Gentiles also. Abraham counted upon it when his body was in a manner already dead, and Sarah's womb likewise. All depends for faith upon the activity of this power which brings about what God wills. It is not only that there is presented a mercy-seat for all those who draw nigh through faith in the blood of Christ to the place where God meets with the sinner, but there is a power which there, where there was nothing, creates children for itself out of dead souls. Still there is a difference between Abraham's faith and ours. He believed, and rightly so, that God could raise the dead; we believe that God has done it. And this is a very important difference. Abraham was right in believing God's own word; we have the same faith, but it is founded upon a finished work, and there the soul finds rest. Christ is risen. He, who was once offered for our offenses, has been raised again that we may believe and be justified.