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THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISLE TO THE ROMANS CHAPTER 4, VERSES 1 to 25:
4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
4:3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
4:4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
4:6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
4:7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
4:8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
4:9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
4:10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
4:11 And 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:
4:12 And 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.
4:13 For 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.
4:14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
4:15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
4:16 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,
4:17 (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.
4:18 Who 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.
4:19 And 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 Sarah’s womb:
4:20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
4:21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
4:22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
4:23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
4:24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
4:25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
Section 6 Romans 3:27-4:25
Structure of second part of section, as found in chapter 4
|6(d)||4:1-5||The boasting of the natural man excluded|
|6(e)||4:6-8||The blessedness of the forgiven man explained|
|6(f)||4:9-12||The blessing for any man ensured|
|6(g)||4:13-22||The behaviour of the believing man examined|
|6(h)||4:23-25||The belief in the Risen Man expected|
6(d) The boasting of the natural man excluded
4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham- Abraham’s name originally was Abram, meaning “exalted father.” God changed this to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude,” after He had promised to make him the father of many nations. The teaching of the chapter revolves around various aspects of the fatherhood of Abraham.
It might be helpful at this point to list the events in Abraham’s life that are singled out by New Testament writers.
1. The God of glory appears to Abram in Ur, Acts 7:2, and he responds in faith, Hebrews 11:8.
2. He reaches Canaan and lives there in faith, Genesis 12:5, Hebrews 11:9.
3. God promises him a son, and Abraham believes God, Genesis 15:5,6; Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6.
4. Abraham listens to Sarah’s suggestion, and fathers a son, Ishmael, by Hagar, Genesis 16:2,15.
5. Thirteen silent years pass, Genesis 16:16; 17:1.
6. The promise to Abraham, “A father of many nations have I made thee”, Genesis 17:4, Romans 4:17. His name is changed from Abram, “exalted father,” to Abraham, “father of a multitude,” in remembrance of this promise, Genesis 17:5.
7. Abraham and Sarah are both strengthened in faith, and Isaac is born, Romans 4:19-21, Hebrews 11:11.
8. Abraham offers Isaac on Moriah, as an act of faith, Hebrews 11:17, obedience, Genesis 22:18, and the act of a righteous man, James 2:21-24.
Our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?- the literal order of the words is- “Abraham our father has found according to the flesh.” In other words, we should connect “according to the flesh” with “found”, and not with “father.” It is not the natural fatherhood of Abraham that is in view, because Gentile Christians do not have him as their natural father. The question on the mind of the apostle is what discovery did Abraham make as a natural man?
4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory- if, as a natural man, Abraham had been able to earn justification, then he would have had reason to boast in his achievement.
But not before God- such a theoretical justification would not be valid before God, for, as the apostle goes on to show, God’s dealings with Abraham were not on that basis.
4:3 For what saith the scripture?- Paul had stated in 3:21 that the righteousness of God was witnessed by the law and the prophets. He had appealed to the prophet Habakkuk in 1:17, and now he appeals to the law in this verse, (meaning the writings of Moses), by quoting Genesis 15:6. Note the present tense of “saith,” for the apostle believes in the living, up-to-date voice of the scriptures, being God’s word.
Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness- this is a quotation from Genesis 15:6, after Abraham had declared that he was an old man who was soon to die childless. In response God showed him the multitude of the stars in the sky, and promised “so shall thy seed be.” Abram accepted what God said, even though it was naturally impossible for him and Sarah his wife to have a son. This is the essence of faith, the acceptance of God’s word without reserve, even though it goes against natural reasoning. The apostle deliberately uses an incident in the life of Abraham which does not involve him in any activity, such as moving from Ur in faith, Hebrews 11:8, or building an altar, Genesis 12:7. Note that in verse 5 the apostle uses the expression found in Genesis 15:6, “believed in God”, which emphasizes trust and confidence in the person of God, whereas in verse 3 the apostle quotes the passage as “believed God”, which emphasizes faith in His word; in Abraham’s case the word was “so shall thy seed be”. For believing God, see John 5:24, (noting that “on” is in italics), and for believing on God, see John 6:29. The latter has to do with His ability, the former with His credibility. “Counted unto him for righteousness” means that God was prepared to count, or reckon, Abraham to be a righteous man, on the basis of his faith. It was not that Abraham was now perfect, but rather that God was prepared to think of him as a righteous man. The basis on which God did this was the then-future work of the Lord Jesus at Calvary, as explained in 3:25.
4:4 Now to him that worketh- the apostle gives an everyday illustration to show the difference between justification (being counted righteous) by works, and by grace. He had said in 3:24 that justification is by God’s grace, and now he shows this in practice.
Is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt- during the working week the workman puts his employer under obligation, and he discharges this obligation by paying the appropriate wages (reward). God cannot be placed under obligation by any of His creatures, however, so any benefit He gives must be on the basis of grace, i.e. His free favour. To try to earn justification by works is pointless, since if God were to bless on that basis it would be at the expense of His own honour as the God of grace. Needless to say, God will never dishonour Himself in this or any other way.
4:5 But to him that worketh not- the “but” introduces the alternative to working for righteousness. “Worketh not” involves a man renouncing all idea of being able to earn salvation by works.
But believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly- the opposite of working is resting, and this is what faith does, rests on the promises of the God who blesses in grace. The ungodly are the impious, those who act contrary to God. We might be surprised that the apostle uses this strong word here, but he is preparing the way for the next example, that of David, in whose case it was a question of forgiveness of hideous sins. When David confessed those sins in Psalm 51 he spoke of having sinned against God. By using this severe word, the apostle assures us that the grace of God is not limited at all, for even daring rebels may be justified.
His faith is counted for righteousness- even an ungodly man’s faith is valid, and finds a response from God, since the point about faith is who it is resting in. Of course, the ungodliness goes when he believes.
6(e) The blessedness of the forgiven man described
4:6,7 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness withpout works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered- in Psalm 32:1 quoted here, the word blessed is in the plural, signifying most blessed. This can be translated “spiritually prosperous”. Instead of the misery of unconfessed sins, David now experiences the bliss of sins forgiven. Iniquities are lawless acts, and David had been guilty of breaking the sixth commandment of the law by having Uriah slain; the seventh by taking Bathsheba whilst her husband was still alive; the eighth commandment by stealing another’s wife; the ninth commandment by deceiving Uriah into thinking he was in favour with the king; and the tenth commandment by coveting his neighbour’s wife. Not only are iniquities or lawless acts forgiven by the One against whom they were committed, but the sins are covered, indicating that they were no longer under the eye of God. If God covers sins, they will never be uncovered. The lawlessness of David was in marked contrast to the concern of Uriah for the welfare of the ark, which contained the tables of the law, 2 Samuel 11:11.
4:8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin- not only was David forgiven, but by the grace of God he was still reckoned to be a righteous man; his fall, although regrettable and dishonorable, had not altered his standing before God. So Abraham illustrates the principle of the imputation of righteousness, whereas David illustrates the principle of the non-imputation of sin, whether past sins, or sins in the future, (note the “will”). The fact that both Abraham and David were believers before these events took place does not alter the principle.
6(f) The blessing for any man ensured
4:9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only?- does the use of David, a circumcised Jew, as an illustration, mean that the blessedness of having one’s sins forgiven is only available to Jews?
Or upon the uncircumcision also?- Can Gentiles know this forgiveness? For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness- the apostle reverts to Abraham, his principle example in this passage, and restates the substance of verse 5, after which he had referred to David.
4:10 How was it then reckoned? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?- this is the critical question. At what point in his career did Abraham believe God, and was reckoned righteous?
Not in circumcision- the apostle puts this first in order that his denial might be unmistakeable. Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised.
But in uncircumcision- which means that those who are not circumcised, that is, are Gentiles, may come into the same blessing as Abraham. See Galatians 3:14.
4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision- the sign consisting of circumcision. A seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised- the rite of circumcision was required by God as a sign that he was in covenant relationship with God. But he only had this covenant relationship because he was a believer. So the circumcision became a seal or confirmation of the reality of his faith. As far as Abraham’s physical descendants were concerned, circumcision was simply a sign that they were of Abraham’s line- it said nothing about their personal relationship to God. That he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also- Abraham was not the first man to exercise faith, but he is specially taken up by God as an example or role-model to those who believe; in this way his characteristics have been passed on, and in this sense he is their father, even though they are neither descended naturally from him, nor are circumcised.
4:12 And the father of circumcision- not only is Abraham an example of faith, but he also demonstrates the principle of separation, the idea behind circumcision, a cutting off from the things of man to be involved in the things of God.
To them who are not of the circumcision only- he is this example to all who believe, whether they were physically circumcised before, or not.
But who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised- believing Jews and Gentiles may find in Abraham one to follow, as he marks out the pathway of faith.
6(c) The behaviour of the believing man examined
The apostle has asked “Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles?” and had answered his own question in 4:1-12, by the use of two Old Testament worthies, Abraham and David. Now he highlights the character of the God of Abraham and David, by further references to the life of Abraham.
4:13 For 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- God gave promises to Abraham because, having believed God, he was now righteous by faith. Abraham is here described ashHeir of the world. it is not just the promised land now, but the whole earth. In the final sense the seed of Abraham is Christ, Galatians 3:16,17, and He will inherit the earth, Psalm 2:8. Believers are “joint-heirs with Christ,” Romans 8:17, see also Galatians 3:29, 4:1, so that all that Christ inherits, His people inherit too.
4:14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of no effect- if the inheritance is on the basis of merit, then all is lost, because as soon as we seek to gain merit by works, the law confronts us as those who are trangressors unfit to inherit. If no-one inherits, the promise has not achieved its purpose.
4:15 Because the law worketh wrath- the law exposes man’s failure which merits Divine wrath.
For where no law is, there is no transgression- only in the absence of law is there absence of transgression, which in turn means absence of wrath. But since the Jew has the law on tables of stone, and the Gentile has the law written in his heart, 2:15, then both are exposed to wrath, being unable to keep the law.
4:16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace- the line of thought regarding the promise resumes from verse 13. Because God’s promise is on the basis of grace (favour shown), not works (merit demanded), then it is sure to all those who believe.
That the promise might be sure to all the seed- considered as being of two origins.
Not to that only which is of the law- meaning Christians who were formerly Jews.
But to that also which is of the faith of Abraham- meaning Christians who were formerly Gentiles. As previously explained, this faith of Abraham’s was exercised when he was not circumcised, and therefore no different to a Gentile. The apostle is not speaking of two groups of people, Jews under law and Gentiles under faith, because that would contradict his former statement that those under law do not inherit, verse 13.
4:17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations”)- The promise here mentioned was given to Abraham in Genesis 17:5, after which God commanded him to be circumcised as a token of the covenant He had made with him. Paul no doubt chooses this promise because of its connection with circumcision, and also because it implies that Abraham would have a son, or else he could not be the father of many nations. It is Abraham’s reaction to the promise of a son that is developed in the next verses.
Before Him whom he believed- compare this with Genesis 17:1, which implies that Abraham had not walked before God wholeheartedly (perfectly) after Ishmael was born.
Even God, who quickeneth the dead- Abraham is now acting in the light of the fact that God is able to quicken his body, and that of Sarah, so that they have a child. This strengthened him in faith in preparation for the offering of Isaac on Moriah, for if God could bring life out of his dead body, He could also raise Isaac from the dead if he offered him as a sacrifice, Hebrews 11:17-19.
And calleth those things that be not, as though they were- so sure is the birth of a son to Abraham that he can be named by God before his conception, Genesis 17:19.
4:18 Who against hope- when all natural hopes of having a child were gone, and when natural reason said the situation was hopeless.
Believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations- his faith in God was exercised on the sure basis of the hope God’s promise gave him. Hope is not the object of his faith, but God’s promise gives him a foundation for his hope.
According to that which was spoken, “So shall thy seed be”- his faith as he believed in God’s promise of a son, can be expressed in terms of his initial faith in Genesis 15:6; his lapse in faith is over.
4:19 And being not weak in faith- as temporarily he seems to have been when he fathered a child by Hagar.
He considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb- before he seems to have considered these obstacles to be insurmountable, Genesis 17:17.
4:20 He staggered not- this means doubted not; again, implying that he doubted before. Compare also Sarah’s reaction, Genesis 18:12,13, then her return to wholehearted faith, Hebrews 11:11.
At the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God- the secret of his restoration, for he has captured again the sight of the God of glory that appeared to him in Ur at the first, Acts 7:2.
4:21 And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform- the proper response to the promises of God. Compare Mary’s response to the news that she, a virgin, would have a son, Luke 1:38, with Abraham and Sarah’s response in Genesis 17:17 and 18:12.
4:22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness- this seems to make his being made righteous in Genesis 15 dependant on what happened 13 years later, which cannot be true. Rather, the apostle is indicating that the faith of Abraham in Genesis 17, is of the same sort as that by which he was reckoned righteous in Genesis 15. His purpose is to return to the subject of being reckoned righteous, not only to apply it to us today, but also to prepare the way for the teaching found in 5:1-11.
4:23,24 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him- not just for historical interest.
But for us also- the principles involved are just as relevant today.
To whom it shall be imputed- “shall be” means “shall certainly be”.
If we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead- the same God that brought life (Isaac), out of death (“dead” bodies of Abraham and Sarah), has brought Jesus our Lord from the sphere of death. Abraham believed the birth of Isaac would happen, Christians believe the resurrection of Christ has happened. Note that faith is placed in Divine persons, not just in events. We are not only expected to believe the resurrection has taken place, but to believe on the One who performed it. The title “Jesus our Lord” reinforces the previous statement, for if He is truly “our Lord, then there is personal faith like Abraham’s, and if He is truly “our Lord,” then we have submitted to His authority by repenting, as David did.
4:25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification- the apostle implies two questions, and then answers them. The first one is, ‘Why was He, the Lord Jesus, delivered by God to death?’ Answer- because of our offences. The second one is, ‘Why was He raised from the dead?’ Answer- because of the justification which His death secures. Thus the resurrection of Christ is God’s indication to us that the work of Calvary satisfies His every demand against our sins. The mention of offences reminds us we were like David, having sinned. The mention of justification reminds us that the believer is justified, like Abraham. The apostle has now reverted to the word for justification which he had used in chapter 3, and so prepares for the truth of chapter 5, which begins, “Therefore, being justified…”